Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Whose book is it, anyway?

A scholar I know is struggling with the pitch for her fourth book. She was energized for years with an idea she had for an offbeat history, and she was excited that her career was growing to the point where she could do her book her way. Then her agent stepped in and pointed out how much more money she could get if she entered the national conversation at a different level, writing a different kind of book entirely. Since my scholar colleague just lost a lot of money in the stock market, she's cash-sensitive right now, so she took the agent's suggestions.

During this back-and-forth on the proposal (which I have been privileged to view in each stage) I've seen the book morph from the scholar's original vision to something the agent thinks would sell. And now I have a pointed question for the author: whose book is it? Seriously. Is the agent the true author, and does that agent simply speak through you? Are you an author-for-hire who realizes the agent's dream and vision in words? Or is it your book and are you the author? Another way of asking the question is "does the agent work for you, or do you work for her?"

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