I’d have to say that agent Barry Goldblatt wins the award for causing the greatest stir at this year’s RMC–SCBWI fall conference. On the Manuscript Critique registration form (he served as one of the critique-ers) he rated his own line: “NOTE: Agent Barry Goldblatt has indicated that he is fair but quite blunt in his critiques. Please indicate whether you feel you can handle such a critique: ___ Yes ___ No.” He arrived at the conference surrounded by this mystical aura of “scary agent”.
When you meet him, the reputation is difficult to believe. He’s a normal-looking guy (no Darth Vader-esque rasp or Darth Maul tattoos) with an easy smile and a quick wit. Sure, he’s got strong opinions about the world of writing–but which of us doesn’t?
Here’s what speaks most in his favor: the people who know and love him, such as sweet and funny Lauren Myracle, gentle (but tough) Julie Strauss-Gabel, and, of course, an admirable group of authors who I don’t know personally but LOVE as writers: Holly Black, Cassandra Clare, Shannon Hale, Libba Bray…I mean, if all these great folks love him, can he really be that bad?
From what I hear, that depends more on you than on him.
If you’re looking for a pat on the back or a confidence boost, I’d look elsewhere. But if you go to a conference and REALLY want to know what’s wrong with your work and how to make it better, he’s your man. Sign up for a critique or first pages session with him. But be forewarned: he might not follow that nice “critique sandwich” we’re taught in critique groups. His view? He has ten minutes–or less–to give an author feedback. If you want something useful, he doesn’t have time to waste on anything but what’s most important.
The problem is that, for most of us on this writing road, we need to hear that we’re nowhere near the mark, that our story is old, the dialog goes on too long, the voice isn’t working–BIG stuff that is no fun to hear. In the past, I’ve been to many critiques where the critique-er tiptoed around the real issues. I left those sessions feeling like I didn’t know where to go next. When I had a critique with Barry Goldblatt, I left with a laundry list of changes to make, potential story problems to avoid, and a bit of brainstorming about better places to start the story. I left the session on fire to rewrite–and I’ve been rewriting ever since.
And no, he didn’t say he loved the story or anything like that. He just shared my enthusiasm for good writing and how to make it better…which meant pointing out a heck of a lot of things that I was doing wrong. So is he a scary editor? It all depends on where you are as a writer.
Check out Barry Goldblatt’s amazing client list and submission guidelines at: http://www.bgliterary.com/index.html