By Ali Cross
“Ali, as you sing your line through 32 and 38, cross center stage to stage right and hit your mark.” The director waves his hand in the vicinity I’m supposed to go as I follow his directions and cross the stage. He holds up a hand to indicate that I’m to stop. I look at him for confirmation, he nods, and a stage hand jumps up and puts a small piece of red tape on the stage at my feet. That red tape is mine—the stage is already decorated with many red strips. There are black marks, and blue, a couple in the mark of an “x” that indicate someone else will stand there, other than the principles of the production.
As a principle singer in this opera production, I must “hit my marks” as if my life depends on it. And, in a way, it does—my professional life, that is. On performance night, if I fail to stand where I’m supposed to, it could throw the director’s entire vision out of whack. Other people won’t be able to go to their marks and soon, the entire cast will be adrift, unable to present a cohesive, attractive show.
If a show were to falter because I failed to follow the director’s instructions, I might never work in the industry again. It wouldn’t matter if I were the most celebrated singer in generations, it would only matter that I was not “directionable.” Being able to take direction is a performer’s ace. Sing well, perform well, and do everything your director asks you to do, and you will have a stellar career.
So it is with authors and their relationship with an agent or editor.
An agent’s job is to help you perfect your presentation so that you can attract the best offer of publication. He or she will show you where your marks are—hit them, and you will have the best possible chance for a contract.
One step up the ladder, is the editor, whose job it is to ensure your book is as clean and presentable as possible. Do as they say, and your book will shine under the spotlight.
One time, I performed a secondary role in the production of Les Miserable. The company I worked for had hired a tremendous up-and-coming singer to play the role of Mimi. I watched her work with great interest as she had a personality larger-than-life and a voice to match.
By the last night of performance, I had lost all respect for her.
She had argued with the director non-stop during the entirety of rehearsals and threw out all of his suggestions on performance nights. She did her own thing, preferring her interpretation of the piece than the director’s. As a result, the show was a mess. In domino fashion, no one could find their mark, the lighting technicians couldn’t find their marks either, and the director’s vision was nonexistent.
Countless hours of work and it was all for naught because one person was not on her mark.
Of course, as Shakespeare said, “To thine own self be true.” Should your agent or editor ask you to do something that goes against everything you believe in, or that compromises your story in a fundamental way, then you need to trust yourself.
But remember, your agent or editor is there to help you achieve your very best. They want your book to be a success—it’s good for everyone if it is. It might be your talent they are seeking to magnify, but it is their job to decide how best to spotlight that talent. Use your best judgment, but don’t be afraid to trust them, and then do everything in your power to be on your mark.