Monday, August 15, 2011

Feeling Powerless

Last year, I signed with an agent who is a great fit for me on paper: she has sold multiple book series in my genre to great editors for great deals. Very exciting. In the beginning, we spoke several times a week, and her rounds of feedback came quickly.

It’s been nine months, though, and we’ve gone through seven rounds of revisions on my MS. I’ve written two separate outlines and had her sign off on both of them… only to question things later. Since August, I’ve only heard from her a handful of times – always with a positive tone (i.e., “we’re almost there!”) but noticeably less frequently. The plan was for her to start submitting in September, but that clearly hasn’t happened.

I don’t know how many more rounds of edits I can quietly endure. It feels like she’s never going to submit my book. Every time she says “we’re almost there”, I get another six-page document of revisions. Am I just being impatient? How many rounds of edits do most writers go through pre-submission? When is it okay to say ‘enough’? I know she has a plan to pitch the book and editors ‘primed’ to read it… but the promise that is her ‘plan’ is starting to feel like a carrot to keep me revising endlessly.

Uff. This is frustrating. I think you are being very patient. Yes, it's quite possible for a manuscript to go many, many rounds of revisions. Ask some of my clients ;) so that's not my biggest concern. My concern is the fact that you had a target submission date of September, many months have passed and you're not hearing much. I think it's time for an in-depth conversation with your agent. You need to find out what her real concerns are, why it's not being submitted and ask point-blank if she's still as passionate about this book as she once was. Because it sounds to me like your real fear is that she just doesn't love it like she used to. Let's face it, that happens. It stinks, but it happens.

The truth is, it sounds to me like maybe you just don't love her like you used to either.

Here's the most important question, however: Do you love the book like you used to? I imagine you're a little tired of it, but do you still feel strongly about it? Actually, what I should be asking, is do you feel that this book is bigger and better from when you started? Seven rounds of revisions is a lot at this stage in the game, and at some point someone has to say: Enough. It's time to send it out, I can't do anything more. This is a great book. Someone has to put a foot down. It would be nice if it was both of you.

The good thing is that your agent clearly feels enough passion to go seven rounds. She's working hard to try to find you a publisher, and this is the first step in that process. I don't think this is a case of an agent not doing her job. I think it's a case of an agent and client who need to get on the phone together and really have a discussion to see where they are both at now. This is a discussion agent and client should have frequently throughout the years. How are you feeling about things right now and what is our plan? Let's make a plan and stick to it. I think that phone call will make all the difference.



Anonymous said...

Since this agent is so great (and I mean that positively), a question I might ask to get the difficult conversation going is the following.

Do you put this much effort into every book?

Maybe she does. Maybe that's why she is so successful.

Then again, maybe she's just lost that loving feeling.

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R.S. Bohn said...

Wow. If I were in that position, without this post, I might be thinking that this had turned into a complete disaster. Now it seems quite salvageable.

Fantasy Floozie- Kenya Wright said...

I didn't know that a manuscript can go several rounds of revisions with an agent. I assumed it would with a publisher. Its impressive to me that the agent would take the time to do that.

Dr. Cheryl Carvajal said...

She is definitely putting forth the effort.

And it's very hard to be patient. Very hard. For both writer and agent, I assume.

David Klein said...

I don't understand why the writer is addressing questions to BookEnds when she (he) should be asking these questions of her agent. You can't avoid the difficult conversations. You can't contribute to closing off communication channels. It's good to get outside perspective and advice ... but writers: we have to take charge of our own situations.

Unknown said...

Hearing things like this makes me a little sick to my stomach. I'm going through the query process and I feel strongly that this book should get published. No offers yet, but I keep waiting. And then there's the fear that I might choose the wrong agent.

What if I only get one offer? How good does that agent have to be for me to say yes? What if, as in this case, the agent looks amazing on paper, but in the end isn't what I hoped it would be.

I'm also afraid of getting into a situation like this and then feel trapped. This agent has put a lot of hours into this manuscript. It doesn't seem right to walk away from her. I think that's why a long, frank conversation is needed right now. If the agent isn't crazy about the book any more, then maybe she needs to let it go.

Here's wishing you all the best for you and your book. Good luck!

Anonymous said...

I want to tell the writer about an experience I had.

I had an agent with a terrific online reputation, with whom my manuscript went through multiple revisions. Finally she submitted it, and it was rejected everywhere.

I wrote a new manuscript and got a new agent. We went through only one revision, and then she submitted the manuscript. It went to auction.

The big lesson I learned? Do not be awed by your agent's reputation!

Now, I have a question for the writer to think about. This agent who's asking you to do all these revisions-- does she have any editing experience?

Anonymous said...

Great post and great comments. I'm glad you shared this.

S. D. Grimm said...

Not only is this a valuable look inside the process of getting your book ready for publishers once you have landed an agent, but the questions that you pose for this author to ask herself show a serious amount of experience with working relationships.

Honestly, the answer to the question was; you really need to have a heart to heart with your agent.

But you took to the time to explain why, and probably bring up issues that either the author hadn't thought of, or that she has thought of and would have thought twice about vocalizing.

I love this blog.

Anonymous said...

Maybe I'm wrong, but I tend to think this is one of those cases where it's best to listen to revise and to keep an open mind.

I'd also be working on the next novel in between these revises. I see so many writers place their fate in one single book, hoping this will be the ticket to their publishing dreams. And it would be great if all authors could publish one novel and become rich and famous with that one novel. But it usually takes more than one book to just make a decent amount of money.

Sometimes I wish there were a blog that just concentrated on the realities of being a writer. There seem to be so many misconceptions out there.

Anonymous said...

I'm going to second Anonymous at 3:03, both on the revision suggestions and on the advice to start working on something else. A former member of my critique group landed an agent who went through three rewrites with him before sending his novel out to publishers. According to him, she was on the fence about doing another round, but his childcare budget was tapped out and both of them were eager for a sale.

Forty-five rejections later, the manuscript is dead. Even if he were to do that next rewrite, everyone in the genre has already passed on it, and no one said they wanted to see it again. I suspect your agent is aware of the risk of sending out something that may not yet be ready and closing off options later on.

Did I say he's a former member of my critique group? Thoroughly discouraged, he gave up writing and doubled his client load at work to fill up the hole in his family budget due to this three-year writing "thing."

The big question you should ask yourself--and of course discuss with your agent--is if all these rounds of revision are making your novel better. Are you learning from the experience? Can you apply what you're learning to your next project as well as to this one? Because if you want to survive in this business, there has to be a next project.

Cassandra said...

Yes, absolutely, do have that conversation with the agent, no matter how awkward. And have it right now, before she submits the manuscript anywhere. Once it's gone out, even to only a few editors, your chances of getting another agent plummet. If it's not going to work out between you, you need to know that as soon as possible. Clearly your book's pretty good if the agent has spent this much effort on it. Good luck!

Anonymous said...

I went through four major revisions with my agent. When we started getting editor interest, we went through many more. I am never the person to say it is good enough; I want the other person to say that.

You don't have to make them though. And I doubt your agent is just jerking you around, for whatever that is worth.

Sally Hepworth said...

I went through several rounds of revisions with my agent (probably close to seven) and it was frustrating, but I was glad my agent was willing to put in the work. Hang in there. It's more important that you get a great product than meet your submission deadline. And it sounds like you're close :)

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Anonymous said...

"The truth is, it sounds to me like maybe you just don't love her like you used to either."

It doesn't sound like she should.

Anonymous said...

Maybe you need to ask yourself if you want to be a writer or a career re-writer.

You have wasted months rewriting something that no one has paid a dime for. So the last nine months of work has been on something that this agent has yet to submit. Seven revisions is insane. Either get this thing in a state you comfortable with and submit it, or move on to another agent.

The whole 'my agent wants it to be the best it can be' thinking is one thing. 9 months is long enough to bring a human being to term. This is just a book. I know it's your baby and everything, but it's just a book. Submit ti and move on to the next. The rewrite cycle is not hurting anyone but you. Your agent has other clients. If you spend three years rewriting for this person (who may have ZERO editorial experience at the professional level for all you know) the agent still makes money off all her other clients.

I'm sorry, but this is a time suck, period. What if you do 3 more edits for 5 months and the agent passes on submitting it? You will have wasted a year on a book that she never tried to sell.

Get on with it. It will never be perfect. No book is. IT is not going to make you a million dollars - you have a better chance of being hit by falling space debris. Submit it and write another book. Then submit that one. Rinse, repeat.

If this book really is not publishable material. it will get rejected. By that time you will have finished the second book and be that much better a writer. Send that book out and write number 3. If that one gets rejected, send out #3. If that one sells, you have learned through practice.

Writing new words is practice - it is learning. Rewriting the same book over and over is not practice. All it does is 'polish' your voice out of a book and drag the process down.

Do some research on creative vs critical thinking if you get the chance and you;ll see what I mean. They use different brain functions. You can't 'edit' creatively (or at least most people can't) when you go into rewrite and edit mode, you are not 'writing'. So for the past 9 months you really have not even been a writer. And that sucks.

Unless you would rather be an author than a writer. Then, I guess you are on the right track...