Tuesday, July 01, 2008

A Follow-Up to Revisions from an Agent

I received some interesting comments on my post on Revisions Before Representation and wanted to do a quick follow-up post to answer some concerns/questions that popped up. First let me clarify something I have talked about before, but probably should touch on again. I never, ever recommend an author do revisions simply because an agent asked for them. Revisions should only be done if they resonate with you, the author, and if you agree that they will probably make the book stronger. Revisions that are done only because an agent asked for them are never going to work. If you don’t believe in them you probably don’t understand why they are needed and aren’t going to do exactly what that agent feels needs to be done.

Remember, usually if revisions are as easy as they might sound from the letter there is more going on. An agent will happily take on a project that needs minor work, but won’t always give feedback that encompasses everything she found wrong with the book. Which is usually why she’s not offering representation. So if it seems too easy, there’s probably more there you aren’t seeing.

If you do get feedback from an agent you really agree with I would suggest you stop querying, do the revisions, and begin querying again. If you think this is going to make a stronger book, why would you want to query the old, weaker version?

And last, one of the reasons I recommend only doing revisions is if they feel right to you is because there are no guarantees. There seems to be bitterness at times that since an agent asks to see revisions and material again they are automatically ready to offer representation if those revisions are done correctly. Sadly, no, but they do want to offer representation, which is why the revisions were requested. They see something special there and hope it can come out. There are many reasons why, once revisions are done, representation might not be offered. It’s possible not enough was done or the revisions weren’t done in the way the agent envisioned. It’s possible that since that time the market has changed and the agent is no longer as enthusiastic for the book or that she has taken on something similar in the interim and now doesn’t feel she can represent two such books. Or, she’s just lost enthusiasm. Don’t let it get you down. If the book is stronger there’s always another agent out there.



Jessica Nelson said...

Thanks Jessica. That's what I'm going through. I had my first ever partial request, followed by a rejection with an invitation to resubmit if I changed the heroine. I'm still so excited! But I decided not to change the heroine because I know from other readers that half of them love her and half hate her. So I'm hoping to find an agent who loves her the way she is.
But I'm so glad you posted this. In my excitement I almost made the changes just because they were requested. :-) lol, I'm too desperate . . .

Anonymous said...

I'd missed the earlier post -- thanks for the link to it, and for this clarifying one.

At the moment, I'm telling myself I've got a completed project and am ready to query. In this situation, it's important for me (not necessarily for other authors) to remind myself about a difference between querying an agent and presenting a work in a workshop or to a critique partner. The agent's bringing a perspective that no one has offered me yet: not just how "good" or even "done" it is, but how saleable it is. After all, I care not just about writing well, and to completion (and at that, for people who don't have to pay a dime to read the book); I care also about writing for people who will pay to read my stuff.

The agent is the first point in the Great Chain of Publication where the work touches the marketplace. Whether an agent ultimately represents me or not, if they've actually provided me detailed suggestions for improving the book's saleability, I need to at least think about what they're saying and not reject it out of hand.

Ultimately my choice, sure. But keeping a level head and common sense about the product never hurt any other business enterprise, and that's what a book must be if it's ever going to be published in the first place.

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for this follow-up! It gives me a lot to think about while I wait to hear back from some people.

I'm "Resigned" from the earlier post.

About a week after my comment, the Agent emailed me, said she hadn't forgotten about the project, and was going to give it to her intern to read so they could bounce ideas off me.

They conferred with one another, Intern reportedly loved it, disagreed with some of the agent's biggest concerns, had some ideas (which I really liked), and I'm considering revising again--and here's why:

I did query a handful of other folks with the project--a few partials later, and they're all saying the same thing: they can't really connect with protagonist. Which is what the original agent's concern is.

I still have three fulls out elsewhere -- one from a reputable agent (I'm a big fan of one of her clients) who actually came to me requesting to see it -- so we'll see what happens. But it's becoming clear that there's a Character Flaw, and I'm working on ways to right that.

Anyhoo, that's the update on the Resigned story!

Thanks again, Jessica! You rock!

-Formerly Resigned

Anonymous said...

This is true with editors too. I had an editor suggest revisions -- I had to add several chapters, delete others, delete a character -- I did them only to have the editor pass, with no real reason why. She never mentioned the edits I'd done and instead said something bland like, "I guess this isn't right for me after all. Best of luck!"

I think the "bitterness" part of Jessica's post isn't neccessarily because the writer lost out on an agent/editor representing/buying their book, but moreso because the rewrite is tossed aside as if it never existed.

To this day, I'm unsure if the book is stronger from the rewrite I did for that editor or worse off.

As with most things in this business it's the lack of communication that makes people crazy.

Kate Douglas said...

Anonymous 10:37--have to respond to one of your comments, about the fact that it's the lack of communication in this business that makes people crazy. Trust me, even when you ARE published, it doesn't get any better! (Except for my agent--Jessica is terrific about responding. I've decided she must have a clone somewhere who handles details...) Most editors are so buried with work they just don't have the time to respond the way we want. It comes down to dealing with the parts of your career that you actually CAN control--the writing, the submissions, etc. I know that if I do my job, that's the best I can do, and when I finish a particular project, I move on to the next, whether I hear from the editor or not. At this point, I don't know if a story is accepted until my copy edits show up! If I waited for confirmation, I'd never get anything done. My advice is to submit and forget about it, at least for awhile. Take that time to start something fresh and new. You might be utterly amazed to see where your muse chooses to take you!

Karen Duvall said...

I feel like I've been around the block a few times on this one. 8^) I've revised for an agent who didn't offer to represent, and though nothing ever came of it, the book was stronger for the effort. Most of all, I learned so, so, SO much from the experience. She was a wonderful teacher and an excellent editor.

On another project, I was working with an editor at Har/Sil and she actually helped me turn my suspense novel into a romance. I had no clue how to do it, and she helped me make it happen. Ha! Alas, it was ultimately rejected, but the learning experience was beyond priceless.

My new agent and I talked on the phone for about a half hour before she offered representation. She said there were some pacing issues in the manuscript that needed to be addressed and asked if I'd be willing. You betcha! We chatted about that for a while, and then I asked if she wanted me to revise and resubmit. She said no need to resubmit because she was offering to represent me right now! Imagine my surprise. Her main concern when she first called was that I'd be open to making necessary changes, and she made it clear her suggestions were only suggestions. The two of us definitely started off on the right foot!

Anonymous said...

Hey Kate Douglas --

I'm Anon 10:37, thanks for your reply. I am published, and the editor I spoke of was one I'd done a book with previously.

I wasn't upset that she didn't want the book as much as how it was handled. To jump through those hoops of revision and kill myself to get them done in a timely manner, only to get a formal response, like, "Best of luck!" (without her making ANY comments about the staggering changes to the ms) was disheartening.

Writers are often careful to cultivate business relationships... editors, not so much, in my opinion. :)

Kimber Chin said...

I've had some great feedback from agents. I usually find that if they have issues with a manuscript, the 'average' reader (if there is such a person) will too.

Anonymous said...

"An agent will happily take on a project that needs minor work, ****but won’t always give feedback that encompasses everything she found wrong with the book****."

This is a good point to keep in mind.

Gabrielle said...

So helpful, Jessica. For every newbie writer like myself, the world of agenting manners seems shark-ridden and disaster-prone. You, however, have arrived as the Superhero Lifeguard complete with whistle, lifeboat and query manual.

Thank you!