Tuesday, September 22, 2009

When to Update Agents

Sometimes when I get letters from readers I instantly know the response and can launch right into my blog post. At other times I have to think a little harder and balance what I would really want as well as what I think other agents would really want as well as what makes sense. Recently I had one of those questions that made me stop and think a little about what really made the most sense.

The reader received a lengthy revision letter from an editor (the material was requested through a contest) and she wanted to know if it made sense to inform the agents currently reviewing the material that she was making the edits or simply go ahead, make the edits, send them to the editor, and wait and see.

I debated because for the most part I don’t think there’s any reason to inform an agent of anything until you have an offer, either from a publisher or another agent. However, after thinking it over I decided that if I were in this situation I would want to know that the author was making extensive revisions for an editor (presumably revisions she believes in). Once the author informed me of the revisions I suspect the way I would handle the situation would be to toss the material I had previously requested and advise the author to simply send me the revised material once she sent it on to the editor. That way I know I’m seeing the most recent and up-to-date material and, if the author calls to say she has an offer from the publisher, I know that I’m seeing the same work the publisher made the offer on. I also gain a bit of appreciation for the author for acting quickly and respecting my time (I’m not wasting it reading a manuscript that is essentially no longer viable).

One concern the author had was whether or not agents would get upset because she had submitted to an editor. Not at all. The author submitted because of a request through a contest and no agent would begrudge her sending it. In fact we would encourage it.

A caveat to this . . . asking agents to pull a submission because you’re doing revisions for an editor makes us happy. Asking us if we can pull a submission because you realized, on your own, it wasn’t ready and have done extensive revisions makes us sad (maybe even a little annoyed).



Mark Terry said...

I tend to let my agent know what's going on if I view it as a "need-to-know" sort of thing. That may be, here's the first draft of the artwork, I'm so-so on it, and they really want my opinion, what do you think?

It may be, Hey, they've pushed the pub date up a month, just FYI.

It's usually NOT: I'm getting my first galley tomorrow, thought you'd want to know.

It would definitely be: my editor called me to see what ideas I might have for a follow-up.

Elizabeth Lynd said...

I think pulling a manuscript from an agent based on realizing it wasn't quite ready is a newbie mistake that many make. Hopefully reading blogs like yours helps all of us still seeking representation to continue improving our professionalism within the realms of this business.

Anonymous said...

I’m sure there are a lot of writers who willy-nilly send stuff that’s not-ready-for-time. That is, and will always be part of this business. (Just the way a lot of publishers put out stuff by their bestselling authors that should never see the light of day but that’s a whole ‘nother story.)
But there are also plenty of writers who submit after being vetted by a critique group, beta readers or even a professional editor, and when they submit a manuscript they think it’s plenty ready. In other words, it’s not an irresponsible submission,
So like a good writer, they query widely, say twenty agents. Some of those agents are quick and they’ll reject but--and God bless them—they also offer very valuable feedback. Suddenly a light bulb goes off in the writer’s head and they now know what the piece was missing.
So, quick like a bunny, they start re-writing with new feedback and bring the piece up to a publishable level.
But what about all those inferior submissions out there? According to you, you’d be sad /annoyed if the author told you to pull the submission because he or she has revised. Forgive me, but I don’t really understand that reasoning.Would you rather read the inferior piece and reject than read a superior piece and possibly gain a new client?

Laurel said...

Anon 9:13-

Nathan Bransford blogged about this at least once. It's one of the reasons he advises that you query in smaller batches and don't send your very first newly minted letter to your top five dream agents. Round one comes back all form rejections and you can trash your query letter and take another look at your work before sending it back out into query land.

Empress Awesome said...

Very good to know. Thanks for that.

But then, I don't know if I'd submit the same work into a contest that I'm sending among agencies. Is that good etiquette?

Kim Lionetti said...

Anonymous 9:13 --

From our perspective, it can be annoying because if every author on submission asked to resubmit after they'd revised, the whole process would be endless. Almost every author is always tweaking. A line has to be drawn somewhere.

Anonymous said...

Kim, I think writers can tell if an agent would like them to re-submit. As agents say, most don't bother offering feedback unless a ms. is close. We don't mean to submit before a ms. is "ready," but often we don't see/know it has problems, despite using a critque group or an editor.

Sometimes all it takes is a fresh viewpoint and a bit of feedback for us to pinpoint the problems and take off running (i.e. writing). Agents have no problem saying no--so we really appreciate it when they say "maybe." Let's hope it works out!

Kimberly Kincaid said...

Nathan's advice, echoed by many agents through blogs (including this one), is priceless. I made a huge mistake earlier this year by being so excited at having finished my MS that I sent it right out to my top 10, and got 10 very lovely form rejections. Now I'm *poring* over MS #2 with a fine tooth comb, even though I'm equally excited over having finished it. It's just worth it to go slowly and revise as necessary.

Lesson learned. The advice that you get from these blogs is worth its weight in gold.

If an agent wants you to resubmit with revisions, don't they come out and ask as much? If they reject, even with feedback, isn't that really still a no in the end? Or is it more gray area than that? I can see Kim's point- if we all kept revising, agents would go blind!

I like this post because I'm at that stage with my second MS where I'm revising and polishing and writing the query. This is really helpful!

Stephanie Damore said...

I really liked this comment from anon @ 1:11

Sometimes all it takes is a fresh viewpoint and a bit of feedback for us to pinpoint the problems and take off running (i.e. writing).

To me that is very true. As a writer we get so wrapped up in the details that sometimes what we really need is a holistic perspective from an outsider. I know at least that's what helps me.

Re: resubmitting - I agree with you Jessica. On one hand, you are busy and don't want unnecessary email. But on the other, I think it'd be great to know a potential client has taken the initiative to work with an editor and wants to make sure you have the most recent material. If only it was really that simple =)

Lisa Desrochers said...

I was in a similar situation just last week. The difference is I was working with an agent on revisions. I believed we were close and she would probably make an offer. (which she did) I waited until the offer came to notify the other agents who had my manuscript that I had an offer and, to that email, I attached the revised copy.

Now I just have to make a decision, which is turning out to be harder than I would have dreamed.

Anonymous said...

Personally, I think that if an agent takes the time to make viable suggestions, that's the agent you should choose. Of course the other agents will clamor for you when they find out someone else wants you...Ever hear of Shark Tank or ebay? LOL

Kim Lionetti said...

If I thought a manuscript was close, then I'd certainly ask to see revisions if an author was willing to do them. But I'm not going to want to see every set of revisions that another agent/editor/critique partner may have suggested. If I think you came close, you'll know it from my response and if you've since done work that you think solves a lot of the issues I raised, then you should definitely say so and I'll most likely ask to see the new version at that point.

Amy said...

I sent a partial submission to an agent. In the meantime, I received feedback from other agents and made revisions. I mailed the updated version to her along with a note requesting she review the updated version. Our correspondences crossed and the following day I received her rejection letter.

Two months later, I received a full request from an agent in the same agency! As Jessica has pointed out, in this business, there are no hard, fast rules--a little luck and chutzpah doesn't hurt either.

Mira said...

Yes, I like the point that there's no hard, fast rules. Alot of it is situational, and you use your best judgement. Hopefully, it's also good judgement. :)

Heather Moore said...

Great advice.

Jamie Michele said...

Jessica, thanks! This was my question. I ended up doing precisely as you recommended, for the reasons you highlighted. I'm glad to know I can trust my judgement.