Dear Miss Snark,
First off, thanks for such a lovely blog. I recently found an agent thanks in no small part to the advice I gleaned here. (yay!!!!)
And my question: A dear friend's manuscript was just rejected by an agent who had held it for nine months. During that time, my friend rewrote the manuscript *twice* to accommodate this agent's editorial suggestions.
Is this typical? Have you ever requested rewrites before signing with a client? Perhaps the following sentiment will reveal my closet nitwittery, but it seems strange that a top agent would invest so much time in a potential client, only to give her the ol' Heisman. (Heisman?)
What would you suggest your readers do if faced with a rewrite request from an interested agent?
I'd say: Do It.
Rewrites. The piece of information you're missing here is the agent's perspective. Yes, your friend rewrote, but my guess is first that he wasn't able to get it "right enough" for the agent. I've had this happen, and recently. I liked a book well enough to start thinking about where to send it. It needed some work, not a lot but some, and I thought what needed to be done was pretty clear. I wrote the author a detailed letter. He rewrote and sent it back. He done almost nothing I'd asked. I wrote back, he sent it again, same problem. By that time I was just annoyed. Either do the rewrites or tell me why you think I'm all wet but reading something three times without seeing changes was nuts.
The author was really shocked when I said no cause I think he believed editorial comments meant an offer was a pretty sure thing. I said, look you didn't make the changes I suggested twice. Even if you did them now, I've got no confidence you'd be someone who can handle editorial direction if I sold this. Needless to say he was not pleased. I wasn't all that happy either but from a totally selfish point of view, there will be other books coming to me, and I want authors who will either make changes, or tell me straight out that they haven't. Just sending something back and hoping I won't notice, cause you don't agree with my view, is not ok.
I don't know if this is typical. I do know that more than half the people on my list rewrote BEFORE I signed them and two or three are still rewriting based on comments from editors and new ideas I have. It took me a while to understand that this is an ongoing process: it's not just write send submit sell. It can be in some cases, but a lot of times it's not.
The next part of the question is do you do extensive rewrites for an editor without a contract. More on that later.