Requested Revisions from an Agent

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.


Anonymous said...

Not the post I want to see in the middle of my second rewrite for a potential agent.

He really liked the first revision, though. He said he was thrilled that I revised from the inside out because most people tweak a bit here and there--adding a few sentences, maybe--and call it a revision.

This new revision is tweaking, but I think from his comments that that's what he expects. I hope so.

Thanks, Miss Snark, for all your wonderful help.

Lisa Hunter said...

My agent asked me to make revisions to my book proposal before she signed me, and I was happy to take her advice. She knows what editors want and what they're sick of. The book sold right away, with more than one bidder.

Now my editor is asking me to make changes. Again, I'm happy to do it. All of her suggestions are good ones that may help increase sales.

I notice that some writers want their work just as it is, word for word, and think of edits as an intrusion. Not me. Having an agent/editor is like having a spare brain. Often a smarter one.

Stephen D. Rogers said...

Let's say an agent (or an editor) requests changes. The changes are made. The agent (or editor) then passes.

Should the author continue submitting the original book or the latest version?

(I'm thinking conceptual changes that brought the book closer to the agent's/editor's tastes and not fixes.)

Mark said...

Should have done it the first time. Crichton did.

David Forbes said...

Lisa is right on the mark. I worked with my agent for six months getting it editor friendly, and even though I initially balked at some of his suggestions, when I stepped back and thought about them objectively I realized he was right. Every damn stinkin' time! So now if he makes a suggestion, I say, "Yes, sir, right away sir!" :-)

He first sent it to a large house as an exclusive, and the editor there was considering it but wasn't sure about one section of the book. I looked at it again, decided she was right, and cut it out (more than 100 pages worth of stuff). She waffled on a committment and really annoyed my agent, who then told her the exclusive was over and sent it elsewhere. I got the offer from HarperCollins shortly thereafter.

If someone in the business tells you to make changes, it's usually a good idea to make them. If that means you end up revising for both an agent and an editor, so be it.

My editor's changes were suprisingly light. No structural or large changes at all; most were simply to polish the prose.

PJ Parrish said...

My agent (bless her heart) made me rewrite my first book ten times before she submitted it. It sold, and here I am eight books later and just signed a new three-book deal.

I just don't get it when writers say they won't go through this process. You get so damn close to your project you can't help but lose objectivity. Like Lisa said, if you are lucky enough to find someone who can read your stuff with a cold eye and be your second brain, grab on. And if this is your first novel, why would you be so foolish as to limit its chances to find a home in these tough times?

Correct me if I'm off on this, Miss Snark, but agents today seem to be taking on the line editor's role in getting manuscripts in shape and it seems editors increasingly want manuscripts that are market ready. And why would you want to get the rap of being a recalcitrant artiste?

Good grief. Even Joe Montana listened to his coach -- AFTER winning the Super Bowl. (Sorry for the sport metaphor there. It slipped out).

p.s. First time poster here, Miss Snark, but have sent many newbies your way.

Anonymous said...

Miss Snark, I'm interested in understanding more about how agents make judgements as they read--that they will keep reading a manuscript even though they recognize weaknesses within it. Do you always read the manuscripts you request in their entirety? What, besides the arrival of aliens, would prompt you to send a rejection before you've finished the book? Thanks for the insight.

litagent said...

I don't ever take on an author until I'm sure we have a saleable project, meaning the work is something that I feel will sell, not that it necessarily will. Sometimes this takes two or three revisions, and yes, sometimes I end up declining to represent the author. But I'm not going to put time and energy into reading and rereading and commenting on something that I don't think has potential.

As for reading mss. in their entirety, the answer is: it depends. I have to make a judgment about the novel's strengths vs. the problems that have cropped up. When the scale tips to too many problems (like aliens arriving), I stop. I have too much to read to spend my time on work that feels futile to me. One exception is if the ms. was recommended to me by a friend, colleague, or one of my authors. Then I'll slog my way through.

I'd say that being open to revisions is the second most important factor (after the writing itself) in my deciding to sign an author. The author doesn't necessarily have to agree to the changes that I or an editor suggest(s), but he has to be willing to have a dialogue about it. We don't ask for changes for our perverse amusement, because we can, we ask for changes to make the book a stronger book. We're all on the same side.

Martha O'Connor said...

Long ago and far away, with a book of mine that was represented but never published, I did a rewrite for an agent, and foolishly believed that I was as good as represented. Said agent kept the rewritten manuscript for six months, and didn't respond to any emails. Because I didn't know anything, I continued to grant her the exclusive I'd given her... for SIX MONTHS.

That book DID end up getting representation from someone else, but didn't sell. (And I did rewrites on that book for an interested editor, too. It wasn't wasted time. I learned about writing.)

Fast-forward: the agent who represented THAT book didn't like the book I worked on next. So I switched agents, because I felt very strongly about the new book... which my NEW new agent sold in four days, at auction.

Of course, I did numerous rewrites of THAT book along the way, taking into account suggestions from my critique partners, my agent and from my editor. Rewrites are part of the business.

Anonymous said...

I'm facing this situation right now--an agent has expressed interest in my manuscript, but would like to see some changes. No promises of representation, only a promise to review the revisions. Even if the agent ends up passing, I know I'll have a stronger book.

Anonymous said...

What kind of turnaround times are expected for rewrites? Hypothetically, let's say we're talking about removing a subplot or condensing/deleting characters, something that involves making changes throught the whole work, vs. changing one chapter.

Anonymous said...

My agent has never asked for revisions. My first editor never asked for revisions. I felt neglected. I like doing revisions.

Anonymous said...

I.J. Parker...do not feel neglected. I fantasize about people taking my work as is. But I have to say it is nice to work with my agent...she's clear about what she wants and I do it. Now I'm on pins and needles hoping an editor sees the value. I always said, I didn't care if it took 'til I was 90 to be published. I'm a lot closer than that right now (36), but I'm hoping some of your luck rubs off. That's possible, right?

Unknown said...

I would not want to piss you off. But you do seem fair and I will come back to learn a thing or two. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

A story I have heard is a writer gets suggestions for changes, he sends the book back, (no changes) and the person who made the suggestions expresses delight with the "new, improved" version. The writer smiles, smug.

Perhaps this fellow thought the same thing was happening to him. If so, then he's likely to meet himself coming around a corner.

When I'm asked to make changes I listen, consider if they're needed, and tip the editor about the work I did or did not do.

On one novel I completely rewrote the last half and let my editor know the changes were from p. 200 onward, thus saving her from going over old ground.

Anonymous said...


My agent also suggested revisions prior to signing my book. It involved a lot of tightening, making the plot more streamlined, etc -- every chapter rewritten. From what I can remember, it took me about 14-16 weeks. It paid off - the book was much stronger, and I got an offer of representation.

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

I'm sick. It's hard to write when I'm sick.But I'd write my heart out to try to meet an agent or editor's expectations.

I don't understand someone who wouldn't.

Mark said...

I've gone straight to an editor at a small house on my last project. It went nowhere with the agents.

Kyle said...

Miss Snark-
"Giving the Heisman" refers to the pose of the famous colloge football trophy, of a player in motion with his arm outstretched to ward off tacklers. So it would be "giving the ol' stiff-arm" or rejecting someone.

Just wanted to let you in on the secret. Love the blog.

Anonymous said...

So what if they requested you do rewrites to fix problem A, and you fix problem A, and then they reject it for problem B, which was never brought up until actual said rejection?

Just curious. :)