Nathan Bransford, Author


Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Unagented Revisions

In response to yesterday's post on Literary Agents and Exclusives, an anonymous commenter raised an interesting point of discussion that I promised to elaborate on in the future. And the future is now. (soundtrack: dum dum dummmmmmm)

But back to yesterday -- Anon had been working with an agent for 9 months on a revision, and was frustrated at the length of time it had been taking and was contemplating jumping ship. My response was that 9 months is a blink of an eye in this business, and to make sure Anon appreciated that they had an agent's attention!

I think some people were surprised to hear that agents even embark on revisions with people who aren't their clients. And yes, we do. Typically it's your younger agents (such as yours truly) who will take the time to do this because we are the ones who are able, willing, and have the motivation to try and turn diamonds in the rough into polished gems. More established agents are able to pick and choose their clients a bit more and don't have as much incentive to take on projects with uncertain prospects of success -- and there's nothing more uncertain than a revision.

There are a couple of different levels of pre-submission revisions:

1) I vaguely suggest what I think is wrong on a book level (such as "I had problems with the pacing"), followed by an invitation to resubmit after a substantial revision.

In this scenario I assume the author is going to continue querying, but if they come up empty and take another serious look at the manuscript and spend a lot of time revising, I'll take another look. Usually this means I see something of value in the manuscript but it's a ways off and needs to be revisited.

2) I provide a more specific suggestion, followed by an invitation to resubmit if the problem(s) is/are fixed.

Often there will be a glaring but relatively easily fixable problem, such as writerly tics that distract me from the narrative or a particular character that isn't working, and I'll ask the writer to make the change and resubmit so I can consider the whole thing again. Usually I'll specifically say I'd like to reconsider once that change is made. In this scenario I assume the author is going to make the change and resubmit to me, but is welcome to continue querying in the meantime.

3) The deep edit.

In this case I'm providing copious, extensive notes in the hopes that with a revision (or two or three or four) the manuscript will be in a place where I'll be able to take the author on as a client and submit to editors. In this scenario, whether you've explicitly discussed exclusivity or not, if the agent is investing this much time in your project they are assuming that you are going to give them first crack at representing the revised project. If you were to take the manuscript you improved with one agent and let another agent represent it, the revising agent would be colossally pissed and will be casting spells and sticking needles in your book on the day of publication. This is why I typically spell out exclusivity beforehand; just so we're both clear on what it means.


Those are the basic unagented revision scenarios. So when does representation enter the picture?

Well, that varies from agent to agent, and there are two basic scenarios (more bullet points!). Both have some advantages and disadvantages for author and agent.

1) Agent signs up author to an author/agency agreement before embarking upon revision.

Some agents want to wrap up a possibly-hot project and will take on the client before they embark upon revisions. The author is happy (they have an agent!) and the agent knows the author won't ditch them for another agent once the manuscript is completed without having to formally cancel a legal document. However, the downside with this scenario is that revisions are murky, tricky, stressful processes. Who knows where the revision will lead and if both author and agent will be ready for it to be sent out when the revision is complete? Who knows if the agent and author will work well together?

Which is why I tend to prefer...

2) Agent signs up author after the revision is completed and both author and agent are happy with the relationship and the manuscript.

Other agents want to see how things go. They want to see how the relationship works, they want to make sure that they are totally enthusiastic about the revised manuscript before they formally commit to the author. And, on the plus side for the author, there is no formal commitment in place. If, after completing the revision, in good faith the author doesn't feel that the author/agent relationship is working or isn't happy about the direction of the manuscript (i.e. not just taking the revision and bolting), they too can walk away. A revision is a really great way to learn about a relationship, and both agent and author learn a great deal about each other's style in the process. It takes some faith and trust on both sides to proceed in this manner, but I have taken on several clients this way and feel like it's very fair for both sides.


Word of warning.

When presented with a choice between Scenario 1 (signed up immediately) and Scenario 2 (wait and see), authors will almost invariably choose Scenario 1. And in fact, I've personally seen this happen. But I would really really caution people about taking the bird in the hand -- I've had several situations crop up where a writer took the bird in the hand even though they agreed with my vision for a rewrite, and they later came back to me after their new agent had submitted to lots of houses unsuccessfully, regretting that they didn't take the time to revise. Don't get so caught up in the rush to representation that you lose contact with your gut instincts! (That will be a future post -- this one is long enough).

So hopefully this epic peels back the layer a bit on the process of revisions. Yes, they happen! They don't always work, but when they do, a young, enthusiastic agent and a hardworking, enthusiastic author can take a manuscript to the next level.

NOTE: see also Jessica Faust's post on this topic.






82 comments:

ashley said...

Thanks for posting on this topic. I haven't started querying yet, but after spending months and months on a manuscript, I can only imagine how tempting it would be to jump on board with which ever agent first shows an interest in your work.

It's great to be reminded that hard work and a lot of patience can pay off and benefit everyone in the end!

Jon Bard said...

This is why I love blogs like yours -- authors have the opportunity to really become educated about your role. I'm willing to bet that most writers view lit agents largely as salespeople, who will magically whisk their unrevised manuscripts off to publishers using some voodoo lit agent magic. It's important for authors to learn that a good lit agent does so much more -- and revisions are a big part.

We're constantly telling our readers not to fall in love with their words, and to actively seek and accept educated counsel about their manuscripts. This post is a superb reminder of why that's so crucial.

Jon, Children's Book Insider/write4kids.com

Margaret Yang said...

"If, after completing the revision, in good faith the author doesn't feel that the author/agent relationship is working or isn't happy about the direction of the manuscript (i.e. not just taking the revision and bolting..."

But this can be the same situation seen from two sides. To the author, they are leaving because they saw flaws in the agent/process during revision. To the agent, the author is taking the manuscript and bolting after good-faith effort.

Because of this, it seems very, very tricky for both parties to do revisions before a representation agreement.

I'm going to respectfully give my own opinion here and say that In my case, I'm glad that I worked on revisions with representation agreement in hand.

Elyssa Papa said...

Thanks for this post. It answers a lot of questions. And of course, I love the voodoo book imagery.

I'll definitely be interested in reading the "gut instinct" post.

Nathan Bransford said...

margaret-

That's very true, but 99% of the time, if it were a good faith difference of opinion and style, the cracks would have already shown and it wouldn't come as a surprise.

Dan said...

Nathan,

Where can I find an agent voodoo doll to get him/her to represent my book? Muahahaha.

Great post = good agent karma +1

Natalie said...

Great post, lots to think about if the occasion ever comes up.

Black Eagle Adventures said...

Nathan,

do you represent SF/fantasy books?

This discussion about revisions is very interesting. I'm done with a SF/Fantasy book, "The Black Eagle and the Seven Sages of Erenil" (the first of a saga), and I could use the help of some friends of mine who worked really hard as sort of personal editors. This private revision took about 6 months. Still, I think whoever will accept to represent/publish me will ask me for more. Revision never ends... It just ends with the publication by one p house... I'm not upset about it, though. I think a good editor does really improve the book.

Anyway,... back to the first question. Do you do SF/Fantasy? If yes, what kind of e-query wold you want? If no, can you recommend someone else to me? Here... I published a presentation site:
http://www.blackeagleadventures.com
You might have some pieces of advice about it too.

Thanks a lot,

Fulvio

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Nate-dawg, a very helpful post.

About a month ago I received two paragraphs of revisions from an agent who said he/she would continue the conversation after I made the changes. I revised the manuscript but continued querying - I'd been fretting whether that would be polite or not.

What's the etiquette now? How beholden am I to this agent? Could I accept another agent's representation in good conscience? The original edits were really good, so I likely wouldn't stray but just in case a more senior agent is interested....

Nathan Bransford said...

anon-

Well, first off, don't forget that "more senior" doesn't necessarily mean "better." But if you're in doubt you can always ask -- I'd check out Jessica Faust's post, which I linked to at the bottom of mine, which deals with the obligation thing with more nuance than I was able to tackle in this post.

Kandis Burns said...

This 'blog ought to be required reading-- especially the notes concerning the levels of revisions! Thank you on behalf of the very nearly done writing and just starting to figure out what happens next masses.

JES said...

Black Eagle (Fulvio) -- you'll find your questions answered on Nathan's page of Frequently Asked Questions.

Great post, Nathan. Like one of the other commenters, I'm looking forward to the discussion of "gut instinct." (I suspect it comes into play more often than does cold hard logic.)

Anonymous said...

Yeah, that's good advice...

The thing that's holding me back is that I fancy myself a literary writer and the younger, hungrier agent has never sold a debut novel to a literary imprint (at least from what I've seen Google-cached at Publisher's Marketplace). So I wonder whether I'd be better off with someone with a bit more clout, you know what I mean?

I guess I should go with my gut. (Assuming either of 'em wants the new manuscript)

Nathan Bransford said...

anon-

Young agents have to start somewhere, just like young writers. Typically agents and authors build their careers together. There's the occasional debut author who matches with a very experienced agent, but often young agents and young authors make perfect teams.

Christopher M. Park said...

Nathan,

This is an interesting topic that I have not read a whole lot about (which is a surprise). If a ms is deeply flawed, but shows a lot of promise, I understand exactly where you are coming from.

But at the same time, from what I have read on most agent blogs (including, I thought, yours), pretty much all mss go through a revision step with an agent before going out on submission. Here I'm assuming these are not usually deep, book-rending edits (except with existing clients when need be, I guess) -- but I thought these were generally done under contract.

You mentioned on your recent podcast that you prefer to be up-front about the changes you want your new authors to make, and that makes perfect sense as well. I guess I'm just wondering if there's some sort of distinction here between big (and therefore uncertain) edits, versus smaller, perhaps more technical edits that you can be fairly certain any author could reasonably make.

This isn't a super distressing issue for me either way, but I was just surprised because it was slightly different from what I thought I had been reading on this subject for a good while (but it's entirely possible the confusion is just mine).

As always, I enjoy your blog -- I'm not commenting much of anywhere these days (busy writing), but I do read it daily.

Chris

Anonymous said...

Sure, sure, but put yourself in the debut's shoes... here's an agent with a solid track record of six- and seven-figure debuts versus a total noob... On the other hand the young agent would give it more time and attention, but the momentum a serious, senior agent could provide - that would be hard to turn down

Nathan Bransford said...

chris-

That's a really good question. Yes, even when I think a manuscript is already ready for submission and I offer representation I may still offer some additional edits to polish it up as much as possible. They aren't typically major edits though, and may just be a tweak here and there.

So you have the right distinction in your comment -- big deep edit without an agreement in place vs. small technical edit after an agreement is in place.

Nathan Bransford said...

anon-

Definitely, some agents have clout. But be careful what you wish for! If your work doesn't sell immediately is the big agent going to stick with you for the long haul? What about a young, hungry agent willing to go to the bitter end? Fit is most important.

This will all go with the future "go with your gut" post, but dollar signs can very quickly start clouding judgment.

Christopher M. Park said...

Nathan - Great! Glad to hear I haven't been misunderstanding this for the last few years.

Anonymous said...

Just thought I'd throw in my own experience here. I'm a very young writer who worked with an extremely reputable agent for at least 6 months on revisions before signing a contract.

I wouldn't go back and do it any other way. I didn't feel pressured by the presence of a contract, and I knew that if the agent was taking that much time to offer feedback, then it was all in my hands anyways. I mean, if I nailed the revisions, then the agent would sign me. If I sucked, then they woudln't. In my own mind, it was as simple as that. The agent obviously wanted to represent my book, they just needed to make sure I could fix things that needed fixing. If an agent takes the time to offer detailed revisions, they want you as a client. They want nothing more than for you to nail the revision and make it impossible to say no. So offer or no offer shouldn't even matter. It will either work based on your ability and shared vision for the book or it won't.

Anyways, I'm happy to report that we finally sold the book to a MAJOR publisher almost 13 months after we initially started working together on the book.

Long waits and hard work will pay off. Agents know what it takes to sell a book. As long as you agree with their overall vision for the book, then there is NO reason at all to not at least try to revise for them, contract or no contract.

Nathan Bransford said...

anon-

Thanks so much for sharing that perspective -- that's exactly how it's supposed to work. Congratulations!

Anonymous said...

Oh yeah, I love the blog, Nathan. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

re: Is the big name agent going to stick with you for the long haul if your work doesn't sell right away?

No, they aren't. I have first hand knowledge of this. They will flee you and act like it's your manuscript's fault -- the very manuscript they told you they would sell for you "come hell or high water."

And then one fine day they'll sit on panals at writer's conferences and lecture newbie writers on how important it is in this business to have a sense of loyalty and perserverance, while your jaw drops to the floor.

But it's okay, I'm not bitter or anything. :)

(and no, Nathan wasn't the agent).

Black Eagle Adventures said...

Ho could I miss that? Thanks jes! I've been going through so many agents' sites in the past few hours that my eyes start playing tricks on me... Maybe it was the original blog structure of Nathan's site.

Anonymous said...

But that's assuming the novel won't sell! I'll tell you one thing though, I sure wish someone would hire McKinsey or something to come in and light a fire under everyone's butts. This is has got to be the s l o w e s t industry in the world. Besides the MTA. Why on earth does it take one-to-four months to read a manuscript? That said, good news seems to travel much faster.

Nathan Bransford said...

anon-

Couldn't agree more about the pace of the industry. But hey, I try and use it to my advantage -- I'm reading and responding to queries within hours of receiving them, and I could have a great author signed up before another agent even cracks open their e-mail.

Sam said...

If anyone's concerned about signing with an inexperienced young agent - please don't be!

I'm a young writer and I agent-shopped my first novel a lot before a young, inexperienced agent agreed to represent me. He said he could see that I could write, but that I had no real clue how to orient a plot and maintain readers' attention.

Over several months we worked together on revising the novel. He wrote ten/twelve-page reports, long emails, anotated the drafts copiously - basically, he put in a great deal of effort. I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that in those months my agent taught me how to put a novel together. I seriosuly doubt whether a more senior agent would've had either the time or the inclination to do that.

As it happens, (and it wasn't my doing!) towards the end of the revisions the 'script found its way into the hands of a senior agent who'd once turned down an earlier version of it. He called to ask if I was now agented. I happily said I was.

So. Yes. If a bright-eyed inexperienced young agent comes hopping along, go for it and (within reasons of propriety) do whatever they say.

brian_ohio said...

Nicely summed up, Nathan. And, I guess I'll agree that your young.
Of course, then so am I. ;-)

Anyway. My agent, Rachel Vater, read and asked for a huge revision before signing me. But, as she's said in the past, it was my 'voice' that really hooked her, the project just needed work.

But... I also had another agent ask me to change from 3rd POV to 1st POV. That's a HUGE undertaking without a contract. And I started to actually do that, but signed with RV before I'd finished.

Do you find that a good 'voice' will lead you more often to ask for a revision?

Colorado Writer said...

What an awesome post! I especially liked hearing this part: "young agents and young authors make perfect teams."

Madison said...

So, I've been revising my mss. for about a year now, which means I've put about two years worth of work into it without ever sending it to an agent or publishing house. Is this a wise move...or since I'm so close to being done, should I go ahead and start querying and see what I get?

Nathan Bransford said...

madison-

Ha -- today Jessica Faust wrote just the post for you.

Madison said...

Thanks, Mr. Bransford!

Jennifer Hendren said...

Nathan,

Thanks for the very helpful post. I started revisions on my first novel about a year ago -- with a pretty well-established agent -- and I've been having a slight (BIG) freak-out attack about how long it's taking (this being a fairly major rewrite). I keep worrying that perhaps he'll lose the love for my book (which I guess is still possible) because he'll barely remember my name by time I get it back to him. LOL.

Anyway, this put things in a better perspective for me. Thanks.

Nathan Bransford said...

Jennifer-

Honestly, I would much rather that an author took too long with a rewrite than not enough time. The most important thing is that the revisions are good! Don't procrastinate, but definitely take your time to do a good job.

Erik said...

I have an analogy that may or may not fit:

I once called up realtors more or less at random to ask a few questions I had as a naive renter. One set up a meeting where all of my questions could be answered at once, which I did. There was no pressure and no signature required.

In a few months, I found a condo I was interested in. You can guess which realtor I called right away. I even asked him if he did this with a lot of people and if they come back as I did. He told me, "More than half do - it's a big part of my business".

Any business that requires trust has to have some level of freebies built into it. They aren't there to rope in suckers, but to show that a genuine partnership is needed to make the experience work out - and you don't get engaged on the first date.

Why am I droning on like this? Partly because it's what I do, but mostly it's because I think that Nathan is raising the bar for all agents here and it sounds to me as though clients need to reciprocate. Two possible answers to the scenario presented are, "No, I'm not revising!" and "Whatever you say, Mr. Agent Man, gee that suit really brings out the color of your eyes!".

The correct response is to take advantage of this to form a professional relationship. It's not a time for fealty or petulance. I hope that's the response you usuallyget, Nathan. I hope that your commitment to the art is met and exceeded. Trust does go both ways.

cindy said...

there is also the request to revise by an editor before taking it to acquisitions. that came as a slight surprise as well--but i think it's a positive.

Maris Bosquet said...

Nathan,

You are and have been astonishingly generous with your time and advice. I look at this site, and all your posts, and all of your responses within the comments, and I cannot help wondering if your agency is tempted to package all of the information in a separate, "publishing 101-ish" book.

Thanks

Miss Viola Bookworm said...

With my first novel I sent out, I was lucky to have an agent do some pretty extensive editing. She was at the top of my list of agents, so I was thrilled with her comments and suggestions and also with the line about, "I would be happy to give this a second look after you revise." I made the revisions she suggested, and although she complimented me on my writing, she still didn't think the project was "there" yet and wasn't willing to offer representation.

I'm getting ready to start sending out the second novel, and my question is: should I mention my first project and our correspondence in my query letter? She was very complimentary and encouraging about my future as a writer, and I was extremely thankful for her edits (they not only helped me improve that novel, but they taught me much about revision and undoubtedly helped with future projects). Our correspondence was good, but I wasn't sure if I should mention it or just focus on the new novel.

Nathan Bransford said...

MVB-

Definitely mention any correspondence you've had with an agent (and copy it in the e-mail) the next time you speak with them.

Miss Viola Bookworm said...

Nathan, thanks for your response. :)

About that correspondence: by the time I get around to querying, it will be almost two years ago. I suspect I know the answer to the question, but should I still mention it with the agent?

Oh, and off topic: have you caught up on "The Hills" yet?

Anonymous said...

My former agent provided some excellent revision suggestions "with an eye toward representation." I knew exactly where I stood, made the revisions, and she took me on.

As for big-name agent vs. new and hungry: This same former agent is very experienced with a big-name agency who shall remain nameless. Ahem. Unfortunately, my book didn't sell and she disappeared on me. I was forced to terminate the relationship. (Yes, I had a new project in the works, which she said she liked, but without a sale, she'd clearly lost interest.)

This isn't to say that new and hungry will always be better. But big-name agents may have different goals and may not be interested in helping you build a career if that first book doesn't sell right away.

The whole experience for me was very disappointing and discouraging.

Mark C said...

Nathan,

Quick question re futzing: I understand that you're supposed to submit when the novel is at its best. But inevitably, I imagine (I'm unpublished), the author will get little ideas, or want to make little adjustments afterwards....just wondering to what extent an author can/typically does make revisions to his novel after an agent or a publisher takes them on. (Again, I'm talking about revisions that the author wants to make himself, not those suggested to him...)

Nathan Bransford said...

mark-

There are lots and lots of opportunities along the way for tweaking things.

Marilyn Peake said...

I met a writer online who told an interesting story about finally landing a publishing deal with DAW. He submitted his first novel there, waited 1-1/2 years, and received a rejection along with expression of interest in seeing his next work. He then sent them a second book he had written while waiting to hear about the first, and DAW rejected that as well but again asked to see his next book. Well - lo and behold! - DAW liked his third book and he finally signed with them for that book plus two sequels, and later for a fourth book. I now see his name all over the place - winning contests, judging other contests, speaking at conventions.

I know another author who self-published at exactly the right moment when distributors for self-published books were brand new, before bigger publishing businesses bought them up, and he made a couple million dollars. He's still going strong with a long series of books because he has a huge fan base.

Nathan, do you think there's something to be said for both patience and having the right book at exactly the right time?

Lynne said...

Thank you. Nice to know what it's like on the other side! Note to self:
Nathan will help with revisions. Exit with maniacal laughter.

Kelly Pollard said...

Thank you Nathan for yet another insightful post. Thanks for parting the veil in the foggy world of agent and author relations.

I also agree young agents and writers partner well together, because they do share that tenacity to beat the odds and get a story out there. You've been so generous with your posts and answering comments, I can only imagine how accessible you would be as an agent.

Mark C said...

thanks nathan!

Kate said...

Nathan, you say that young agents and young writers are a good combo... and that's all very well, but I'm, yanno, OLD.

Just started writing a few years ago, mind you, and haven't been published yet; still, old. Not young. Or does that translate into "young" in the publishing world?

That'd be cool. But, baring that kind of fountain-of-youth transfiguration stuff, would I still be better off querying young agents? Or might they be put off by my, um, not-youngness?

Wanda B. Ontheshelves said...

Unanticipated Revisions, etc.

I'm in the midst of my own "deep edit" - an abysmal edit - of the last 15 of 300 pages total. Am I the only one to have thought the end would write itself, after all, look how much momentum you've built up in the previous 285 pages? By the time you hit p. 286, you're coasting!

Based on one other agent's comments, I have a fear of - how should I put it? It's like this cozy mystery I was reading (complete with recipes, the sleuth was a caterer) - and there was a subplot about abortion (pro-choice). And although I didn't mind the abortion subplot, I knew there were some readers who would, who would just set the book down. And go walk the dog or something.

So my fear of working with an agent or editor on revisions is - being revised for - innocuousness. I only have one measly (overtly) political reference, to volunteerism as "1,000 points of light" - in the context of a character looking at some packed snow sparkling in moonlight. Okay, so maybe there is that thing about Hillary Clinton, circa 1992...

But I just imagine - getting back all these strike-outs - like suspension of disbelief hinges on utterly apolitical characters - or maybe un-opinionated is the better word. All of my characters have too many opinions. They're opinionated people!

Oh well, back into the revision abyss...

Wanda B.

Anonymous said...

Nathan;
Should it be my job to "remind" my "big-time agent' about the existence of my book proposal--revised as he suggested and to his approval--or should I be getting "updates" on a somewhat regular basis, even if there is nothing "new" to report?

In other words, how long is too long to stick with an agent who "loves" your work, "is confident it will sell" and has yet to produce?

Just wondering....

Nathan Bransford said...

kate-

I mean young in publishing history, not in age! There are also agents who came to the business late who would be "young" in this category.

anon-

I'm not sure whether you are wondering about following up with an agent you have or an agent you're querying and thus I'm not sure what to tell you.

But also, I detect a bit of presumptuousness in your voice there -- don't forget that you are worrying about one manuscript, an agent is worrying about 30 or more. Polite reminders and check-ins are usually appreciated, and the benefit of the doubt is in order.

Jude Hardin said...

Nathan:

Do you ever shop a novel for a while and then pull it and ask for revisions based on editors' comments or rejection letter content?

That's where I am at the moment--round two (submitting to different houses) after a major rewrite. Hoping, of course, to have better results this time.

Nathan Bransford said...

jude-

Sometimes!

sally apokedak said...

For the guy who doesn't want the new agent--check this out:

http://www.nicholassparks.com/WritersCorner/MyAgent.html

and go on to the next page--"How I found a publisher"

Regarding revisions:
At SCBWI LA 2008, Laura Rennert told about having an author go through 4 revisions in 8 months. By then the author was getting a little tired of the process, wanting things to move a little faster. But the agent took the revised work and got a six-book deal for half a million dollars. So, she said, the 8 months were worth it. Her point was that the agent wants to go out with the strongest product she can get. It's in everyone's best interest.

sally apokedak said...

Oh, it didn't work.

Try this. this is about Nicholas Sparks and his agent, who was brand new.
It's a fun story.

putzjab said...

This is great that you're talking about this. I've been blessed to have found an editor to help me with my revisions. I'm writing a YA novel and I'm waiting for my line editor to finish editing my tenth revision. It's been a lengthy process but I'm glad I went through it because I've learned so much.

I'm hoping that after I incorporate her suggestions and corrections I'll have a manuscript that an agent will definitely be interested in selling to a publishing house.

I'm what you'd call a "young" author. I don't have any real writing credentials yet, so I guess that makes me an embryo?

Lena

Karen Duvall said...

Margaret Yang said: I'm going to respectfully give my own opinion here and say that In my case, I'm glad that I worked on revisions with representation agreement in hand.

Ditto. But I adore my agent and we work well together. Before taking me on, she specifically asked how open I was to revision and I let her know I was very open to whatever would make my manuscript the best it could be. That's all she needed to hear before signing me on. And I'm so glad she did.

Just_Me said...

So the revision process is like steady dating? You're exclusive, you're getting to know each other, but you aren't going to meet the 'rents or name the kids *just* yet?

a cat of impossible colour said...

Another great post!

I'm a long-time reader (and lurker), but just wanted to say thank you for this site - I'm starting to formulate the query letter for my novel, and I can't tell you how helpful all your posts have been.

So thanks! :)

Okay, back to lurking now.

- Andrea

Sandra said...

I'm fairly new to this, and I'm surprised an agent would take on a book that needs quite a bit of work. I had thought an agent would say 'no thanks' to any book proposal that needed too many hours of revisions.

Mind you, I'm not even sure what a revised manuscript would look like. Are there any examples of a 'before and after' manuscript? Even just a few pages, so the new aspiring author can see what lays in the road ahead?

Many thanks for a great blog and resource,

Sandra

leesmiley said...

Nathan, once you have requested changes, does that manuscript leap to the front of your reading list when it is resubmitted or does it go once again to the back of the line?

It would seem that reading a manuscript you've already expressed interest in would make more business sense, but is that the way it's done?

Anonymous said...

I love the revision process and was excited when an agent offered representation and said they had ideas for some pretty heavy revision; as a newer writer, I look forward to incorporating all the expertise folks are willing to offer. However, many months have passed, and what is becoming clear is the need for up-front agreement about what is meant by revision. There is content revision, and then there is, "Well, I know you wrote this as a mystery, but I think it really needs to be science fiction." When it turns out to be the latter, what are some possible solutions?

Paul said...

Quite new to your blog, have read your FAQ's and have a very basic, possibly dumb, question.

What would you put in (and what would be excluded from) a literary agent's job description?

MikeN said...

Just a quick follow up question:

In the case of option (1), where you make some vague suggestions, would you be open to a follow up letter asking if you would be prepared to elaborate a little more, or would that simply be bad form?

ICQB said...

Nine months - "the blink of an eye" in publishing terms. This business is not for speed junkies.

It helps to be working on other projects while waiting to hear on the one(s) you've sent out. Keep busy. Keep sending things out. Keep track of everything.

I've waited months to hear back on queries and full submissions alike. I was very, pleasantly surprised to hear back overnight on one query. The agent requested a partial via email. I heard back again(!) overnight with lots of notes for revision ideas and an invite to rewrite and resubmit. I rewrote, resubmitted, and have been sitting on my hands for three months now waiting to hear back.

So goes the publishing business.

annoynomous said...

Nate,
This is such a useful post and comes at a perfect time for me. I recently received a request for revisions from an agent which fell around level 2.5 or so, I think In a letter (not our usual mode of correspondence, not even sure she would have looked at it), I mentioned that it was a multiple submission. She has not been explicit about exclusivity. Here's my questions: 1) should I broach it (I know the linked post suggested that I do) but 2) if I do, will she be insulted if I broach it and then say, I'd prefer not to enter into an exclusive arrangement until I've heard back from a few other agents?

Wanda B. Ontheshelves said...

Re: "However, many months have passed, and what is becoming clear is the need for up-front agreement about what is meant by revision. There is content revision, and then there is, "Well, I know you wrote this as a mystery, but I think it really needs to be science fiction." When it turns out to be the latter, what are some possible solutions?"

I agree. There needs to be some description of the likely parameters of the proposed revision...that sounds nice and legalese, doesn't it?

Maybe you're on board for converting a mystery to sci-fi - you just didn't realize it until the agent brought it to your attention. But then again...maybe you're not. Better to know ballpark upfront whether you're headed to Taos, or Dallas - don't ask me why I picked those two cities, I'm not awake yet.

sherry said...

If an agent was willing to take the time to work with me on a manuscript, contract or not, they would have my total loyalty until they gave me a clear NO GO. I think that in a buisness this tight knit, building those relationships is so important to your career.

Sera Phyn said...

Since we're on the topic of revisions and resubmissions, I have a question for you, Nathan:

If you requested a partial of a manuscript and mentioned that you liked the writing but didn't connect with it immediately, would you be willing to look at a re-query after a substantial revision? I have heard that some agents don't like seeing the same story pop back up in their inbox no matter what the situation, but I was curious about your particular views.

Thanks!
Sera

Nathan Bransford said...

sera phyn-

No, unless I've specifically asked to see a project again I don't generally reconsider partials.

Nathan Bransford said...

miken-

If I have left open the possibility of an author resubmitting a revised manuscript I'm open to a few clarifying e-mails if the author didn't understand what I meant (within reason). However, I don't generally respond to follow up questions on other partial rejections or especially queries. I just don't have the time.

Nathan Bransford said...

anon-

If an agent is helping you improve your manuscript I think you owe it to that agent to give them first crack. You may indeed keep querying in case it doesn't work out in that instance (and yes, you can always clarify with the agent), but I think the agent assumes that their investment and the work they've done with you on the manuscript will give them preferential status.

Anonymous said...

I am looking at a second, extensive set of revisions (a deep edit, to my mind) from my young, "hungry" agent and regret signing a contract with him (he's at a very powerful agency and that had a lot to do with my decision). Because of the nature of the revisions he is asking, I regret signing a contract with him. He has gone beyond the bounds of what I would consider accepable editing, suggesting a different ending, motivation for my character, timeline, etc., and making line-edits that betray a tin ear. He doesn't listen to me carefully, or forgets what I tell him, who knows (he keeps forgetting what time period the book is set in and asking me why some details are dated and why the characters don't use contemporary idiom, etc.).

Just for credibility's sake here I should say that I've taught creative writing at a university for many years and been a staff and freelance writer/editor, so I know my way around the revision process. I love and even crave useful feedback for my own writing, but recognize lame advice when I see it. I am disheartened to the point of walking away from the whole thing--it's just such a source of unhappiness I can barely stand to think about it!

I'm extremely grateful to this young man for taking me on; but, I don't trust his aesthetic judgements, nor see much hope for a great relationship. (I sigh at the very thought of being on the receiving end of his revision-ideas for the rest of my life).

What should I do? I don't know how I could talk out some of these things without displaying my incredulousness that they were even being suggested. I'm really not a difficult person, and have dumped whole scenes already at his behest...but I feel like the time has come to draw the line in the sand.

j richards said...

I have a friend who's an editor in a large publishing house (non-fiction, how-to genres, so no help to me and my literary fiction novel) and she says that it might be good to query then submit a somewhat rough draft (very good 1st version, say) because the agent is most likely going to have critiques and want revisions anyway so give them a full pallette to work with. Is this right? I always thought one needed to have the ms in as good a shape as you are presently capable of in order to get an agent to even look at it.

Another question, how quick is the turn around from query to the agent wanting to see the full manuscript? I'm over halfway done with my draft and will most likely be completely finished in 2-3 months time at the most. If I query now would I have enough time to finish before an agent even gets back to me? Or should I just bite the stick and wait until I'm completely finished to start the query process? I'm like itching over here if you couldn't tell!!!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this Nathan. I'm in the situation where I'm on my second revision with an agent who still hasn't taken me on. She believes in the book and is on my wavelength, so I have faith that somewhere down the line I'll sign something. I think this move is wise for an agent, and for me as a writer it makes me really give it my all.

Anonymous said...

Hi Nathan -

I think it's great you're providing such a detailed blog for writers to see the agent's side of the story ... kudos.

Question about agents/revisions: suppose a writer has queried multiple agents and then got general feedback (not specific revisions) on the full mss from an agent (no offer of representation but invite to resubmit when revised). The revisions are major and the book will essentially be re-written. Then the writer gets a request from another agent to read a partial from the intial query sent out. Should the writer tell the agent that he's rewriting the book, or just send the partial of the completed mss (as it's written now), and then if the agent is interested in the story mention the revision at that point? Or should the writer explain the situation and ask to submit the revised mss when it's ready?

Basically, if a writer is asked for a partial on a mss that is being rewritten, what should he do?

Thanks!

Nathan Bransford said...

anon-

That's honestly a judgment call, and it's up to you either way. If you wanted to revise you could put the new requesting agent on hold until you're finished with them (they probably won't mind), or you could send your existing MS and see what they have to say -- they might have a totally different response.

I'd go with your gut on this one.

Karen lee Hallam said...

Thanks Nathan. A question I have regarding resending an 'informal' revision request of first fifty pages, snail mailed, of which the agent is glad to take another look--What would the cover letter say? Would you resend the original query?
The agent liked characters, and plot idea--suggested tightening up. How do i resend. I cannot find any leads online about this. Thank you for your time.

Karen lee Hallam said...

Hello--it's me again. :)
I seee that what I'm asking you is #1 on the "Unagented Revisions" My question is, How would the cover letter look resending an unagented revision to an agent who's 'happy to take another look'? Thanks Nathan --You are a Super Dude! hhehhe

Marjorie Brimer said...

What if an agent has your full and another agent gives good criticism for a revision in the meantime? You make the changes and still haven't heard from the agent with your full. Is it okay to ask that agent to disregard your first MS and read the updated revise MS?

Marjorie Brimer said...

I should clarify that the agent who gave criticism is not interested in representing the book.

Nathan Bransford said...

Marjorie-

I think it's okay to mention that you have made some changes and ask if they want to see the updated manuscript. But if they're already in the middle of the manuscript they may not want to start over.

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