Thursday, September 27, 2007

Question: Revise based on an agent's comments?

Should a writer revise a manuscript based on the disparate opinions of several agents?

I've received flattering, lengthy, detailed rejections of my novel from several A-list agents, each of whom was tempted but ultimately passed. While it's terrific that they considered my manuscript worthy of their thoughtful comments, there's a total lack of consensus about where each felt the story fell short. If even two of these agents criticized the same element of my novel, I'd start an immediate revision before sending off my next round of queries. But agent one praised something that agent two didn't like, etc, etc. I'm confused! To revise or not to revise, that is my question.

Did these agents say they would look at a revision?

When I provide comments without an offer to review a revised manuscript, I usually won't want to see the revision. Instead, I am just trying to provide some general guidance to you.

In contrast, when I ask to see a revision, it means that I could definitely be interested in representing you, but that right now there's too much work to be done still to make an offer of a representation. This doesn't mean that I only take on clients who's work is ready for submission to editors - in fact, I will almost always want a client to revise even after I've signed them up. However, by that point I've been convinced that we share the same vision for the work and their writing is such that eventually we can get the proposal or manuscript in shape for submission.

Of course, even when an agent asks for a revision there's no guarantee that they'll make you an offer of representation. You might not revise to their satisfaction. Or alternatively, the agent's circumstances could have changed and now their list is too full to take on another client. As a result, it's absolutely essential to make sure that you agree with the comments and that the work will be stronger regardless of whether that agent ends up making an offer of representation.


jjdebenedictis said...

I think the writer needs to examine the agents' comments and figure out if any of them "feel" right - i.e. is that suggestion something the writer agrees with?

When your critique group can't agree on what needs to be fixed, that sometimes mean nothing needs to be fixed, i.e. the divisions are due only to individual taste, not to the quality of the book.

Think about the suggestions, but don't take them as commandments. You're the author; trust your own instincts. Apply only those suggestions you think will make the book better.

A Paperback Writer said...

So, would you consider the phrase "please feel free to query me again" after a lengthy (2 page) commentary/suggestions for revision enough of an invitation for me to re-submit the ms after revision?

Jonathan Lyons said...

Truthfully, I'm not sure what "please feel free to query me again" means in that circumstance. I'd suggest writing the agent and asking specifically if they'd want to see a revision.

A Paperback Writer said...

Okay. Thanks, Jonathan.

Robin S. said...

This was really helpful. Thanks for posting the question, and for your comments.

I could see where the author would be perplexed on his or her next move, with so many differing opinions.

It seems to me, then, that, from what you've said, IF an agent suggests revisions AND that agent is one you would really like to work with, AND they asked to see your manuscript again, with the revisions, AND these revisions make sense to you, that's the time when revising would make sense.

It's also good to see your comment that you expect some revision even when you've made the decision to take someone on as a client. i wondered about that - as much as I've seen that work being submitted must be "ready to go". So, it should be in the best shape you can get it, but even so, expect changes. Right?

Jonathan Lyons said...


Travis Erwin said...

Thanks for taking the time to explain things like this to all of us eager learners.