Yes, this is filled with whisky

Yes, this is filled with whisky

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Query Question: "toss this and start over"

 An agent recently requested pages and then called to discuss.  She is the first one who provided feedback, which was very much appreciated.  However, her opinion (of course, very professional and not rude) was that I should put the novel away for 6 months and then start over.  She said that the character development was weak  and this cannot be fixed by editing the novel.  There were other items she shared as well.  She said an entire re-write is in order.  What does a typical writer do when one agent gives feedback and the feedback is "start over and re-write?"  Granted, she did NOT ask to see if again after I re-write it.  Do I follow her advice?

Well, that sure wasn't what you were expecting in that call was it?  Yikes! I don't think I've ever called someone to tell them to start over. Email seems a whole lot more kind when delivering that kind of news.

And frankly, I'd wait to see what happens with other agents before taking her advice. It is after all her opinion, and unless she's me and thus completely and totally right 97.125% of the time, maybe she's wrong. 

Every single sale I've made has had at least one rejection from an editor who failed miserably to see the amazing value of the book I'd sent them. Sometimes they are able to rebound from such abject failures, but sometimes they have to be stricken from the list cause they are Blind Blind Blind.

I do think that letting a manuscript sit, and reading it aloud are two very good tools for seeing problems that are not readily apparant by reading.

I'm going to bet the Comment Team has some interesting anecdotal advice for you as well. 


Amanda Capper said...

Why would she call? In fact, why would she respond at all if she wasn't interested in seeing the manuscript again? It was very nice of her to take the time...but, somehow suspicious. Like a shark circling a sardine but holding out for a surfer.

I'd do as QOTKU suggests and keep sending it out. Get other advice.

Kitty said...

Whenever I get the chance, I post the link to this article about how even the big guys can get it wrong sometimes. Knopf rejected Anne Frank's diary: 'Knopf wasn’t alone. “The Diary of a Young Girl,” by Anne Frank, would be rejected by 15 others before Doubleday published it in 1952.'

Susan Bonifant said...

Oh yeah... been there.

It's very hard to long for feedback, and then, when it comes, not take it soooooooper seriously. But try to be as quiet and thoughtful as you can right now, rather than discouraged.

In my opinion, you can't lose much by following this advice. While you're still early in the game (I'm assuming you haven't sent out 1346 queries to the other agents) you have a great opportunity to gain that vision which comes with distance, make fantastic changes, and go back into the game.

But if a potential rewrite is impossible to stomach, or if leaving the book to marinate seems too hard, consider the alternative; the agent could be right, and if the book doesn't get picked up at all, and if you wind up shelving it, you could feel like you burned up a lot more than six months.

I would start with a mini-break, say a month. Write a short, or an article or start poking at a new book idea. Then go back and see it with new eyes.

Either way, don't query or look at the book until you've had a little time to absorb, sulk, complain, eat some stuff that's bad for you, and finally jump back on the horse.

Best of luck, writer friend.

Pharosian said...

Do you have a critique group or partner? What was their opinion? Letting it sit for a while is a good idea, but you may be able to get more immediate feedback from another writer. If you don't already have a trusted reader, there are some excellent online resources where you can get good feedback.

Given that you're not likely to get extensive, personalized feedback from another agent, I'd suggest taking the critique partner/group route.

Distance from the project can help, but not if you are unsure what to do about a comment like "character development was weak."

Matt Adams said...

There are two ways to go wit this -- the first is that the agent is right, and the second is that s/he is wrong.

If you've read the book 17,128 times and edited it just as many and you're happy with it, putting it aside for six months isn't going to change it. You may tweak it, but the plot and the characters will stay fundamentally the same -- sometimes it's hard to tell the difference between "different" and "better," especially in your work. So if you've done all you can to make it the best it can be, then give the agent an imaginary salute and query like the wind.

However ...

If you rushed it to get it out -- if you just wanted to be done and move onto the next step, then s/he might be right. It never hurts to give things a 14th read.

Sorry for the call, though. That must have been rough to hear.

Lynne Connolly said...

That would work really well for a book I wrote that never sold. The agents and publishers were very nice, but always declined it, and I could never understand why, because it was plumb in the middle of what I've had success with before, and I knew the premise was good. It also had one of my best heroes.
Then one editor was kind enough to tell me what was wrong. "I hate your heroine," she said, and went on to say why. Precisely. In a professional way.
The scales dropped from my eyes. I'd had to change the heroine at some point, and she was, yes, hateful. Having a great hero made it worse. I can fix the book, but it's going to mean pulling it apart and writing a heroine the hero can be proud of, instead of a TSTL snob, which is how she ended up. The internal plot needs a lot of work. Sure I'll do it, but the realisation came as a relief. I wasn't losing it, I'd just lost her.
But it took that editor to tell me. I just hadn't seen it before.

InkStainedWench said...

Right only 97.125 of the time? That 2.875 % explains my form rejection.

Colin Smith said...

I too was a little taken aback that an agent would call to offer advice without any further interest in the novel. Is this common practice? One might say it's cruel. That email saying, "Can I call to discuss your work?" is what those of us in the query trenches dream of. Our expectation is that the agent wants to talk turkey, and if they're not prepared to offer rep there and then, they're going to suggest changes that would lead, potentially, to an offer of rep. Calling just to say, "Re-write your novel and some other agent may like it" is like the hopeful girlfriend opening the ring box and finding a break-up note. Agents: you don't want to do this to a writer. You risk getting a nasty write-up on the query sites.

Now, to the topic. I've had an agent respond to a query with suggested changes and an offer to take another look should I decide to make such changes. This was perfect because a) The agent suggested a change that made sense within the context of the partial I had sent, indicating she had read the pages and "got" where the novel was coming from; b) she didn't presume her suggestion was the only way to improve the novel--it was just what she thought it needed; c) she offered to take another look IF I made that change. I did make the change because what she suggested not only made sense, but corresponded to some of my original ideas about the story. In the end she didn't take it on (for other reasons), but did tell me the novel was stronger for the change. The ultimate rejection didn't sting nearly as much because I was overjoyed to have an agent I respect invest that time and thought to consider my work.

So the moral of my story: as you would with beta reader feedback, weigh agent comments. There are a number of factors that will determine whether you make the suggested changes, including:

1) Do the changes make sense to you?
2) Do you agree that the changes would make the novel better?
3) Is this a Revise & Resend?
4) Is this an agent whose opinion you respect, and who you really want to work with, such that you'll try out his/her suggestion even if you're not 100% sure about it?

Naturally, we're inclined to give agent suggestions more weight because they're supposed to know something about what makes a good and/or sellable book, and we're looking to get representation. But as Janet said, it is just their opinion, and it should be weighed against what YOU think is best for the story.

MB Owen said...

Wow. Arsenic with your tea? A phone call to tell you what was wrong yet without a R/R ? That sounds unusually...well, unusual. I didn't think agents had time to offer criticism.

1.What do YOU think about your story? Do you believe in it? If you do--fight for it. She obviously liked something or she wouldn't have asked for pages. Put those pages aside for a month --let everything cool down--is a smart thing to do.

2. Read. Get your hands on a few good books + fill your wounded soul. I mean that sincerely.

2. Is your story more plotty or character-driven? What can be highlighted? Who's your target reader? How would they like it? Make one thing better--then another. Even if it's one scene; make it a bit better. Rinse and repeat.

3. Don't give up.

Kyler said...

I had an agent call me too once, a really friendly neighbor-agent; and though he liked a lot of it, he said the car (one of the narrators) had to be cut! Well, the car is one of everybody's favorite characters, including a a cool editor who ended up passing when I did have an agent. I think the call itself is an honor, and agree with Janet to wait and see if others agree with this agent's advice.

LynnRodz said...

Let it sit is good advice, but I don't think it's necessary to let it sit for 6 months. One month is enough time to see it with new eyes. At least, that time frame works for me. If you're confident your story is ready to be seen by agents then I would continue to query.

Now about getting the phone call but not a resend invite, it made me think what Jessica Faust said recently on her blog. She mentioned if she gives you helpful suggestions and you make changes, she's happy to see the material again. Here's the important part, she goes on to say, even if she fails to ask you to send the book to her again, you can send it. This may be what happened. Sometimes we get caught in everything we want to say, we forget to say the most important thing. You can read the post here.

Dena Pawling said...

I'm with everyone else, especially those who recommended critique partners / beta readers. I also recommend a freelance editor.

I LOVE LOVE LOVE my story. The first two people I asked to read it, both said two things – it starts too fast and they needed more time to get to know the characters before they got to that particular scene, and it had “clunky prose”.

I did NOT give up on the story. Instead, I let that story sit for six months while I wrote another one. I also haunted [and still haunt] several websites that have awesome advice for writers, and learned a LOT [and all for free]. Plus, I joined my local RWA group and pestered people to join with me as a critique group.

I sent story #2 out to my CPs plus a freelance editor, got my comments, and now #2 is sitting while I re-worked #1. I rearranged the order of scenes, added a few things, subtracted a few things, used what I learned from the freelance editor to make changes, etc, and sent #1 out to CPs and the editor. Got great feedback, made more changes. I think I've read #1 almost 100 times now, and near the end of the process I hated that story! But now I'm back to loving it again. No one says it starts too fast any more, they all say they LOVE the story. One of my CPs got mad at me [called me an evil bitch lol] because I sent my chapters to her five at a time, and one week, the last chapter I sent her ended with the black moment, and she DEMANDED I send her the next five chapters RIGHT NOW, IMMEDIATELY, because she was crying and wanted to know what happened next.

I love my CPs.

I had the initial “this needs so much work” with my CPs etc. I can't imagine having that sort of conversation with an actual agent. Talk about roller coaster. First, you're on cloud nine because s/he wants a phone call, then you get that type of call. Ouch.

If you really liked that agent and were hugely disappointed in that phone call, you can also check out some of the books s/he represents. Try to figure out how they're different from your story.

Get thee some help! If you have CPs and/or beta readers and/or a freelance editor who all say the same thing, then definitely it's something to think about. But if everyone loves your story, then you just found one agent who didn't. Not even the QOTKU will love everything on the NYT Best Seller List.

Shaun Hutchinson said...

That seems odd. My initial thought when reading the question was that the agent saw something promising in your writing or premise or characters that prompted her to take the time to discuss it with you. I'm actually not surprised she didn't ask you to revise and resend, because I think whenever an agent asks a writer to R&R, writers tend to get so excited that they don't take the necessary time to really work the manuscript as much as they need to.

I'm curious how other agents have responded. When I was querying The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley, one agent suggested I add some paranormal elements to the story. I didn't think that advice worked with what I was doing, so I ignored it. However, nearly every single agent in my first round of querying told me I'd botched the ending, so I listened to their advice and completely rewrote the ending.

I really favor the idea of completely rewriting books. One of the things I've noticed about a lot of writers is that they become very attached to their first drafts (and, let's not lie...I'm totally the same way). They're afraid to cut their favorite characters or their favorite lines, and that can really hurt a book. My process between draft 1 and 2 now always includes tossing my first draft and completely rewriting it from scratch. There's a beautiful sort of freedom that comes from doing this, and it can really help you see the problems in a manuscript much more objectively.

That said, I think Janet's advice is spot on. I'd see how other agents are reacting. If you get a bunch of requests for the manuscript that end in rejection, you might consider this agent's advice. Most agents aren't going to take the time to discuss your manuscript's problems with you, so this agent's really given you an advantage if you wind up with a stack of rejections. You don't have to wonder why; she's told you. At the same time, my last book (Five Stages) was rejected by 50 agents before I found the right one. So if you feel like your book is as great as you can make it, and you haven't queried widely, I wouldn't take one agent's analysis to heart quite yet. I'd tuck it away and see what other agents have to say.

Craig said...

First off I'd like to offer a big round of applause that you got something more than a form rejection. You might wish for a second opinion but it might be years before the stars align to make an agent feel expansive. We do know that fairy godmothers only make it by your house once every five years if that was why the agent responded. It might also take another year or two before that fairy godmother makes it to your agent's office to whop him/her up side the head.

The Queen is absolutely right about walking away for a short time.

To be a writer and actually finish something take laser-like focus. From another perspective you have blinders on and need a change of world view. A manuscript can become part of your life and become so entwined in your soul that you see things that aren't there when you read it.

Get some distance. The best way to do that is to start something else and force yourself away from your first project.

There is always the possibility that what is trending in publishing will change. Perhaps your MC is a nice person in this clime where the last big thing had not one character in it that anyone liked. We are mere mortals and can not understand the will of the publishing gods.

Don't give up just gain a different perspective and try again. You did get lucky once.

Michelle Kollar said...

I have started over many times. I think six months is a bit much. I would query a few more times and get collective feedback.
Remember, there is never all or nothing. Agents aren't perfect (even friendly Sharks), but they are worth taking into consideration.
UNLESS this is your first novel. First novels are the devil and deserve to be buried in the backyard in an unmarked grave.
But that is just me. I have some issues with my first novel...

KariV said...

Remember, there are no query police. If this is your dream agent, then good for you for getting some personal advice. There's never a problem with letting the novel sit for a while. I second what others have said about using the time to start another project. If you can/do strengthen your characters, go ahead and sent out a new query to that agent letting her know you took her advice. If she likes it, great! You're another step into the game. If it's just a form regection at least you will have tightened the novel.

karenskorner (Karen Nunes) said...

Oh lord.. I wrote an insightful comment (LOL) then my internet went down and I lost it.
Though I'm sure this won't be as good, I'm giving it another shot.
When I first read the post, I wondered if the writer had won a contest which included personal feedback and/or an agent call to discuss. I still fell the call could have been phrased to be constructive.
A similar thing happened to me when I was brand new to writing. I'd completed my manuscript and joined the nearest chapter for interaction and feedback.
At my second meeting I won a five minute pitch with agent X who was there to promote her newly formed agency. She talked about what she wanted (my genre) and didn't (erotica) and the huge dollar deals the new agency had recently made.
She listened to my pitch, asked questions and said she'd like to talk further after the meeting.
During our conversation (in which I made copious notes) she asked many more questions then said she'd like to see more IF: I'd change it from a series to a trilogy, cut the word count by 20-30 thousand and insert question/actions enticing readers to beg for the second book.
She also wanted me to create a blog and twitter account prior to sending her the requested material.
Being a newbie, I floated to my car and still don't remember much about the two hour drive home.
I put everything I could on hold and did everything she wanted. When the manuscript was ready, I joined twitter and created a blog.
The day I pushed send, I read her tweets and two things jumped out at me, she'd decided to only accept new clients who wrote erotica (Fifty shades had just come out) and the second asked WHY writers couldn't understand to end a book with total resolution. There was nothing she hated more than to have to read another book to find out what happened.
A few days later I received her kind note telling me I'd done a great job making all the changes but stating she was no longer open to new clients in my genre. Her encouragement to query others didn't help.
I felt crushed and betrayed. I left my blog to rot and quit writing - until I couldn't. Then I searched for help and devoured all things Janet Reid. I found some CP's started revising and wrote a book in a different genre.
Excuse the ramble. I'm sharing my story to show I understand. The take away is trust your gut, let it sit so you can look at it with fresh eyes, but don't let her stop you from your goal. Time changes everything, especially in this business. What was perfect yesterday may not be tomorrow.

Robin Ambrose Kirkham said...

On thing to keep in mind is that someone who doesn't like most of the book is possibly not your target audience. This agent feels similar to the Amazon reviewer who disses a bestseller because it was a romance instead of issue fiction: They like what they like and they want EVERY BOOK to be what they like or it's "bad."

Think over the good things she said about your book (if there were any) and figure out whether she's even a fan of your type of book. This "rewrite" advice might just be her attempt to turn your book into something more to her personal taste.

Find someone who likes it more: Their editing advice will have a higher probability of improving the book YOU wrote. THEN, absolutely, put it away for a few months and come back to it with fresh eyes.

Julie Weathers said...

This field has been pretty thoroughly plowed, but I'll toss my two cents in.

Some years ago, an agent told me I needed to basically rewrite my current MIP. I asked an old friend, one I hadn't wanted to bother because she was trying to get her masterpiece in progress ready to submit to agents, what she thought. She'd read the rodeo suspense novel, but not the fantasy.

So, CP comes back and gives me the bad news. She goes further than the agent did. I need to gut the whole thing, cut characters, cut arcs, cut plot lines. I can keep the mc, but she needs to stop being a door mat.

I couldn't do it. I didn't even know where to start. I cried. My two minutes to cry rule? Yeah, it went right on out the door. I cried for three days.

I worked on something else and while I did, the boys in the back started unraveling my mess. A few weeks later I could see at least where to start.

So, I completely gutted it and rewrote it.

Helpful agent's minion had some more suggestions. CPs (I had gone back to my original partners by then) agreed and I rewrote again.

Helpful agent had some more suggestions. I went through and employed the suggestions.

CP makes a suggestion about how to get deeper in MC's head. Rewrite the thing with MC in first person and the other POV characters in third.

Yet another rewrite with some remarkable results.

I'm posting pieces of this on B&W for writing exercises and such and a few people remark it really reads like YA. I definitely have a YA voice and this sounds like a coming of age story. Have I thought about querying it as YA?

Umm, it's 155,000 words. I don't think it's going to sell as YA. I have a lot who won't even look at it for epic fantasy.

What would it take to get it down to 100K?

A gun to my head.

This is where I stop rewriting. Yes, I realize the MC is 16 and it's a coming of age story, but I'm not gutting it again. I don't have 55,000 adverbs to cut. It would have to be completely redone as a new story.

To the OP. You have to follow your gut, but you also need some really good crit partners who will be honest with you. The one set I had was very kind and good about fixing grammatical issues, but they weren't very good at the big picture.

My original crew is pretty tough on me, but they have good eyes. I need that.

I have one friend who queried two agents. Both jumped on the book and offered representation. Yeah, I know, I have no idea how that would feel, but it didn't surprise me. One agent wanted her to take three of the characters and split them into separate books. This is a GAME OF THRONES type book. It would mean completely rewriting the book and unraveling a lot of tangled plots.

The other agent said, just finish it and we'll divide it into smaller books. Both of these agents are AAA and know what they're doing, but they had wildly different opinions on how to handle this book.

Another friend rewrote her very long, OUTLANDER type historical for another AAA agent numerous times. It finally got to where it just felt like rearranging deck chairs on a sinking ship and going back and putting things back like they had been originally. She shelved it.

She went back to her modern book, finished it and has it ready to query. Now she's going back to the historical with fresh eyes.

Look at your book with fresh eyes. Let some good CPs look at it. Wait for some feedback from other agents.

You had an agent interested enough to call, which is remarkable.

I wish you much luck. You have a completed book and you're getting feedback, that's great news.

MB Owen said...

Not sure I can agree with the suggestion for freelance editors. Or if you do, tread very, very careful. said...

The most important word of the day (drum roll, or eye roll, whichever)


Here's what I know with my own latest work, A BLACK WATER SEASON and views on subjectivity. I have an agent. I use a freelance editor. I sent my ms off to beta readers and I allowed it to be tested by ten unbiased Test Readers at BookHive. I received input that was all over the place.

*More development re: the sheriff
*Don't change a thing
*The different POV's were great
*The different POV's didn't seem cohesive
*It doesn't need anything
*I loved it
*Maybe add a scene or two here
*It's too slow here
*The pacing is just right
*It's fresh

And on and on. You are intimate with your story, and only you know what will seem right regarding any changes. In my own story, it wasn't about the investigation at all, so I didn't follow the sheriff around. The story, in my mind, was meant to be centered on how a young woman learns the truth about her parents murder, and the obsession of their killer with her. I only followed through on changes that enhanced that story premise.

I'm saying some of the same things as the others, but I just wanted to emphasize the point about this is one opinion, and one opinion only.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

If an agent called me I would have pee'd my pants or thought she got the wrong number.

A call like that is like your Saturday night date calling the Wednesday before, telling you what to do, how to dress and how to act and then cancels Saturday's dinner and a movie.
Weird, just God-awful weird.

Christina Seine said...

Wow, I'm going to have to start getting up earlier! It's only 8 am (AK time) and this question has already been answered thoroughly and thoughtfully!

But you know me, I still have to add my two cents.

One thing that really stood out to me and made my little heart giddy with joy - "Every single sale I've made has had at least one rejection from an editor ..." EVERY SINGLE ONE, wow. To me, that's an homage to persistence, right there. That's the value of having a tough, tenacious agent, right there. That's probably why agents drink, right there.

My first novel got several personalized rejections, and even a handful of fulls. I was so sure I’d have an agent in no time. Yee-haw. Well, it didn’t happen. I did have one agent, who I REALLY liked, flat-out tell me she was *this close* to signing me, but didn’t. Oh yeah, there were tears, and I think three boxes of Oreos over the next few days. I was so beat up over it, as a matter of fact, that I put that MS away completely and started another book. Looking back, I’m so glad for that experience. For one thing, I like this second book SO much better (and think it will make a much better debut novel), and also it’s kind of a good thing knowing you’ve paid your dues, you’ve walked through the Valley of the Shadow of Rejection and made it out alive. But also, guess what? It’s been a year and a half since I set that first novel aside, and only over the last few months I feel I’m really starting to look at it objectively. The flaws pointed out in personalized rejections (thank God for those) are so obvious to me now. So maybe six months isn’t too long. To the OP, I’m sorry you had such a crummy experience. But keep querying! And while you’re at it, keep writing!

REJourneys said...

I can't imagine how getting a call would feel. I would probably be very jittery, running around saying "Oh my gosh" over and over again like a blubbering fool.

I agree with many people, including the questioner, that it was nice for the agent to give feedback.

PS: verify had the best word: "splog"

I've been met with this predicament by two lovely people, and agent and a professional editor. The agent told me my voice was too young for YA. This comment sent me spiraling into several weeks of comparing my writing to YA books I had to see the difference. I eventually stuck to my initial reaction, I wrote the book very close to how I talk, which is casual and young (but hey, I'm not that far out of my teens anyway).

The professional suggested that the plot and characters might work better for a MG. I am still going to keep that in my "to think about" folder. She said it wouldn't take much of a rewrite, but I know I'd have to rework the whole story. I'm not against the thought, so I will see how I feel about it later on (she also suggested more agents' thoughts on the matter before doing the rewrite).

I have actually rewritten half of this "young" sounding MS. My first beta reader gave me feedback that I greatly needed. I then figured I had to rewrite a lot of the book to make it work. It does and I love it better.

So, the plan? Like many people said, I'm setting it aside for the time being and working on another project. I too cringe at the though of putting it away for a while, but I figure my goal is to wow an agent with a MS so much that they want to work with me, then when they ask what else I have I can pull out my other book and talk to him/her about it.

I wish you the best of luck questioner.

Susan Bonifant said...

I just noticed the cautionary comment from MB and MB is right.

I'm sure, as Dena points out, there are perfectly legitimate, helpful editors out there.

It's also an area where an eager writer can be fleeced, particularly on the heels of discouraging news.

Be careful OP, and check them out if you go that route.

REJourneys said...

Sorry to post again, but I don't know if any of you have seen the "Best-Sellers Initially Rejected" (I'm sure a lot of you have). It's good to look at once and a while (money on what I post not turning into a link).

Colin Smith said...

REJourneys: "Sorry to post again..." LOL. LOLOLOLOL... if I said sorry every time I posted more than one thing...!

Here's your link linkified:

Julie Weathers said...

The professional editor thing is a mixed bag. I was very fortunate when Diane Ciarloni was my editor at the magazine. Although she demanded a certain format and level of excellence in writing, she was very careful to preserve each writer's voice and even help them develop it.

I've had other people, through workshops, contests, etc. redo my stuff so it didn't sound remotely like something I would write. Someone not long ago rewrote a piece of mine to improve it. The writing was beautiful, very lyrical and something I would never write. Ever. I am so plain vanilla it tastes like the vanilla bean ran through without even slowing down.

The second caveat is a lot of agents don't want to know if you hired a professional editor. They want to know YOU can make suggested changes, not the editor you might not be able to afford, who might not still be around, or just doesn't want to work on revisions.

Remember that post a while back about the perfect query a professional had written, but the writing was getting all the rejections?

It's sort of the same theory.

Trust me, I've been tempted to do the same thing.

If you can find an editor who doesn't change your voice, it might be worth it. I've noticed the homegrown editors come out of the woodwork during the twitter pitch contests. It's like a feeding frenzy, so a lot of people must be using them.

Colin Smith said...

Julie: I suppose the editor lesson would be to find an editor who will teach you how to make your work better, rather than just do it for you every time. And this would happen either because s/he explains the edits s/he made, or you examine each one and figure out for yourself why s/he made that change. And you learn.

Karen McCoy said...

I'd agree that this field has been thoroughly plowed (darn the Pacific time zone), and it has been answered very effectively by the commentators.

An author told me this weekend that she has one cheerleader amid all the other brutally honest people she surrounds herself with. It's the woman who does her nails. This sounds like the time for that cheerleader.

REJourneys said...

Colin: Thank you so much for linking the link! I need to learn to do that in the comments.

I just wanted to note, about the link, it shows that in some regards, I'm glad the publishing industry (or maybe just agents) have changed since some of these books were published. I don't think I could handle being told to "Stick to teaching" (which I'm not a teacher) or being told people would refer to it as a "horrid book".

Joseph Snoe said...

I’m a third party witness to something like this. Except it was a written message not a phone call. An editor included a long critique with her rejection. I read my friend’s manuscript making comments along the way. I read the editor’s critique again after I read the manuscript. The editor was right on target (for the most part). The interesting thing is I can see what the editor meant but my friend currently cannot. She’s moved on to a promising new story (from historical romance to technopunk). I’ll encourage her keep the editor’s critique and return to the historical romance novel when she’s ready.

Julie Weathers said...


" I suppose the editor lesson would be to find an editor who will teach you how to make your work better, rather than just do it for you every time"

And therein lies the rub. Diane has been doing some freelance editing and I asked her about a non-fiction book she was doing for a man. It's pretty rough, but she said it was kind of interesting.

Knowing how she used to work with me, "Put this sentence here because...." I asked how long it was going to take her to explain all this stuff to the man that she was changing.

He didn't care. He didn't want to know why it was changed so he could do it the next time. Just make it shiny.

She will make that sucker shine.

That astounded me. I asked her how many people were like that. So far, everyone. They don't care, just make it so.

You have to find an editor who is willing to tell you why they did something, and many aren't. Then there's that whole, I paid money for this so I can't just ignore this advice even if you disagree with it.

If someone in the writing group tells me to take the runt pig out of the suicide scene, but I have him there for a reason, I don't feel bad about ignoring it.

Colin Smith said...

Julie: Wow. I guess, like you, I can't believe people would be like that. I mean, if writing is your passion, if it's something you want to spend your life doing, and it's something you care about, why wouldn't you care about how to improve? Why wouldn't you want to know why your novel seems so much better after the editor has been through it?

*shakes head*

The way I see it, you're paying for the editor's time. So even if you disagreed with every change, or the editor found few faults with your work (as if), they ought to have earned their money just in the fact they took the time to apply their knowledge and experience to your work.

Elissa M said...

I remember my very first horse show. I bathed my horse, groomed him nicely, put on my best riding clothes, and entered the pleasure classes. All we had to do was walk, jog (trot), and lope (canter) along the rail both ways, then line up along the center and back up when the judge asked.

I thought we did wonderfully, but there were more than 20 horses in each class. It wasn't too disappointing when we didn't take home one of the six ribbons available. Afterwards, complete strangers came up to me to give advice. They were all very nice, complimented me on how well turned out we were, etc. I thought, "We must have been really close to winning a ribbon and these folks felt bad we didn't quite make the cut."

Well. After I attended more shows (as a spectator), read magazines and books, took riding lessons and attended workshops by professional trainers, I learned how wrong I had been. Strangers had offered advice because they were embarrassed for me. My horse and I had stood out, but not in a good way. But people had seen I was earnest and doing my clueless best, so they came over and dropped hints that guided me toward learning what a horse show is about and what the judges are looking for. Now I have boxes of ribbons and a shelf full of trophies.

Put the manuscript aside for a time. Write other things. Critique other writers' work. Read books and articles on writing craft. Study your favorite authors and compare their work with yours. Take a workshop or two if you can.

Then return to your original manuscript and see if it's really what you thought, or if it needs rewriting. The agent may have been completely wrong. They may also have been hoping to save an earnest writer from boatloads of rejections.

Jed Cullan said...

With regards the agent phoning to tell you to change it all: I found that very strange. A simple form rejection would have done, or a critique via an email. But a phone call to tell you they hated it and needs a total re-write? It's like joining a dating site and messaging people you don't find attractive to go get plastic surgery to make them your type, and then telling them, even if you did, you still wouldn't want a relationship with them. Sheesh.

I would also recommend setting the book aside for a while after you've finished it. I'd also suggest critique groups, or an online forum such as those at Absolute Write, who offer a Share Your Work area where you can post for feedback.

MB Owen said...

Jed--your analogy is hilarious.

Colin Smith said...

Sorry... not commenting much... used up all my words over on Donna's blog. :)

Amy Schaefer said...

You West Coasters think you have time zone issues. I got up at 0415 this morning, and there were already 30+ comments.

Maybe this agent had some extra time on her hands and thought she would do a good deed. I find it a little weird that she would call a random querier to suggest a wreck-and-rebuild, but why not.

The main point is that this agent is a sample size of one. You can't do anything with that. Keep querying, get some crit partners, and enlarge the group of people giving you feedback and advice. And good luck!

Julie Weathers said...


"I mean, if writing is your passion,"

See, there's the difference. It's not writing that's a passion for some people, but rather being published.


I love that name, by the way. I'm going to use it like a bay mule.

"It's like joining a dating site and messaging people you don't find attractive"

I thought you said "massaging people you don't find attractive".

My first thought is, what kind of online dating service are you using? The next one was massaging that...well, never mind. It's obviously time for me to rest my eyes. said...

*wipes tears* I'm just glad they're from Laughing.

Jed...Jed...Jed. GREAT analogy.

Colin - too funny, but admit it, you're not commenting b/c your FINGERS are just plain tired. It has nothing to do with using up all your words.

Elissa - great story and very nice outcome. When you found out, I bet you could have crawled under a rock. Or a horse. Oops. Now we're creeping back into Julie's Fifty Shades of Neigh.

domynoe said...

I'm trying to figure out how character can't be fixed by revisions/edits. I've had to fix character problems that have required some sections get rewritten, but never had to scrap and completely start over.

I agree with the commenters who recommended a crit group or partner (someone who is NOT family and not familiar with the book at this point) taking a look.

DLM said...

I'm with Jed, this is baffling. I can't imagine a reason an agent would take time out of the slush pile on a piece in which they apparently have no interest, to CALL a querier and tell them to rewrite. And nothing else. It's confounding - and, yeah, kind of offensive. Makes no sense at all.

And, yes, I obviously have nothing to say. I just comment sometimes to keep participating.

Lilac Shoshani said...

Donna, it's soooo good to see you again. :D :D :D And I really like what you wrote about subjectivity. I had a similar experience regarding input that's all over the place from music producers:

*It should be you and the piano.
*Lose the piano, get a band.
*Lose the band.
*Why aren't you playing the piano?

And this is just a tiny example. I'm glad I put it behind me. At least for now.

Julie, I also thought that Jed said massaging…

On a serious note, I'm with Jed and Diane on this issue as well.

Jed Cullan said...

Does no one else go on dating sites to massage ugly people? Nope? Just me?

Lilac Shoshani said...

Jed: LOL. I think it's just you...:D

DLM said...

I also got completely confused before I re-read posts, about how I was editing Julie's friend's work. :)

Spoiler alert: more than one woman on Earth is called Diane. Who knew!?

DLM said...

Oh, and Jed - I think a lot of us have done that at some point, but not because it was the intention(/hope) ... ;)

Christina Seine said...

Oh my gosh, Jed, I'm dying. Great analogy. Which totally needs to be a book.

"RUBBING TINDER, an erotic thriller about a man who stalks online-dating service users, only to rub them the wrong way on purpose, in a totally tubular deal, for publication in 2016, by Janet Reid on behalf of Fuzzy Print Literary Services."

Her Grace, the Duchess of Kneale said...

Now that the field's been ploughed, it's time to plant some seeds.

Is this your first book?

If so, I recommend you put it aside for a while and write a second, or even a third. You can come back to it later.

The problem with first books is that we haven't quite gotten used to the tools of our craft. Voice and style and plot and character development are all tools that gain finesse the more we use them.

And that means writing more than one book.

Now, the fact that an agent called you says something. Maybe she sees the genius in your work, but Not This Project. (caveat: I'm an Optimistic Idealist. I'm assuming the motivation behind The Call was a benificent one.)

I once pitched a project to an agent. She turned it down, but asked to see my next project.

Several books later, I returned to that first project and immediately saw what she had seen. The benefit of time, experience and wisdom opened my eyes to flaws that apprentice me was unable to realise in the beginning.

Now, whether or not this agent is correct in her opinions doesn't change what you should be doing next: setting this novel aside for now and writing another.

If you have other queries out there, let them ride. Maybe another agent won't have the same issues this one has. But if nobody bites, wait a few months then revisit the novel. The Comment Club here has given some excellent ideas.

After all, we want to see you succeed.

Megan V said...

Can't say more than what's been said. Always good to take a 2nd look. Strange that the OP got feedback in a phone call without discussion of potential revision or future interest.

Cheresse said...

Okay, first time commenter, long time reader.

I thought I'd blunder in to express my surprise that so many people express distaste at this agent's way of doing things. It's unusual, yes, but like many of the commenters here I'd be smiling through my tears at a personalized rejection. Maybe it's my naivete, youth or ignorance, but here's how I see things:

I haven't yet descended into the query trenches, but I've spent the last two years working seriously on writing and submitting short stories. My overall acceptance rate is about 25%, and 90% of my rejections are form rejections. I understand that magazines (and agents) get such a high volume of slush that they can't give personalized feedback for everything, but it can be excruciating to sit on a manuscript you love and get rejection after rejection without any indication of what's wrong. It took me two years of form rejections and waiting for my work to drift to the top of the critique pile in order for me to see the big picture and understand my biggest failing as a writer.

Any sort of feedback is useful, because it provides you with a statistic. This agent's word isn't necessarily the gospel truth, but I have to say I'd appreciate that she took the time and effort to call and talk. I've read many stories in which an agent has tried to help an author with personalized feedback, just to have the author turn around and blow up in her face. If this agent isn’t interested in seeing your work again, then she is acting in the capacity of a critique partner. I don’t have anything to add to the other commenters in terms of critique advice, so I’m going to leave it at that.

Actually, one more thing: Congratulations! Your work was good enough for the agent to request pages, and good enough for her to think you could use the feedback constructively.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Egadds, I hate that I can't comment along with the pack anymore because of my new hours at work. Anyway.....
Thank you Colin for the links, like the one dropped by RE Journeys. It was encouraging, reading about the rejections of best sellers, (mine is best cellar).
I've been thinking about this post a lot and realized the same thing happened to me, almost.
The agent did a line by line edit (of some of the novel)and never asked to see the reworked project. He was kind, gracious and extremely helpful. I felt honored.

Colin Smith said...

Cheresse: Hello! Welcome out from the shadows. :) Our "distaste" comes not so much that the agent's approach was "unusual" but that it set up a false expectation. As has been analogized by a few of us, the fact that the agent called is, indeed wonderful. But we expect an agent call to indicate a high degree of interest in the work. So when the agent calls, offers a critique, and then doesn't so much as offer a Revise and Resend--that seems more than odd, and would be (to most of us) beyond disappointing.

But yes, any feedback is useful. Had this agent put the same info into a personalized rejection email, I know our questioner would have been delighted (I would have). But to *call* and not offer anything more than a critique is (IMO) insensitive to our fragile woodland nerves. :)

Sam Hawke said...

Everyone useful has already been said, but can I just add my voice to the maaaaaaaan that sucks crowd, in terms of the devastating drop from the high of getting a phone call to the realising the content of that call. I mean, you get a phone call your expectations are going sky high, no way to avoid that.

At least email them first and say I'm not offering rep but I'm happy to talk about some of the things you might need to work on, if you want...

Liz Penney said...

I'm always late to the party but it depends on the content and approach of the criticism. I've had both constructive and destructive, and once after the 2nd (from an editor) almost quit writing. 12 contracts later...ahem.

emperorj john said...

"I'm with Jed, this is baffling. I can't imagine a reason an agent would take time out of the slush pile on a piece in which they apparently have no interest, to CALL a querier and tell them to rewrite. And nothing else. It's confounding - and, yeah, kind of offensive. Makes no sense at all."

Sorry but I disagree. One thing I hate as a writer is sending scores of queries or manuscripts to agents and getting no response or form rejections without telling me what's wrong. The fact that this agent took time off her busy schedule to call and offer her critique shows that she is willing to help, that she sees potential in either the story or the author.
I submitted queries, partials and manuscripts for 3 stories. Time after time, I was rejected. Finally, I submitted one to an agent and he gave a rejection saying that it wasn't of the "commercial viable standing. When I asked what he meant, he said that it needed to be edited. So what I did, I went to writer's groups, Critique Circle, Scribophile and they've helped me flip this novel around. Agent Janet Reid is teaching me how to write the query. Point is, when an agent their critique, they are doing it to help.

Kari Lynn Dell said...

I'm going to play blithe, annoying optimist along with emperorj john. I can't imagine an agent taking the time to make this call unless she saw something in the writing she loved. Your voice. Your plot. Something. This particular manuscript may or may not be salvageable, but in my experience no one in the publishing industry would bother to chat with someone unless they saw serious potential. Now she's tossing the ball back into your court and waiting to see if you have the chops to turn potential into reality.

As for rewriting...I might have to arm wrestle Julie W. for the title of Queen of the Rewrites. But I will say this: I've never rewritten a book I loved. If I couldn't see the flaws, there was no point trying to fix them. And I've shoved plenty in the bottom desk drawer because our relationship had gone sour and we were at the point where we didn't hate each other but we weren't feeling the love and basically only seeing each other until someone better came along and feeling guilty and pathetic about pretending we still cared just so we didn't have to spend Saturday nights alone watching NCIS re-runs.

I rewrote one book four times--once after a day and a half of a certain shark glaring at me across a conference room table and scribbling notes all over my work of art in quite lovely handwriting and we still couldn't quite get it right. And finally, FINALLY, I had an aha! moment where I realized the single character/plot flaw that was skewing the whole book.

The fourth and final rewrite sold. Can I tell you the secret to reaching the aha moment? Lord, I wish. It might take a month. It might take two years. It might never happen, and then you too will have to have one of those awkward "It's not you, it's me" conversations with your book as you're slowly pushing the drawer shut on it.

Jed Cullan said...

I should say that I'm all for agents giving out critiques on queries or requested pages. If they do, then the advice would be invaluable and help tremendously. Trying to find what is wrong with your manuscript is tricky. Which is why beta readers and critique groups are handy.

The thing I found strange in this case was that it was done in a phone call, and it was to tell the writer to just dump what she had and re-write the entire book as it wasn't salvageable. And then, when you do re-write, make sure you don't send it to me. I don't want it, send it to another agent.

The other problem with listening to this particular advice from this particular agent, is that it's only from one agent. What one hates, another will love. It's better to get other opinions before you discard your book for a total re-write.

Also, just because an agent tells you to change something, doesn't mean you actually have to change it. Even if you are the agent's client. I'd guess that even the Sharkydoodums has had a client tell her to go take a long walk off a short pier over a suggested change. Probably phrased better than that, though. ;-)

DLM said...

emperorj john, if the agent sees potential, why did they not ask for a read?

As to agents not telling you what's wrong - that's what beta readers, crit groups, and editors are for. Janet very recently discussed why she doesn't give detailed feedback with rejections; it opens a door to dialogue that (a) is unlikely to be truly constructive, and (b) takes time away from clients and the rest of the slush pile. Given the volume of most agents' slush piles, the premise that they owe each and every querier an explanation of "what's wrong" (which may have as much to do with market concerns as the writing - we're dealing with product, after all) is untenable.

So, yes, it's baffling that an agent goes to the extent of making a phone call to a rejectee, with detailed feedback which may or may not be valid ... and which *definitely* did not come with any kind of hope.

I don't necessarily trust feedback from strangers, literary agent or not. Not all feedback is created equal, and neither are all agents.