Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Vodka is not the answer, don't tell @bpoelle

I just got in a request for a revise and resubmit. The agent wants to set up a phone call to discuss the potential changes, which I'm all for. But in the letter they sent me, they said they had some significant issues with the manuscript, including not feeling connected to any of the characters, feeling like the characters all blended together and had no outstanding personality traits, that most of my plot was over done and convoluted, and then listed out for me the similarities they found between my manuscript and a very popular series in the genre. Is this typically how R&R letters go?
I've had beta testers read this, and the one problem I never had was anyone telling me they thought my characters blended together. Some of the agent's suggestions were quite helpful but others left me lost. I also noticed that in the agent's notes, there's a handful of times where they point out that I forgot to introduce something to the story before using it later, but every time they had pointed it out, I had actually introduced it previously in the story, sometimes only paragraphs before. They also spelled the name of one character incorrectly consistently through the letter. I feel both grateful for the time they've spent on my manuscript as well as confused. If they had a problem connecting to my characters and thought my plot was over done, is there really anything I can do for an R&R? I don't drink booze, should I start?

yeesh!
Did they mention anything they liked?

Every agent does revision requests differently. I tend to reject with some notes, and if the author asks to resubmit, sometimes take another look.  Requests for resubmission are rare rare rare.

Other agents might request a lot of resubs.There's no right or wrong way here.

But what perplexes me is the lack of enthusiasm about anything. Generally if I'm thinking of reading something again, I'm pretty enthused about the ms and think there are one or two things that can be revised to the point of showing it around the office for beta reads.

An overdone and convoluted plot isn't something you can revise. It's start over again time.

Characters that blend together aren't fodder for revision. They're an indication that the writer needs more practice.

The real question here is what these guyz have in mind for you. My first suspicion is they are running some sort of editorial factory out the back door and have the idea that you'll "benefit" from their services for the low low price of one arm and one leg.

Generally an agent isn't going to request an R&R on something she thinks is a total mess unless there's at least some redeeming factor, which she would mention. A redeeming factor would be voice, memorable charactes, crackerjack plot, you are Oprah Winfrey's love child.

My guess is your manuscript is not a total mess because your question to me is concise, cogent and funny. Good writers write well even when they're penning letters to me and running on their Anxiety Wheel.

I suggest you see what they have to say. It's free to listen. Take notes.  You might actually have a second listener on the call (muted) to take notes for you.  Then you thank them for their time and consider what they have to say.

Just because an agent says something doesn't make it true. (Except for me. Believe everything I tell you)

This industry is as subjective about tastes and preferences as any other industry populated by people convinced they're the arbiters of all that is eyeball worthy.


50 comments:

Colin Smith said...

This also left me confused, Opie. I've had better comments in a rejection letter! Why on earth would an agent take the time out to talk to you on the phone about a ms they think has few redeeming qualities (they don't mention any, in fact), let alone request an R&R? Did the agent say, "I think you and this novel have a lot of potential, and I'd be thrilled to work with you to make it shine!"? Something's not right here. And if the Shark smells something fishy, I wouldn't be surprised if there is. After all, she's well schooled in fishy business. And it's all about the bass, about the bass--no tuna... ok... I need tea... :D

Colin Smith said...

PS: This agent's response reminds me of this classic British Kit-Kat commercial.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Why would want to dance with, share drinks with, and possibly spend the night with someone who says you are unattractive, need work done, and spells your kid's name wrong?
When you wake up in the morning you want a smile on your face, not doubt because of the doing.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Ouch, OP. I can't imagine what is going on here. No, Vodka is not the answer. Go straight to whisky. Then let this sit, try and let it go, and then go over your book again.

Even after lots of revisions, when I let things sit a bit, I see tons that can be improved. But do it fresh. Did you query multiple agents? You might also see what feedback you get from others. If you get silence or lots of rejections, it might be time to hit the drawing board. But whatever you do, keep writing. Good luck, OP.

Theresa said...

OP, like Janet said, it's free to listen. (I'd probably do so while running on my hamster wheel.) But sheesh, what an odd response from the agent.

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

Red flag. Red flag. Algae bloom. Red tide. Whatever you want to call it, OP, run. This person isn't interested in your manuscript. They are interested in some self-serving purpose that hasn't been revealed to you yet, and may never be until you've been fleeced. Someone who can't say anything positive about the hard work you've put into your project isn't someone you want in your corner; no one needs to be undermined like this and damned by faint praise.

Robert Ceres said...

Whoa, all my spidery senses are tingling. Something definitely seems amiss. Why didn't they tell OP what they did like? Without that information it would be unfortunately easy to edit the good out with the bad, especially for such substantial revisions.
An early beta reader told me that my secondary characters blurred together. In rereading my manuscript I realized all the girls names ended in "ly," so I came up with better names and did a search and replace. Then I created a list of three or four identifying characteristics of each character and went dialog by dialog to make sure those characteristics were reflected in what they said and how they said it. Then I removed many of the dialog tags, as they were not really needed anymore.
It was painful, but it worked. I think OP's other revisions seem even harder. Without the motivation of an agent who love, love, loves the story...

Lennon Faris said...

It certainly sounds negative. Hopefully there were some positive things in there?

Sometimes when people get all business-like and ready to share their opinion, they forget to mention the things that made them go, 'wow!' I would expect an agent to be more savvy than this, unless they were super green.

Tread carefully, OP, and see what they have to say!

hanna said...

Wait, what?

Why would they want to ask you to revise and resubmit when they don't even bother telling you something they like about the ms? This is ridiculously shady. I know Janet says it can't hurt to take the call -- I wouldn't, personally, just because they don't seem to care that much about my book. The one agent who asked to get on a call with me to talk about the changes she thought would make the book better and see if I'd be willing to make them before offering rep was still gratifyingly enthusiastic about my book. You want an agent who cares as much as you do. Or at least I do.

Best of luck, OP. Hopefully, you'll find The One soon. This agent isn't it.

PS : off topic, but in my ongoing mission to keep the Shark Tank updated, might I direct you here? https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/childrens/childrens-industry-news/article/74184-rights-report-week-of-july-3-2017.html

TL, DR: I SOLD MY BOOK :D

Colin Smith said...

HANNA!! CONGRATULATIONS!!! :D :D :D

https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/childrens/childrens-industry-news/article/74184-rights-report-week-of-july-3-2017.html

Mister Furkles said...

A schizoid agent? Unlikely. This sounds like two different people read the manuscript. One like it and wanted to work with the author and the other—perhaps the agency’s head—found things to dislike.

My wife submitted a requested manuscript to a publisher. The requesting editor liked it and took it to committee. The publisher’s committee turned it down because they were publishing a novel they considered similar. Well, they both concerned women involved with major league baseball.

The committee found some things to dislike because they had to justify turning it down. The editor asked my wife to send her anything else she would write. She also sent an ARC of the other novel. It was completely different other than it had a woman MC and MLB.

So, I wonder if the agent likes your novel and the head agent doesn’t. If that’s the case, you’ll figure it out quickly enough when you talk with her.

Craig F said...

See what they have to say. Also make sure your credit cards are in another room. All I can see is a scam to separate your from your hard earned dollars.

I find it easy to see a massive bill for editing services at the end of the rainbow. Proceed with caution. This reeks of things frowned upon by those who are upstanding in this industry. There are reasons not to blend agents and editors. I think this is a prime example of those reasons.

On the booze side: Wait for something good to celebrate starting. Starting while stressed is a bad idea.

LynnRodz said...

Holy smokes, OP! Like Janet said, was there anything they liked? I'm sure you looked to see if this agent is legit. Perhaps it was Janet's drinking partner (no names mentioned) and she had one too many. Keep us posted.

Congrats, Hanna!

PAH said...

Congrats, Hanna! Very exciting!

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Congratulations, Hanna

Cecilia Ortiz Luna said...

Wow, Hanna congrats!

Donnaeve said...

Congratulations Hanna!

My input to OP's topic...geez, what's the point? It's almost like they skimmed it. Something certainly smells fishy. No offense to the Shark.

Joseph Snoe said...

Super Duper Congratulations, Hanna. World rights, too!!! You hit the jackpot. Don’t you wish Winter 2019 was Winter 2017.

I read a description of your book on Goodreads recently and the description caught my attention. (Mentioning the Beatles didn’t hurt, either)

As for the original poster, I go along with the two or more people were involved theory. It would be interesting to get the agent’s take on the letter. I’d make a list of answers to the letter, especially to the where something was introduced earlier. I’m not sure I’d bring it up in the talk unless the agent got specific (and was supportive).

Without knowing more, I’d guess this relationship won’t work.

Melanie Sue Bowles said...

Hanna, Yay you...! Congratulations. I'm so happy for you.

BJ Muntain said...

Interesting.

Janet's thought - about them really being an editing shop - is one possibility. Two others I can think of are:

1) The agent barely skimmed the story.

2) The agent liked the story, wanted to send an R&R, then had an over-enthusiastic intern do the critique, possibly on a bad day.

Or, the agent read the manuscript, liked the idea, but wanted all these things fixed first.

I suppose the only way any of us will know will be if you have the phone call.

Whatever happens, though, do NOT agree to give them any money to help you. But you probably know that already.

Good luck!

Claire Bobrow said...

Congratulations, Hanna!

BJ Muntain said...

Congratulations, Hanna!

Elissa M said...

I'm with those that say this sounds like a possible scam. I would personally take the call just to see what this agent had to say, but I would be more wary than when shopping for a used vehicle. Good luck OP!

OT: WooHoo Hanna!

Steve Stubbs said...

Methinks Ms. Reid is right. If they had "significant issues with the manuscript" that sounds more like a rewrite than a revise. Authors I have known with problems like that get The Wall of Silence, not a detailed set of notes and certainly not a phone call. That makes me think the phone call will be a sales call.

As for "a very popular series in the genre," the most effective path to success is to knock off someone else who is already successful. But you do not want to shoot off a bottle rocket and say, "HEY, THIS IS A KNOCKOFF OF HARRY POTTER AND THE PHILOSOPHER'S STONE AND WHADDYA THINK ABOUT THAT?"

Be subtle.

kathy joyce said...

Can't add to what others have said, except, maybe take a quick look at agent reviews. Someone else may have had a similar experience, and can tell you how it ends. I'd still talk with them. Just practice saying "no" first.


Hanna, great news! Congrats!

nightsmusic said...

First off, Hanna!! Major props! And many more :)

As to the OP's question, I'm reminded of something that came up several years ago to a friend who had written, revised, edited, polished and created a bright, shining, wonderful novel. She submitted to various agents and received on response similar to yours. Come to find out, with a bit of research because the interwebs never forget anything, said agent that responded in this manner was originally a writer who was never published. On a couple forums, other writers had posted similar responses where said agent was actually trying to rewrite their story. I'm wondering if that's the scenario here. Maybe this agent wrote something like your story that was never published and sees in yours, the ability to get theirs out there by having you write yours to their specs.

Just a thought...

Karen McCoy said...

Oh my goodness, Hanna! What wonderful news! The premise of this sounds amazing too.

Casey Karp said...

Awesome, Hanna! Brava!

OP: I'm with Kathy Joyce on this one. Check QueryTracker and Absolute Write and see what others have said about the agent. And, yeah, hide the credit card, practice saying "no," and stand by your story--don't change a word unless you honestly believe you're making it better.

Janet Reid said...

Sometimes insight into a problem arrives via the window, not the door.

I read an article today about a man who shuttered his startup.

He wrote:
"When users are unhappy but can’t explain exactly why, they often express that dissatisfaction as a series of tangential, trivial feature requests."

A lightbulb went on in my head: if readers are pointing out lots of problems, maybe it's that they don't know what the real, core problem is.

The full article is here.

H.Oakwick said...

I'm the OP. What happened is that I queried to one agent at the house, got a full request, and got a reply from the head of the agency. They did say they liked my writing and world building. But what precisely they liked about it, I don't know, because that was as detailed as they got before the rest of their critique. I asked to set up the phone call and even offered my own ideas before hand but they haven't yet returned my email and that was a week ago.

H.Oakwick said...

They seem to be a respectable agent by the way, but primarily work with non fiction, not middle grade.

Theresa said...

Congratulations, Hanna! I remember seeing the notice in PW and thinking it sounded fascinating.

Brigid said...

Hanna, CONGRATULATIONS! Can't wait to read it.

H.Oakwick said...

This was a very interesting article. You may laugh- since my manuscript is middle grade, I've recently sent it, with parental permission, to an eleven year old and a fifteen year old. If the adults don't help, maybe the target audience can.

Joseph Snoe said...

H Oakwick

I'm not laughing. I think getting feedback from your intended audience is a great move - but remember your intended audience may be the parents and elementary school librarians.

I won a Goodreads illustrated book aimed at children (for my sister's grandchild). Beautiful illustrations, Nice Story, but holy cow the vocabulary was way above pre-schooler and elementary schooler understanding. I saw a book without an audience.(Of course I may be wrong - I just checked Amazon.com -it's getting great reviews and is ranked in the 400,000's).

BJ Muntain said...

Regarding Janet's link:

I can see that. I put a chapter of a WiP in front of a writers' group, and they were full of all sorts of 'exciting ideas' to 'fix it'.

In another group, someone came closer: "I think you've polished out the emotion." (That wasn't the answer, because it was pretty new and I hadn't had a chance to polish it yet, but it was close.)

I realized I wasn't getting emotion across, probably due to life events. Now I look more closely at that, to make sure I'm not 'writing from a distance' but writing from the heart. I think it's working, now.

Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale said...

The Shark knows when something smells fishy.

Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale said...

Oakwick, sounds like you're trying too hard to make this sale. It feels like you hit a baseball that almost make it to third base, then you hoofed it out there, picked up the ball and ran it to the other side of outfield in an effort to claim a home run.

Conserve your energy. Don't pin every hope onto this one glimmer of attention. You do have other queries out there, right. Keep sending them until you hear the news you want to hear.

Janet Reid said...

I just sent an R&R to a prospective client. The phrase "I love this" appears three times in the email.

Claire Bobrow said...

I'm sure I speak for many of my fellow Reiders when I say, "Oh, to be that prospective client!" I hope it works out well for them (and for you, Janet!).

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

See...Janet does it right.

Colin does the linky thing.

And Hannaaaaaaaaa congrats.

Megan V said...

Congrats Hanna! That's excellent news!

And Oakwick—best wishes to you. Skip the whiskey and the vodka, head straight for the champagne to celebrate how awesome you are.

And btw I always use kids, tweens, and teens to beta my MG and YA. It's good form, IMO.

Susan said...

Checking in after a long, loooong day. Nothing to add that hasn't been said, but congrats, Hanna!!! Pop open that bubbly and celebrate!

Lennon Faris said...

Awesome, congrats, Hanna!

Lucky client of Janet's! Well, probably not so much 'luck' as hard work, but you know what I mean.

Time to par-tay!

Ginger Mollymarilyn said...

Congratulations, Hanna! What exciting news!

Beth Carpenter said...

Congratulations, Hanna! So excited for you.

Oatwick, hope once you get that phone call it all becomes clear and that your beta readers are helpful.

Steve Stubbs said...

OP, your comment that the work is MG adds context to your statement that the plot is "over done and convoluted." It is probably super for an older audience. I don't think I could write MG. Maybe you could rewrite for a more mature readership. Good luck in any case.

Kudos to Hanna.

And very best wishes to Ms. Reid on response to her R&R. I hope you get everything you want and the client makes you rich.

AJ Blythe said...

Gulp! Oakwick, was a frustrating position to be in. Everything's been said, so I'll just wish you all the best with your ms.

Brilliant news, Hanna. Congratulations!

LynnRodz said...

Oakwick, I have agree with Her Grace, you asked for the phone call, so I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for one. And I would concentrate on agents who are looking for MG and not non-fiction. Besides, you got a requested full so you're doing something right. Keep going and good luck to you!

LynnRodz said...

I hate when I read my comment and I make sure everything is correct before hitting publish and then afterwards I see something wrong. *to agree* Jeez!