Friday, August 04, 2017

I've revised, can I resend?

I have a manuscript I've been querying for a year, and in the latter half of that year received a few full manuscript bites after I finally nailed down the query. However, none of the reads have resulted in an offer. As the rejections piled up, I realized that my style was there and my characters were on point (both have been praised across the board--phew!) but my plot had significant issues (only one agent pointed it out, the rest glossed over reasons why they rejected it).

I've finally decided that I need to scrap about 85% of the plot and rewrite from scratch. New location, new inciting incident, new MC background, and new motivations for the villain. Three major things stay close to the same: the characters' personalities, their relationships, and the way the supernatural powers work in this world.

Here's where I hit a brick wall: I've already queried HUNDREDS of agents for this genre. To be honest, I think I've gone through almost every known legitimate agent located in the USA that I can find for this project alone. I'd be sending this query to several, of not those hundreds, of the same agents.

Is this advisable? Since the plot is different but the characters are more or less the same, is this a new query or a requery? The title is unique (a made-up word) and the same (as it's something central to the story). The genre is the same. The character names are the same (and are fairly unusual). Is this too likely to earn me an automatic rejection for "requerying" the same manuscript even though it's an entirely new plot from the ground up? Or is the change big enough that I could call it a "new" query and treat it as such?

That odd pain in your hairline is me smacking you upside the head.
There's a pretty obvious solution to your problem here, but you're too close to it to see.

Change the title.
Change the names of the characters.

I can hear you screeching in agony at this idea. I know, you worked hard to get the perfect title, and you worked to find great names for your characters.

Are you going to let that get in your way?

Authors have to lose things they love All The Time. Titles. Covers. Character Names.  Might as well start practicing now.

If you change all this, its a brand new query, and of the previous query we shall never speak again.

If you can't bring yourself to adhere to this advice, it's still a new query, but chances are we'll notice that this isn't the first time we've met your book.

The leader of the volunteer program at my church used to stand up and ask us "do you have an hour for Jesus this week?" which kind of made it impossible to say no to any task she needed done.

I'll riff on that by asking you "are you willing to let go of things you love to get your book to the next level?"


MA Hudson said...

Ooof! Getting rid of character names that you love has gotta hurt. But maybe think of it as just putting them aside for another book. You never know, you might come up with new names that you love even more. Good luck OP.

Kitty said...

It's that old murder-the-darlings quandary. Good luck.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

You’re about to walk down the aisle, your dress is wrong. Everybody told you it didn’t fit right, it makes you look short, frumpy, and not like the tall lithe self that you are. But it’s white, it took you forever to find it, you love it.
Do you change?
And if you do, what do you change into?
Under your dress, a full length slip. It’s white, hugs you supple body, it’s perfect, it’s you.
How could you have imagined that underneath all that fabric, (you once thought perfect), a gown more stunning awaited your walk of a lifetime?

kathy joyce said...

OP, this sounds so drastic, (not changing the names, but redoing the whole book). Would it make sense to get more specific feedback, maybe from an editor? Then again, you have the "who to query" problem. Then again, new agents start every day!

Thanks for the question. It teaches me to regroup sooner if things aren't working, before I've used up all the agents.

Amy Schaefer said...

There is a certain joy in freshening up a book this way. You're already doing a major overhaul, Opie - just consider it giving your book a new paint job to show off your renovations. And good luck!

E.M. Goldsmith said...

I feel your pain, OP. It's hard to do the kind of revision you are looking at. Harder to lose character names. But a clean slate to query with is a very good thing. You can do this.

Colin Smith said...

I've heard often about agents/editors changing book titles. Not as often about changing character names, but I suppose we have to be prepared for that. Especially if the savvy agent/editor is aware of potential issues that might arise with your scar-faced wizard MC called Larry Cotter, or your fictional political foes named Frump and Quinton. As Janet said, we need to decide where we're going to draw the lines, and whether those hills are worth dying on for the sake of getting the novel published. Good question, and good call, Janet. All the best to you, Opie! :)

Lisa Bodenheim said...

OP: That does sound painful. I know I consider my title perfect but have read how many times titles have been changed by publishers. Do it and query away. And if the publisher doesn't like the new title, you can always sneak in a suggestion of the old title!!

Kregger said...

If you're going to love your darlin's,

you might as well marry 'em.

I'm listening to Brad Paisley on the Today show so I couldn't help myself.

I suggest moving your trailer to another park.

There I go again...

Put that record on a phonograph and spin it backward.


Dena Pawling said...

I have one ms that's women's fiction but all the rest of my stuff is middle grade. For my main MG series, I have names for my two MCs but I've already changed one, and I might change the other. I spent MONTHS coming up with my working title, but after researching titles and title expectations for MG, I've decided I need a different working title. I don't have one yet but I'm playing with a few.

For the WF, the MC is an attorney in California, and I had the PERFECT name for her. You know that feeling you get when you just KNOW the name is perfect? That's where I was with this MC. That name stuck with her for over two years and it really grew on her.

Then I got the idea that maybe I should look up that name on the California State Bar website, to check if there might be an actual CA attorney with that name.


So I changed it. That HURT. But in my opinion it was required. I also love love love the working title, and thankfully I haven't had to change that [yet].

I know where you're coming from. But if you love your new story as much as I love mine, you want to see it out in the world. Make the changes. There's nothing preventing you from discussing a change back to the original names/title with your agent once you sign.

Good luck.

Colin Smith said...

Oh my goodness, Dena--I know what you mean. The moment I come up with the perfect character name, the first thing I do, with fear and trepidation, is Google search it. If it's the name of someone prominent, especially connected with what that character does in the story, I have to change it. The last thing you want is some Joe Schmoe with a million Twitter followers telling everyone you named your character after him, when you didn't even know he existed until you Google-searched him.

But thank goodness we can Google. Imagine what it was like pre-internet...!

Joseph Snoe said...

What struck me was the unique (made up) title line. I’m wondering if that‘s a bad start.

I checked the top 100 book titles under fantasy on The only unique (made up) words in the titles were a location (Muirwood) in a series of titles like Ciphers of Muirwood, Void of Muirwood, and Blight of Muirwood, and Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” and “The Silmarillian.”

I was thinking the unique title may turn off some agents as a red flag (while others would assume the title will change later anyway).

Am I off base on this?

Joseph Snoe said...


I’ve mentioned this before, but I played around for a great All American girl next door name for a teenage character who had been kidnapped three years before my novel begins. I finally settled on a perfect name.

After a few days, something inside me said I better Google the name—just in case. Sure enough, a young girl with the same name had disappeared (presumed kidnapped) in Florida a few years earlier. It startled me. I quickly changed that character’s name.

Elissa M said...

Change the names. Change the title. It sounds so easy, but we all know it isn't.

OP, if it's any help, think of it as a temporary change. As you probably know, very few novels are published with the author's original title (hence the term "working title"). Like Lisa Bodenheim said, when the editor wants a new title, you can always toss your original title in the ring.

Names are a little harder, but really you're changing them to match the fresh new novel you've written. If you really can't let the old names go, again think of it as temporary. Once you sign with an agent, I bet you can change them back.

Colin Smith said...

I would add (from what I've read/heard, not because of first-hand experience), that if you feel strongly about your title or character names, don't be a wuss. Fight for them. But be sure you have danged good arguments and can make a compelling case. However, be humble and willing to back down if your agent/editor gives a better argument. In other words, don't stick to your guns on principle or out of sentimental attachment. Demonstrate from the story why you really have got the best title/character names. And be willing to negotiate.

I can't help thinking of J.K. Rowling and HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER'S STONE. I've heard her say more than once she should have fought against that and stuck with PHILOSOPHER'S STONE in the US. And she's right.

Craig F said...

To me it sounds like it would be easier to start over. Write a new book. Maybe it is just my faith in my missing something while re-writing.

I have not yet queried, I am close and hope it goes a bit more smoothly than this. I started writing a sci-fi book a few years ago. I didn't think some of the concepts came through correctly. They needed a better grounding so I worked backwards to do that. It ended up being a chronological timeline. Now I am back to that sci-fi with a big, sweeping plot and a ton of subplots and backstory.

Consider writing another book instead and save the one you have already queried. If the new one gets called then you have something to prove you have more than just that one book in you.

Claire Bobrow said...

OP: it's excruciating to ditch a title and names to which you've become attached. However, re-naming could really help make the story fresh in your mind as you work on plot revisions. Save your ms under a new working title, pour a big glass of your favorite beverage, and dive in. Good luck!

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

KREGGER, hahahaha !

Amy Johnson said...

Dena and Colin: I've also taken to searching to see if real people have my characters' names. And I've searched for authors with my name. Not surprisingly, I found an author whose name is the same as mine. Then I tried using my first two initials with my last name instead. That was worse--I found someone who writes erotic romance. I've been thinking of switching to MG. Wouldn't want there to be any confusion. Up until now, I've written adult books, but not that kind of "adult books."

BJ Muntain said...

How long will it have been between querying the previous version and the rewritten one? It takes time to make changes that big. How memorable are your character names? Would they be remembered a year later? Even unique names aren't necessarily memorable.

Your query is going to be much different, if the plot is that much different.

My suggestion is to query this as a new book (with a new plot, it *is* a new book). If you want to change the title, do it. And when you're ready to query, write a damn good query that is different from your original query.

Lennon Faris said...

OP, this is almost the exact situation I'm in (I mean, like eerily similar). I got more than a few rejections for an earlier mss and am now re-doing the plot because I loved the premise and characters so much.

I did change the title, and the story itself is so different (and hopefully, my writing has improved significantly!) that I would feel justified re-querying many of the agents.

Good luck!

Ardenwolfe said...

Interesting. This never occurred to me before. Thank you for posting!

John Davis Frain said...


It will be a good exercise for you to change your title and change some character names. Because ultimately, you'll delete some of your favorite lines from your manuscript.

Like a lot of things (I was going to say like murder, but it's a nice Friday afternoon), it gets easier the second time. So, change your title. Change character names. And editing will feel breezy*.

*Confession. I couldn't even type that last sentence with a straight face. If editing is breezy, you're not doing it right.

Melanie Sue Bowles said...

I got nothin' to add... 'Cept John, HA! I was going to say murder, but it's a nice Friday afternoon. I LOL'd

Carolynn, Your message to Colin yesterday... Right on and *Fist Bump! (If you do that sort of thing). (Colin, sorry for speaking like you're not in the room).

Megan V said...

I'm not keen on today's advice. At first, I couldn't quite peg why. The need to change names and titles as part of the process of submission and general revision. What was the matter? So I set today's post aside and came back to it and when I did I realized that what had struck me wrong was this niggling feeling that doing as the QOTKU suggest seems dishonest. I understand the reason behind the advice, but I can't quite help but my woodland creature worry that it could make the writer come across like a cliche sleazy used car salesman if a requesting agent recognizes the story despite the significant changes. Why not come out and say straight up "hey sharqueforbrains I've revised this novel from the ground up, are you willing to take a look"? Does it have to do with how many changes OP made?

Barbara Etlin said...

Totally off topic, but...have you seen the new US shark stamps, Janet and other Reefers? :-)

BJ Muntain said...

Megan V: I can understand why you might feel that way, but in this case, the novel will be a completely different novel. It's not the same novel the agent already read. I think the worry about the names is more because they might make the agent think they're reading the same query again. Changing the names - especially the title - shows that it's a completely different book.

So no, nothing of this is dishonest. It's not the same book. But OP doesn't want an agent to reject just because she recognizes the names and mistakes it for the old book.

AJ Blythe said...

I know many authors who have had to change character names, book titles and other nouns in their works. One author was made to misspell the name of a (real) town. I also know of authors who had to change their pen name and one who wasn't allowed to use her real name. I assumed this was part and parcel of the road to publication and was widely known. Having read the comments I'm guessing it isn't.

As I read OPs question I was thinking exactly what our esteemed QOTKU said... change the title and names. I'd take the recommendation a step further though and suggest that if you are desperate to keep those names, when you do get an agent, tell them you have some names you loved from a previous manuscript. Your agent might be fine with the names being changed back. They only need to be changed for the querying process.

Elias McClellan said...

Obviously I'm late to this party. Truly, I hit the blog up with a different question when I saw this and it is BALM FOR MY VILLAINOUS SOUL. After years of writing, revising, and repeating, I /finally/ recognized a fatal flaw in my MS. It rhymes with "multural ippropriation." So, I spent the last week and a half changing my cherished portag's name/identity and, of course, the title. Can't lie, I wasn't "loving it." This posts helps immensely. Thanks, on the tip-side.