Thursday, December 18, 2014

Query question: asking to resubmit a manuscript

I just received the following from an agent to whom I had sent a query in early November:

"Please know I carefully considered your project, but I don't feel I can offer representation at this time... This is an accomplished story, and you’re a talented writer, but your pages need further editing, and the beginning could be reworked so that it is more compelling."

I agree with the need to make the beginning more compelling. In fact, a few weeks after submitting the query, I had an epiphany, and DID re-work the beginning to make it (I think) far more compelling.

Question: after thanking the agent profusely and buttering her up sufficiently, is it worth mentioning this in a reply email? Am I reading too much into the "at this time" phrase by thinking that she would be interested in a follow-up / revision? This particular agent is pretty high on my list, by the way, so I was excited to get a thoughtful response.

I get this a lot. I'm getting more of it now with Chum Bucket.  It's difficult impossible for a writer to stand down when there's still a shred of hope. 

Since it's impossible, I won't waste time telling you not to do it.

Instead, here's how to do it effectively:  

Thank you for your  helpful comments on (date) about my manuscript (title.)  In fact, I had an epiphany about the same problem in the manuscript as you were considering it, and I have revised along the lines you suggested.  Would you be willing to take another look at the same number of pages you read before?  Thank you very much for your time and special consideration.  Your chum, Writer

Be prepared for a vast swath of silence because it's easier to say nothing than say no.

I generally take a look at a couple pages when asked to re-consider something but that's it since this was not a requested revision.

These kinds of helpful comments from agents are often just a few of the things they think need work.  In other words, you've got long ass sentences and too much description but I haven't yet mentioned that I detest the plot, cause at least if you fix the sentences and the excess description you'll be better off with another agent who may not hate the plot at all.


Mister Furkles said...

I would worry more about:
"...your pages need further editing..."

But I worry about every little detail.

Susan Bonifant said...

Once upon a time, this literary agent, Janet Reid, developed a site for writers. It featured everyday questions, the tall and the small, and all across the land, writers became wise and heartened. It wasn't free. For this kindness, Janet Reid had a strict expectation of writers: write, write your best, and don't give up.

And so many writers, the tall and the small, on one day or another, did not.

The end.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

"I get this a lot. I'm getting more of it now with Chum Bucket. It's difficult impossible for a writer to stand down when there's still a shred of hope."

I am one of those writers of which Janet speaks. I have queried her so many projects, numerous times, I have asked her blog-questions, which she has answered, I've commented a bazillion times and yet, she still puts up me.
Why not resubmit. What have you got to lose? If you don’t, you will never know, and if you do and it is a no, than at least you’ll know, that you know...ya know.
Like I said, even after years and years of throwing words her way, QOTKU, still takes my emails. anybody there, can you hear me now?

Anonymous said...

Ditto Mr. Furkles comment.

And, considering the "needs further editing," statement, this makes me wonder, did the writer use an editor? Did they read each page out loud? (trust me, what doesn't show up on the screen will certainly show up when you take the time to read your words out loud) As to a different beginning, there are always one hundred and one different ways to tell the story in another way. All of this together makes me feel the writer wasn't really ready when the query went out.

In some ways, I feel this agent, although she recognized talent, and a good story, still wasn't blown away and for me, it's all because of the word "accomplished." That word hits me funny - but maybe that's just me. It's like the use of the word "quite." Exactly what does it mean when someone says, "quite nicely," or "quite gripping?" The definition of "quite" means completely opposite things - hence the confusion should it be used for your own work - as has happened to me. I sat and fretted over that ONE word for days. No. WEEKS.

Kudos to the writer though because, despite all of this, they got a personal response.

Anonymous said...

I know it's hard, but if I were the writer, I'd let it go. The most important part in the agent's reply is "your pages need further editing."

I suggest the writer read Self Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne before s/he thinks about resubmitting. Most likely, the pages in that excellent book will shed a lot of light on what's actually wrong with the manuscript.

Colin Smith said...

Donna and I seem to be somewhat on the same page with this. Agents need to choose their words carefully. As a writer, if an agent tells me "This is an accomplished story, and you’re a talented writer," my immediate thought is that she's interested, but the story needs some work. Therefore, if I give the story some work--especially along the lines she suggested--*of course* she'll want to see it again. Who am I to question the sincerity of her compliment?

Now, I'm taking the word "accomplished" to be high praise. While I struggle to see how a story can be "accomplished," as a description of a person it usually communicates a high degree of competence that has been recognized as a result of a body of work. J. K. Rowling is an accomplished writer. Keith Jarrett is an accomplished pianist. Sam the Cat is an accomplished devourer of food. If the agent says my story is "accomplished" and I'm "talented" and I just need to do some edits, AND if the edits she suggests are ones I've already done, then SURELY she wants me to resubmit?

If that wasn't the agent's intention, then IMHO she needs to choose her encouraging words a little more carefully.

Artemis Grey said...

I say resubmit, BUT, I would wait (I know, terribly difficult to do) like maybe 6 months or so, before I did so. During that time, I would pour over the manuscript with a fine tooth comb, focusing on EVERYTHING, not just the few things the agent mentioned.

If you're going to take another bite at the apple, make sure your teeth are as sharp as possible, and the apple is as close to your mouth as you can get it. In other words, go above and beyond with your thinking on editing and bettering the ms. Don't just fix three things without glancing at the rest of the ms.

mhleader said...

I wonder if this may be the right time to hire an editor to review at least the first 50 or so pages of the ms--the whole thing if you can afford it. I worry a lot about the "needs more editing" comment. I think ONLY after that is done, AND the beginning is reworked as suggested (which you may already have done) should the writer think about resubmitting.

And that actually means, think hard about submitting ANYWHERE else until you've done a thorough re-edit of the entire ms. The agent was telling you (I think) that your story is good, but the writing isn't quite ready for submission. You're very, very close, but take that last step before sending in again to anyone.

If you pay someone to edit the first 50-100 pages, note the types of fixes they suggest, then do similar fixes in the rest, it doesn't have to be wildly expensive.

OR get any of the Donald Maass (yes, 2 "a"s and 2 "s"s in his name) Breakout Fiction books and do virtually ALL the exercises in that using your ms. That'll cost you maybe $15-$20 for the book and a LOT of time and effort to improve the writing.

Frankly, I think you're really close--but re-edit your ms before you send another query to anyone.

Kalli said...

@ Artemis Grey - I agree that if the agent says 'it needs editing' and 'the beginning needs reworking' then those are probably just the tip of the iceberg. Because if it was easily fixable, they would have given an R&R.

I've had a very nice rejection from an editor at a big 5 - this was based on a partial and synopsis of the second half of the book. She had lots of praise for the writing, said the premise was original and the story compelling, but she mentioned one specific reason why she passed. She wanted my MC's love interest to have more agency in the plot, because I had built her up to be a significant character, but then didn't give her much of a role in the denouement.

I was encouraged but gutted at the same time, because it seemed such a fixable thing, I desperately wanted that R to become an R&R. But my agent said no. If the editor had been as interested as she seemed, she wouldn't have passed. Essentially, there must have been other reasons, and she simply picked the one she wanted to share with me.

But due to that editor's feedback the entire denouement has gone in a different direction, which I think makes it a much stronger ending. Now I'm more confident that when I submit the finished MS to another editor, it will find a home.

The same thing happened when I originally queried agents. I got a personal R what prompted me to rewrite the novel completely, which in turn resulted in me getting my current agent. So a personal R can be turned into success, but just perhaps not with that agent/editor.

tldr: Use the personal R to fix the MS, then query different agents.

DLM said...

I tend to take praise in a rejection as boilerplate, really. It's nice, sometimes it's even helpful if there's critical feedback included, but rejection is rejection. The exception to this is if the read was for a FULL. If it's a full with feedback, I have requested permission and re-query. Further feedback after that, as painful as it can be, is NOT in my mind an open door to try again. I say thank you, remember the other fish in the sea (yeah, and sadly - no sharks for me!), and decide that this is an agent who'll have to tell the story about how they turned down "The Ax and the Vase" in the future, and I imagine the chagrined gassps from the crowd when they tell it at a conference or an AAR meeting.

The real consolation is the quality of agents whose interest I *have* gotten. It's been giddy more than once, but it tells me that I can catch some seriously discerning eyes! Given the last brief round of tension/tightening/polish, I feel like it won't be long before the RIGHT eyes see it, and fall hopelessly in love ...

Kalli said...

'I got a personal R what prompted me to rewrite the novel completely'

Oh man, I can't believe I missed that typo - and it was a typo, not a grammatical error, I swear! *curls up with shame*

DLM said...

@DLM: In re your previous comment, the typos and agreement issues, as well as muddy structure and sentences you clearly did not read aloud, weaken what otherwise might have been a compelling post. I'm afraid this comment is not for me, but please remember that this is a subjective process and all fora are not the same. Keep commenting elsewhere (perhaps the BookEnds blog!?), and best of luck to you.

Kalli said...

DLM said: I tend to take praise in a rejection as boilerplate, really. It's nice, sometimes it's even helpful if there's critical feedback included, but rejection is rejection.

I think it depends on how specific the praise is. Generalities like 'you can write well' or 'this was an engaging story' are boiler plate. But more in depth comments that make specific reference to the novel are genuine cause for excitement. Agents are under no obligation to analyse what they liked about your MS. If they do, even if it wasn't enough to overcome what didn't work for them, I think you can rightly take encouragement from that, and requery on that basis ;-)

Anonymous said...

And people wonder why agents no longer offer personal comments on rejections. I have a collection of rejections from a previous lifetime that were mostly all handwritten and personal. Every once in a while I drag them out to look at them and take comfort in some of the encouraging notes.

Even so, unless an agent invites me to R&R, I am not going to bother them again with the same project. I am going to highlight the agent's name in my little agent base and make a note if they tell me to keep them in mind for future projects.

@Donnaeverhart I hope they didn't use an editor. Most agents who have spoken about using editors prior to submitting are not in favor of it. They want to know if the writer can edit. If they ask for revisions will the writer use the same editor so the writing has the same feel?

I was reading #500queries and #1000queries yesterday in between painting. It was eye-opening.
"unsolicited R+R. if not explicitly stated, my rejections stand."

Rejections took on a very specific feel aside from that comment. Agent doesn't like sex-trafficking, sex abuse, rape, southern fiction, WWII, leprechauns, male-centric, mid-1800's, political anything, opening with a dream, no self-pubbed, anything Catholic church related, vampires, werewolves, demons, angels, Lucifer, sentient penises (more than one of these) etc. The point being, some of these the agents said were well written, had good voice or whatever, but they just don't like certain things. I agree with Janet on this. It was kind of the agent to offer personal comments, but chances are there were other reasons as well.

Take the comments. Revise the opening, get some good beta readers to help with editing, and move on with a better project for the next agent.