Thursday, January 12, 2017

Wait! Wait! Read this one! No, I meant THAT one.

I have a question about sending revisions to agents who have my full manuscript. You've said several times on the blog that you want writers to send their best work, and you are willing to wait on a revision up until you've actually read the manuscript, but... is there a limit to how many revisions an author can send in before it taints your opinion of them or the work?

At the end of September I received an R&R from an agent that really resonated with me. I contacted the 6 other agents that also had the full and asked them if they would wait for the revisions. All but one got back to me with a very kind "yes, I'll wait, send whenever you're ready." Some of those have rejected the manuscript since then, but 3 of them still have that revised version (one is a fellow New Leaf agent!).

I just received a rejection last week that contained more feedback that I found valuable. Should I contact those 3 agents that already have a revised version from me and ask them to wait again? Or just let it go?

This is one of those things for which there is no gold standard. Each agent will have their own particular melting point. I've gotten six or seven revisions from authors from whom I have requested fulls. I don't particularly care that it's that many, but I do wonder a bit about their inner editor not being up to speed. That said, my goal is to add projects to my list that I can sell. I'd rather add something that will sell after seven revisions than say no to something after only three.

A savvy writer will know that revisions means fixing MAJOR plot points or twists, or shifting the chronology of the book. It's not fixing the spelling in chapter three, or changing a character's name, or (this drives me bonkers) changing the title.

 I assume writers are continuing to work on the novel even after I get it. Pruning and polishing is NOT revising in the sense we mean here.  I'm not going to reject a project if I think it needs just a bit of polish. I'm going to tell you that it does and see if you can do it.

This is one of the places that Twitter can be valuable. If you follow the agents who have your requested full, check their twitter feed to see if they yap about writers sending revisions.  (Since I do not tweet about my requested fulls, this will only help with Other Agents.)

Bottom line: always offer the most revised and polished version of your novel, even if the agent has an earlier version. The worst thing they'll do is say no.


Carolynnwith2Ns said...

How many times do you change your shoes or tie while your date is waiting in the next room?

If your dress or tie is stained or has a hole in it, go for the full upgrade. But color or pattern - link up, have fun and go for it. You never know, you just might be sharing breakfast in bed the next morning.

So Janet, how do you like your eggs?

Colin Smith said...

First, congrats Opie for getting all that agent interest in your novel! I hope things work out well for you. :)

My mind wants to sum up Janet's response thusly: You need to send a revised version if your revisions change the novel in a way that make it worth re-reading.

How's my mind doing? It is still early... :)

E.M. Goldsmith said...

I totally get where OP is coming from- my last venture in trenches surrounded an R&R that resulted in multiple revisions and asking agents that wanted fulls to wait.

In the end I over revised and made it something I no longer liked - a dark fantasy transformed into a YA thing which is not really my thing. Not one but two agents told me I needed to add a romance to this manuscript, cut more words so they could sell this story I no longer recognized. One of these agents really liked the book a lot and I think that maybe, had I complied and added romance while cutting words, maybe I would have gotten representation. Maybe. Who knows?

Maybe I shot myself in the foot, but I shelved the thing. It was no longer a book I wanted to debut with nor did I have passion for it. So I am 7 months into writing a whole new book. I love this book. Love, love, love it.

Lesson, be careful with those revisions. They may not lead where you want to go. And perhaps I am an idiot. I guess time will tell. Good luck, OP. Sounds like you are in a good position.

Lisa Bodenheim said...

Congrats, Opie, on the requests. That's exciting news for you.

2Ns: Ha! What kind of a fromance (sromance?) do you and Janet have going.

Colin: Your brain works more intricate than mine at the moment!

E.M.: Ouch. That first debut experience sounded painful. But so glad you have something else you're working on that you love.

On Topic: This is a helpful distinction-to know what types of revisions merit the "Whoa! Wait!" response. Get those sinkin' plotholes and plottwists done right and don't sweat the small stuff.

AYL said...

I kind of agree with E.M Goldsmith. Also, is it kind of rude if one agent gives you a R&R and you send that revised manuscript to several other agents while the original agent is still reviewing it? Would the agent who initially gave the R&R be upset if that author didn't sign with them based on their feedback? I can understand if the agent decided not to continue after the R&R though. But wouldn't it be better if the other agents, with the original manuscript, just read the original manuscript and made a decision based off of that? They might love it.

Lennon Faris said...

This is torturous. Not the post, just the phenomenon. When you think of a good change, suddenly the old version seems childishly awful. If I were an agent, though, a writer who sends multiple versions would seem scatterbrained and compulsive.

I re-sent an unsolicited revised version once for a full, but so far, that's my personal max. Even that really bothered me. Just can't do it more without feeling unprofessional.

mythical one-eyed peace officer said...

E.M. Goldsmith.....

Not quite what you are describing but.....

I write nonfiction/memoir essays. Several years ago I entered a writing contest in a professional magazine and was one of a few semi-finalists. I would get $300 and publication and a chance to win the grand prize. I was very early in my writing avocation and was thrilled!

An editor for the magazine edited my story so much that it did not sound like me at all. I do not mind...actually appreciate...editing but I like my stories to read more or less as if I'm telling them to a best friend. So I just explained to the fella, said "never mind" and withdrew the piece.

About a year later the magazine ran the contest again. I noticed on the masthead that the editor had been replaced so entered again, now confident of acceptance and hoping the new editor would not make such big changes as the prior.

Big surprise. The piece was rejected! Teaching me you never know what somebody will like, or not like. But I had no regret about the original withdrawal. If it has my name on it I just have to like it and it has to sound like me.

Timothy Lowe said...

I've done this more times than I'd like to count. When the request comes in, it's all joy. But once the full is sent, the panic starts. Followed by nitpicking. Finally, a sheeping email with a new copy.

As much as I've tried not to make it a habit, I always find things I feel I've missed. No matter how much I've revised, rehashed, edited, etc.

Thanks for addressing it, Janet. I'm pretty sure it's a universal phenomenon. The clarification between major and minor edits is an important one, and good to hear.

Timothy Lowe said...

Speaking of editing, I meant 'sheepish'


Colin Smith said...

Elise: There are two things you said that, IMO, justify your decision to shelve the novel after the R&R:

In the end I over revised and made it something I no longer liked - a dark fantasy transformed into a YA thing which is not really my thing.

It was no longer a book I wanted to debut with nor did I have passion for it.

Not all agent suggestions are good ones. Some will be based on the agent's experience of what makes for good story structure and character development. Some will be based purely on the agent's personal preference. If the changes result in a novel the agent loves, but you hate, then clearly you and the agent are not on the same wavelength with regard to your work, which could spell trouble down the road should you accept representation. You did the right thing.

Colin Smith said...

AYL: It does seem rude, but we need to present to agents our work at its best. If an agent suggests changes that take the novel from Wow to Wowsers, should you continue to offer up the Wow novel, when Wowsers is superior? Sure, Wowsers may end up getting you representation with another agent, and the savvy agent who suggest the changes may feel a little hurt. But as long as you handle the situation professionally (perhaps a "thank you" when you write to inform of your decision to go with another agent), I don't think there's any long-term harm.

Agents know (or should know) there's always a risk their help could work against them. Whenever an employer provides training to employees, there's that same risk. The employee might take the training and use it to find work elsewhere. On the other hand, the employee might appreciate the time and money invested by the employer, and show their appreciation by sticking around. However, I think we all agree that agents who take the time to personalize responses and offer suggestions to improve our work tend to be agents we go back to and recommend to others. So it's really not that big of a risk after all.

Amy Schaefer said...

This is the danger of feedback. Yes, it is wonderful to hear what the pros think of your work (I almost wrote "prose", but I couldn't go through with it), but those comments and suggestions have to work for you. There is nothing worse than taking a story you love and editing it into a muddle, trying to please your beta readers/agents/editors/anyone else. Read your feedback, leave it, then come back to it before you do anything. Don't rush in.

Jessica said...

This is another great question. I used to fall into the trap of changing the book/story to please my professor, but I learned to stay true to my own work. However, if the revision suggestions make sense and line up with what you want from the book, go for it! There's danger in being bull headed too.

Since I'm new to the comment section, is it okay to ask an off topic question? I've had it on my mind for a while and it's not on Janet's blog (as far as I can tell). If not though, that's okay. I don't want to steal OP's thunder!

Colin Smith said...

Jessica: Hey!! Welcome!!! Did you know there's a Newbie Special running in the comment section today? Yessiree! For today only, newbs get One Free Off-Topic Question! We can't guarantee Her Royal Sharkiness will answer it, but if it's juicy enough, some of us minnows down here might take a bite. Go for it! ;)

John Davis Frain said...

I understand what people are saying about not wanting to ruin their work through the editing process. At the same time, you have to allow yourself to step back from your work and gain perspective.

Whether you refer to it as killing your darlings or simply editing, don't get so married to your story that you can't see the improvement someone is trying to help you make.

That's why it's so important to give time after you complete a draft or after you finish a round of editing. Here's just one idea. After you get feedback from an agent (or beta, etc.), read their thoughts and let them course through your mind for a day or two. Then go back with an open mind and see what those changes will do. It's still your story. The changes you ultimately make are still yours. The fixes you devise are yours. Hopefully, they're just better.

After all that, use what you've learned on your next project. Good luck, Opie, you're in an enviable position.

John Davis Frain said...

Jessica, you'll also notice down the left nav bar on the blog there is a note that says "Have a question you'd like answered on the blog? Email me."

(The me is Janet, of course, not, um, me.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Ayl I learned when I was in the trenches that agents are well-used to waiting on revisions. I always asked if they wished to wait. In my case 100% of agents responded with a version of "always send your best work".

My take is this practice does not much bother agents. They aren't tapping fingers on desk waiting for you. They are concentrating closer to the money. The perspective, unsigned client (even with promising manuscript) is still far, far away from the money. I got the feeling, at least in my experience, that they were more than happy to wait because the better your work the closer the money. Publishing is a business after all.

In my case, I blundered a bit as I was new to process and so thrilled with positive feedback, I got my head stuck in clouds. I had already had one R&R rejected (agent decided to concentrate on non-fiction) so I was determined to get something from it. And I did. Experience and my introduction to the Reef.

Colin I hope I made right decision. It feels right.

As a lot have commented, you should sit in an R&R and really think about it. This business is highly subjective so what one agent wants may not match your style or an even better agent's taste. You just can't tell. And thanks, Janet, for the clarity regarding revision verse polish.

Colin Smith said...

Pssst, hey, John! Have you looked at the List of Published Works of Janet's Blog Readers lately? Especially at the bottom, where the short stories are listed...? :D

Jessica said...

Ah, thank you John! I see the "email me" portion, but there's no email listed for her. Unless I'm completely overlooking it, which is entirely possible haha.

Thank you for your kindness Colin! But I'll wait--this is a great discussion about editing too much or too little, and I don't want to detract from that :)

AYL said...

That you so much for your feedback Colin Smith and EM Goldsmith. Also, thank you to all the great comments on this post. Really insightful.

Jessica said...

Aaaaand right after I sent that, I fund it. Oh boy, is it Friday yet?

Susan said...

This post opened up an interesting discussion on revisions and how they change your story. I agree with taking a step back from the draft so that we can get an objective view and make necessary revisions (developmental edits) to strengthen the story--that's a vital part of the process. But I also think, as the author, you know the story you're trying to tell better than anyone else. If someone's suggestions change that into something unrecognizeable, is it still your story? And is it really strengthening your story or is it transforming it into something else entirely?

Only you can be the judge of that. And only you can determine what you're willing to sacrifice to meet your end goal. For example, I revised my novel three times based on feedback from others, which only served to strengthen the narrative. But then I heard from an industry insider who said the epistolary format didn't work for them. I mulled over this for a couple of weeks and tried to rework it into a regular format. It didn't work--it didn't work for the themes of the story. It didn't work for the character's voice. It didn't work for the structure. It didn't work for the story itself.

The story had a specific way in which it wanted--needed--to be told. I stuck with my intuition, with what the story was telling me, and now I have a book I'm proud of and that's receiving praise. I believe as the authors of our work, we need to listen to ourselves and that intuition first and foremost. Otherwise, we sacrifice our art (and some are willing to do that, to be fair. I, personally, am not).

So revise to strengthen, yes. And always take feedback into account, especially when it comes from professionals. But in the end have confidence in your work--know that you know what your story is and what it's capable of becoming.

DLM said...

2Ns' first comment is a GREAT (witty!) determiner. Excellent advice all around today!

Elise, hooray for the new love!

Colin, a corollary to "Not all agents are good ones": many, many agents are good ones - great ones! - but not for my work.

Jessica, as John suggested, send it to Janet for a future post! But yeah, OT questions do come up in the comments (she may respond in a post anyway). If they spring from the topic at hand, you're usually fine as long as discussion doesn't hijack the entire conversation.

John, way to go on the List of Published Works! :)

Janet, would one solution be to simply ask? "Hello, Patient Agent - I have received further feedback and it feels right; while I don't want to press your patience, I wonder whether you'd be willing to await one more revision."

Janet Reid said...

If you click on the "email me"phrase, my contact page pops up.

BJ Muntain said...

Moral of the story: Send your absolute best work.

Of course, as our skills improve, our work will improve. As Janet says, authors will fix and fiddle until the cows come home. If an agent has a full long enough, our skills may improve to a point that we make a major fix.

I would think that an agent who holds onto a full for three to six months might be more likely to receive revised versions than an agent who reads fulls within a month. An agent who holds onto a full for nine months or a year may receive more than one such revision.

Since the type of change Janet is talking about, that makes a true revision, is one that is going to take quite a bit of time, I would expect that someone isn't going to have a whole new revision ready to go within a month. So if you were to send a full to an agent, then two weeks later say, "No, read this one"... I'd really wonder whether that writer is ready or not. It would be different if an author withdrew their manuscript because they were revising and then sent it again at least a month later, probably three months later.

So I would say, it would seem less flighty if there were at least a few months between revisions, so the agent knows that a) it was a true revision, and b) the author really worked on it.

With regard to AYL's final question and EM's experience: A revision that big should only happen if it improves the novel. The fact that EM felt less happy with her novel after that revision shows that, in her eyes, the revision did NOT improve the novel. EM: I think if you wait a year or so, then go back to your previous version and work from there, you may find yourself enamoured in that novel again.

A friend of mine recently read the first few chapters of my novel, and very excitedly announced it would be so much better if I made another character the main character. I can see her point, but I'm not as enamoured with the idea, so I'm not going to revise it that much at this point. If I had an agent, and she suggested it and helped me figure out how that would work in the series, I'd be more amenable to the change. But right now I can't see it would make the novel better, just different.

Perhaps that should be the gold standard of revisions: Does this change make the novel better, or just different? Is this difference something I would prefer, or is it just difference for difference's sake?

Sherry Howard said...

This is why it's taken me three years to pull the trigger and really sub my YA. IMHO, this is why it's so important to have some other writers, and/or professional editors look at your work.

I finished my ms around two years ago--I thought. Beta readers loved it, had minimal feedback for change. Next tier of betas were writers (thanks to a volunteer from here who helped a lot--won't name, but you know who you are), and they saw plot holes and gaps in understanding that the casual reader didn't. Then, the editor. So, if I'd been impatient and sent that first version I'd have guaranteed failure. I still may fail, but I was patient and thorough at least. AND IT WAS SO HARD TO TAKE THE TIME.

Great post today as a reminder that ms doesn't have to be perfect, but get as close as you can before you sub.

John Davis Frain said...

I chanced upon a Gary Corby interview from my local Sisters in Crime chapter, and he has a great comment that fits today's topic. I'm paraphrasing based on memory, so this isn't a quote.

Determine your genre. Pick your five favorite books from your genre. Read them, mark them up, dissect them, figure out what works for each scene in those books.

Then make your book BETTER than those five. Not almost as good, not just as good, but better. (Apologies to Gary if I misinterpreted or left out some critical parts for brevity.)

That's a tough assignment. But this is a tough industry to crack.

P.S. Thanks, Colin. You're awesome. Again. Peas and carrots.

Julie Weathers said...

I'm supposed to be researching haunted Rio De Janeiro, so I can't play much today. Who knew it would be so hard to find ghost stories there? sheesh.

However, I had tamales for breakfast to sort of put me in the mood and I'm going to think about this question while I down my coffee.

I did major revisions on Dancing Horses and Far Rider. I'm revising The Rain Crow even now as I write it. I'm four chapter into the third new opening and not sure it's the right one yet. Hemingway said he wrote 39 endings to For Whom The Bell Tolls. A researcher says they have actually found 47 endings.

Thank God Hemingway knew enough not to send the manuscript to the editor 47 different times.

Most writers will always find something they would change. They just have to reach a point where they say they're done and move on.

I've seen agents who are upset that an author takes a major revision that the agent gave them and signs with another agent. I don't blame them in a way. If agent A spends a lot of time giving you suggestions on how to improve your work and you do it, I think you owe it to him or her to give them first crack at the new and improved version. Not only for common courtesy, but because that agent had the foresight to see what your work needed. What happens with your next work? Will the next agent see what agent A saw and have the same guidance?

I think OP is in a great position. He or she has a lot of interest. They've been given R&Rs. I would just be careful about going back to the well too many times. You're trying to look professional.

Anonymous said...

"I assume writers are continuing to work on the novel even after I get it."

I didn't know that; I thought agents assumed they were getting the most polished, finalized version of the work and it wouldn't change again until the agent requested changes/signed the writer and started working with an editor. Thanks for the info!

Colin Smith said...

wanderlustywriter: I wonder if that comment is based on Janet's experience rather than best practice. Personally, when I query a novel, I move on to something else (e.g., refreshing my inbox... I mean another novel or a short story) unless I get agent feedback that requires a return visit.

Theresa said...

Timothy, I really liked "sheeping."

Today's post reminded me of my penchant for endless revisions of all kinds, which must be why it takes me forever to finish a manuscript. I'm a little less crazy now that I'm still at the research/proposal writing stage.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Lisa, Shark and NNs. I freaking wish.

Buzz Malone said...

How wonderful to see the shark still circling. Random Google search, and there you are again. You're the cat's pajamas, Janet! I hereby withdrawal one of the bad things I ever said about literary agents.