Monday, April 24, 2017

R&R? Reject and retreat!

What is the proper etiquette for a querier who receives editorial comments and R&R from a literary agent, but after careful consideration, decides not to proceed with the revision? Polite email explaining why? No response? Ignore R&R and query the next book when ready? None of the above?

While "You're a dunderhead for suggesting this" is probably not the best choice, it's also true, even the polite version of that - "Thanks but no thanks"- isn't going to get you anywhere.

You're under no obligation to follow an agent's advice.
Some of us them give terrible advice, it's true.

But no one, not even dunderheads, likes to hear our pearls of wisdom are being discarded as worthless trinkets.

Thus "thank you for your notes; I appreciate your time and insight" is all you need to say. That their insight made you realize they are idiots, can go unsaid. Or that you don't intend to implement their suggestions.

If, at some point in the future, the agent gets in touch to ask whatever happened to your retelling of Casino Royale with dogs,

that's when to say "I decided to go in a different direction." Unless they ask, you don't have to tell. 

But just one more little trinket of wisdom: before you write off editorial comments and revision suggestions, let some time pass.  Some of our advice is better after it sits awhile. Yanno, like novels.


MA Hudson said...

Even if you don't agree with the editorial comments and R&R, it's still nice that you got them. It's definitely a notch in your belt. Well done.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Reject and retreat. An unexpected Monday morning smile. Good to know the etiquette on this one. I think sometimes an agent's feedback can be generally good but wrong for the book the author meant to write. I suppose when that happens, the writer will be revising or writing something new either way. Good luck, OP.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

When anyone takes time out of their lives to weed your garden, a humble thank you is always in order. If they mistake a daffodil for a dandelion and yank, plant another bulb and appreciate that the dirt under their nails is yours.

Unknown said...

OP, I think it shows confidence in yourself and your book to opt out of revising. But I think the advice to revisit the decision as time passes is also sound. Good luck!

Colin Smith said...

I guess it follows if you're shelving the novel then the editorial suggestions are moot. I agree with Kathy that it's a bold move to shelve a novel when an agent has clearly taken some interest in it. But if it's not working for you, then there's no point in moving ahead. After all, you will be the novel's primary spokesperson, and if you don't believe in it, no-one else will.

What Janet said.

All the best to you, Opie! :)

BJ Muntain said...

It sounds like OP has learned the most important lesson about being a writer: It's YOUR story.

This lesson has two sub-lessons:

1) It's your story. Only you can write it. Without you, there is no story.
2) It's your story. It lives in your head. No matter how thoughtful or amazing someone else's ideas or critiques may be, you have to align it with the story in your brain. Does the suggestion fit the story? Can you use anything in the suggestion to make your story closer to the perfection that it seems in your head (it's never perfect on paper)?

I once got into an argument with someone from my critique group. I gave my thoughts and opinions, and he forgot lesson number 2. He started arguing with me, saying he thought it was just fine and and and... I finally said, "Hey. This is your story, right?" He said, "Right." "So you'll use whatever you think is useful in my critique and throw away the rest, right?" "Oh. Right." And that's how critiques have to be.

Good job on that, OP! You've learned that lesson. But that doesn't mean you don't need to look at the suggestions long and hard, set them aside awhile, then come back before making a final final decision. Maybe you've done that - you did say, "After careful consideration". If so, good. If not, come back to the suggestions in a month or so.

Unless, of course, they change your story completely against what you want your story to be. Someone once suggested I change my main characters to be women instead of men. No. Because a) that would change more than just the characters. They would be completely different people and the story would be completely different. And b) my theme would change completely as well, and the new theme isn't what I want to write about.

And OP: If you want to query that agent again later, and they ask about the previous R&R, you can just say that, at that point, you wanted to focus on writing your second novel.

Colin: Maybe I'm dense (I only had two hours of sleep last night. Insomnia sucks.) but I didn't see anything in OP's question about shelving the novel. Just about not doing the revision suggested, and continuing to work on book two.

Colin Smith said...

BJ: That's how I read "Ignore R&R and query the next book when ready." I suppose Opie could just be ignoring the R&R and continuing to query other agents with the unrevised version. That's just how I read it. Either way, my main point stands: Opie has to be happy with the book since Opie will be the one who will be its #1 cheerleader.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

So, are we saying there's a market for Casino Royale with dogs? Because.....oh, well nevermind. I'm just over here in the winding down action of my werewolf novel (and wondering honestly if the novel had a climax? But, first draft. first draft.)

Amy Schaefer said...

I second the advice to let it sit. Those editorial comments may sound just as bad to you next week or next month... but maybe not. Peek at them again once time has passed (and really do ignore them until then), and see if you can pan for gold in that rocky rubble. It can't hurt.

Brigid said...

Related question for the commentariat: are you process writers, or project writers? That is, if your fairy godmother stepped out of your pen and offered to hand you your completed novel (truly yours, done just your way), would you take her up on it so you could read it faster? Or is it the process of getting there that you love the most?

Lisa Bodenheim said...

OP: Perhaps these thoughts have already been part of your careful consideration. And if you receive more R&Rs from other agents who've requested your full, you may wish to go back and compare notes to see what areas have similar critiques.

I read somewhere (here? or Fiction University blog?) that when a fix is suggested as part of the revision, the fix itself may feel wrong to the author. But it's good to pay attention to a flagged area in the MS because something may be off. It could be the foreshadowing isn't enough that leads to that area or the character motivation isn't obvious enough before getting to that part of the story.

BJ Muntain said...

Colin: Yes, it is most important that OP be happy with their novel.

Jennifer: Werewolves are dogs, right? Well, of the canid persuasion, anyway, I suppose. :) Yay for the winding down action in the first draft! Congrats!

Brigid: That is so hard to answer (especially after a too-short night with not enough coffee in the world). I enjoy writing and editing and revising. I do, really. But it can be hard work, and time consuming. Can that fairy godmother just simply speed up my writing so I can write/edit/revise faster? And also give me clarity to see what the novel needs?

BJ Muntain said...

Lisa: Exactly. The 'fix' is unimportant. What does the 'fix' actually fix? What problem does it address?

I had two critique groups go over a chapter of my novel. The first was full of all sorts of ideas to 'make it better', but none of their ideas fit the characters. The second group (mostly one woman I've been working with for a long time) told me, "There doesn't seem to be any emotion here." Aha. Got it. That section was boring, and - as the second group suggested - it probably had to do with characterization and motivation.

nightsmusic said...

Jennifer, I have two complete werewolves in a three book set done though they're set in Regency England. I'm rolling the third in my head now. I don't expect to ever end up selling it (all I ever hear anymore is, you write what? that's so passe!) but it's my heart's story and it has to be finished. In the meantime, I work on the time traveling warrior from norse mythology I'll query. I just wanted to let you know there's other weres out there! :)

OP, we get so close to our stories that sometimes, though it looks and reads wonderfully to us, someone who has never seen it before can see the trees in the forest so to speak. I'm not saying said agent is right, but I completely agree with Janet's suggestion to just let it sit, maybe even a month if you have to, and then come back to it and see if any of her suggestions might be pointing out things that just didn't quite work. You never know and there's nothing lost to do that. Good luck!!

Karen McCoy said...

It's true that agents don't only offer representation--they offer a lens into what we might have otherwise missed. As they say, a marriage is like gaining an extra set of glasses. And maybe it takes a minute to appreciate what those new glasses see.

I'm not saying the agent is right, or wrong here, but as Janet said, it's best to sit on it an digest. Perhaps you might discover new ways to make your story sing (not that it doesn't already, of course).

C M said...

Some famous author once said: When someone tells you somethings wrong with your book, they're almost always right. When they tell you how to fix it, they're almost always wrong.

Julie Weathers said...

I'm taking Rain Crow through the B&W workshop now even though it isn't finished. I wouldn't this soon normally, but the powers that be wanted to get it going again and offered free uploads for 30 days. Usually, it's an exchange of critiques to upload.

Anyway, it's not wasted effort at all. I'll have to lick that calf again when it's done and I've revised, but it helps to have eyes on it now. Everyone usually has something of value to add even if you don't agree with everything. You just need to figure out what that one thing is, as Curly says.

I've had some R&R's before and they were very helpful. I didn't take everything straight to heart, but I used what I could. If you let it sit for a while, I think you may find the agent had some things of value to say if you let it sit for a while.

Once I got over fuming about the editor telling me if I was too lazy to do basic research about Victorian times and my lack of knowledge about horses, so I should write something else, I went back and re-read the notes. She was right about some things. The changes made the chapter stronger.

As with all advice, you need to learn what to keep and what to ignore.

Good luck. Just getting an R&R is great. An agent wouldn't spend the time if they didn't see something in your work.

Karen McCoy said...

C M, I think that was Neil Gaiman? Or maybe it was someone else...

One more thing to add. An agent also looks at a story with the intent to sell, and riddles through ways to make a book stand out in the market when they pitch it to editors--a lens that most critique partners might not have.

Sherry Howard said...

I don't usually write long posts. This one will be a little long because I want to talk about how we (Authors) can take feedback for gospel and head in the wrong direction. I had the pleasure of chatting with an agent yesterday who answered a question I didn't even know to ask.

I have a young adult on query, with several agents having the full. A publisher had advised me to write a sequel using the same voice, and adding a second POV with a strong thread of the romance, but that the first one didn't fit the romantic line they publish. I was gung-ho. Ready to write what they advised, sort of an r and r direction for a sequel.

The agent stopped that momentum. She advised against EVER investing time in the sequel until the first book sells, or all hope of that is exhausted. Because a publisher who actually buys the manuscript may have different ideas for a sequel than the publisher who only wants the sequel. (Hope that makes sense.) She said to work an my other book in the interim.

Bottom line: I'd have asked Janet. I didn't even know I had a question. Agents are golden. Can't wait until I have one!

Claire Bobrow said...

It's very good to know the proper etiquette on this question. OP did say "after careful consideration." They could let the editorial comments marinate a bit longer, but it sounds like that might've already happened. Janet's sign off (thank you for your notes, etc.) is perfect. No explanation needed.

I'm intrigued by the concept of Casino Royale with dogs.
Vesper Lynd (a Vizsla?): "I'm the dog biscuit."
James Bond (an English Setter?): "Every morsel of it."

Craig F said...

I hope that if I get an R&R I can think of like feedback from the beta reader at the top of the food chain.

I also hope that I will say thank you and not reject such comments out of hand.

Build a flowchart and see if you can run the permutations of the "What ifs..." all the way through the story line. Then see if it makes for a greater gestalt or worse. If it is better try working through those comments like you would comments from any other respected beta reader.

Make sure you save an original copy. Theoretical improvements sometimes don't make it in the real world.

Best of luck with this project.

Colin Smith said...

Claire: I'm just glad Pussy Galore wasn't in this book/movie... :)

Colin Smith said...

*Hopes "pussy" as a word for cat is not just a Britishism...*

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

After reading these comments I have come to the conclusion that most of us are like the woman asking, "honey, do I look fat in this dress?"
Well, hell's bells, I'm not really wanting an honest answer but will eventually feel better if I get one.
I love my horizontal stripes, I paid a lot for them but will change into basic black.
Honey can sleep on the couch tonight.

Um, today is analogy day.

Beth Carpenter said...

"When anyone takes time out of their lives to weed your garden, a humble thank you is always in order. If they mistake a daffodil for a dandelion and yank, plant another bulb and appreciate that the dirt under their nails is yours."

Carolynn, I love this. It applies to writing, and so much more.

ACFranklin said...

Off topic:

Colin: Well, Warner Bros and Tweety Bird seem to think that puddy tats are comprehensible to Americans, too.

Also, exams are over and I have a life again! I spent the last couple days reading the past three months of the blog, but I am caught up now.

Colin Smith said...

Arri: Good point--I'd forgotten about those cartoons. :)

Claire Bobrow said...

Haha Colin: I knew what you meant ;)

Unknown said...

Ah, back in the day when I could wear horizontal stripes. I remeber this black and white polo I got my senior year of college. Those days are long gone. Sigh.
More on post, and echoing what others have said, an agent may be way off on what to do, but is likely to have hit on some problem point, though has perhaps mis-specified it as well. OP, what do your critique partners have to say? If they can concur with the agent (even if they never noted the problem in their earlier readings) then it's a sure bet you need to revise. They can also identify bad advice. Most importantly, they can be impartial and objective in a way that, as author, is sometimes difficult to pull off.

Julie Weathers said...


Unless the someone weeding your garden thinks your herbs are weeds and gets rid of all your dill.


"Some famous author once said: When someone tells you somethings wrong with your book, they're almost always right. When they tell you how to fix it, they're almost always wrong."

One of Janet's minions suggested I cut out quite a bit of my opening and start Far Rider with the scene where the dead uncle arrives on the dead horse. She was absolutely right. That was the perfect place to start it. I may have eventually figured it out, but who knows?

Melanie Sue Bowles said...

Great. "What's New Pussycat" by Tom Jones is playing over and over in my head. Thanks Colin.

I'm laughing about the line through "US". And regarding "pearls of wisdom"... Pearl is name we've given the emaciated filly.

Carolynn Loving your gardening analogy.

Colin Smith said...

Melanie: Excellent. My work is done. *bows*... ;)

Unknown said...

Brigid I'd want both. I write the stories, then the magic wand revises and edits. Creating the story, I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE. I even love revising and editing, until the part where someone tells me to do more after I think it's perfect. Even when I know the advice is good, that saps my energy rather than feeding it. Magic wand please. I have three MSs that need it!

Beth Carpenter said...

Brigid, I think I'd like my fairy godmother to conjure up the first draft for me. Then I could play with the story and rewrite parts, move this around, etc. until it was exactly how I want it. But I'm not sure I'd know the characters well enough to do it if I hadn't written the rough draft first.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

BJ Thanks! And wolves are close....ish? to dogs. I've been using a fair amount of canine body language throughout the novels, let's see if it was for my own amusement or if anybody else picks up on it! (well, now that I've put that out there...well, whatever.)

nightsmusic Ooh, Regency werewolves, how fancy! That must have been very fun to write. I'm fairly confident I won't catch an agent with these novels, as I still say many, many agents saying they don't want werewolves (more of that "dead genre" talk which makes me wail so!) and so I'm likely to self publish this trilogy. I've at times said I didn't really think self publishing was for me but, well, sometimes circumstances change.

nightsmusic said...

Jennifer! Me too as far as self publishing goes! I just couldn't get the story out of my head and wasn't going to write an 800 page novel so broke it into three. I know, don't write the second until the first is picked up but yanno? Sometimes, that story just has to be told. But if you self pub, I need a buy link!

Melanie Sue Bowles said...

Talk about editing. "Pearl is THE name..." Good grief.

Claire Bobrow said...

Melanie: Pearl is a great name! I'm so glad to hear she's hanging in there.

Steve Stubbs said...

If you basically just want to put a copy on your bookshelf, there is a great alternative to self-publishing that nobody ever mentions, and that is self-manufacturing. It is more cost-efficient than self publishing (I am a shopper, always looking for the cheapest way to get a result) and nobody can track it on BookScan, so if you decide later on you want to place something with the Six Sisters a low sale of one copy does not count against you. You can lay it out any way you want and have it printed at Kinkos on whatever quality paper you want to pay for. There are bookbinding companies that will take your loose sheets and produce a hard cover book that looks any way you want. I have heard of people getting their stuff bound in leather, but presumably not every company offers that. You are in total control all throughout the process. No revisions and no hassling with designers you do not agree with. A self-publisher will charge you a lot more money and you will end up with a crappy paperback you may not be happy with. Self-publishing sux in my opinion.

If that does not feel satisfying, then that tells you something important. You probably want to publish with one of the Six Sisters. That has the disadvantage that it is a team effort. There may be revisions. There may be edits. Someone else will design the cover. You are not in total control.

If framing it that way does not help, there is a simple decision making technique you can use. I learned this from Roger Dawson. It is not mine. You just flip a coin and let the coin decide. If you don't like what the coin tells you, voila! You know you want to do the other thing.

Whatever happens, best wishes to you.

CynthiaMc said...

Casino Royale with werewolves. I would totally watch that.

One of my favorite werewolf books is The Wolf's Hour.

Civil War books were dead until Gone With the Wind. Kids at boarding school books were dead until Harry Potter, ditto vampires until Twilight. Write a kick butt werewolf book and they'll be hot again.

My Civil War trilogy (A Time for War, a Time for Peace, A Time for Love) is a trilogy because it would be hugely long in one book but I think of it as one story because it's Nicole's story (my debutante turned blockade runner) throughout.

On advice from any industry professional: I always try it out. If it works, hurrah! If not, I'm no worse off, maybe have a bit clearer vision of why it does/doesn't work. Best of all, I know someone who works in the industry I would like to work in took the time to share something of potential value with me.

Melanie - yay for Pearl!

Steve - love the coin flip.

BJ Muntain said...

I agree. Pearl is a great name - and portentious. My great-great-aunt Pearl lived to be 115 years old. I think this bodes well for Melanie's filly.

John Davis Frain said...

I'm so glad Janet added that last piece of advice. Time gives us new perspectives.

And I'm so glad 2Ns let us all sit a spell for Analogy Day.

Julie Weathers said...


I always picture my guardian angel as this perfect being of light with a beatific smile and pearlescent wings. In truth, I imagine the poor thing is probably quite bedraggled, missing many feathers and teeth, and has put in for a transfer more than once.

So, I would think is my fairy godmother. She would probably say, "Oh, please, Lord, don't make me rummage around in your brain and figure out how you come up with a novel."

I may know I need to do A, but it doesn't occur to me how to do it until I'm reading a magazine in a doctor's office and up pops an article on antique gardening tools. The scene plays out in brilliant technicolor.

Someone sent me a newspaper article from the Civil War about Burnside vowing JEB Stuart won't set foot back in Virginia. He did, of course, but the interesting thing was an almost overlooked letter home written by a prisoner who described the death of a little drummer boy.

I don't think my fairy godmother would go falling down a lot of rabbit holes I do and come out with the same work.

Anonymous said...

I agree with those who said that just because you don't like a proposed solution to a problem doesn't mean there isn't a problem. I'm assuming the agent who gave the R&R was a reputable agent, or you wouldn't have queried her. So you don't agree with her comments, that's fine, but don't discount her experience. Getting that kind of detailed feedback is something to treasure and learn from. Sometimes the solution is to re-write a scene. Sometimes it's to delete it. And sometimes the problem in Chapter 5 needs to be fixed in Chapter 3. Be brutally honest with yourself about this, because readers sure as hell will be.

Of course, the reason you decided not to proceed with that project might be because you've moved on to something you think is better written or has more potential, and nothing to do with unwillingness to revise. Either way, best of luck to you.

Off topic but of interest to me: I've been listening all day to the incessant rain (3.5 inches and still going strong) and the sound of heavy branches falling on my house and deck. And googling plans for building a seaworthy vessel. I hope the cat is a strong swimmer; I don't have a lifejacket in her size.

Claire Bobrow said...

Wow kdjames: Batten the hatches and hang tight! Hope the storm blows over soon (but doesn't take you with it).