Saturday, June 10, 2017

More on requested revisions

I entered a twitter pitch contest last month that resulted in three agents asking for my full. I was blown away by the response, but I sent my book baby away with a quick prayer and settled in to wait. And then a few days ago...an agent contacted me to schedule a phone call to discuss an R&R.

I am over the moon with happiness. I am also on hamster wheel overdrive. After panicking for a few days, I calmed down and looked up info about R&R's. I feel a tad bit better, but I have a few questions I can't find the answer to. Should I offer the agent an exclusive while I work on revisions? (1) I know your policy on exclusives, but this feels a little different...she's taking time to work with me one on one, so I'm not sure if I should still send out queries. What about twitter contests? I'm currently knee-deep in one, so I feel like this is murky territory.

Also, it seems like phone call R&R's are kind of rare. From an agent's point of view, do you do phone call R&R's or email ones? (2) Does this mean there are a ton of problems with the book and it would be easier to talk them out than send suggestions in an email? (3) Or am I overthinking it? (I'm overthinking it, aren't I) (4/5)

(1) NO

(2) Both

(3) Sort of

(4/5) of course you are, but you're a writer. It's what you do.

Ok, let's get down to details. In reverse order:

(3) Does this mean there are a ton of problems with the book?
Sometimes it's easier just to chat about revisions than write out a whole long email. It's more helpful sometimes to hear what the writer is thinking, and have her able to ask me questions. It doesn't mean there are ton of problems. It probably means there are a few, but something the agent thinks can be fixed. (It's not a given that all problems in manuscripts can be fixed)

(2) do you do phone call R&R's or email ones?
I do emails but that's by choice. I like to have a written record of what I asked for. Recently one of my colleagues mentioned she just didn't want to write a long email so asked the writer to have a phone convo instead. Both are used; there's no one better way.

(1) Should I offer the agent an exclusive while I work on revisions?
Never offer an exclusive. Never. I know you sometimes can't resist but RESIST. It's never in your best interest. If an agent asks, it's hard to say no, I understand, but at the very least you can duct tape your beak shut about offering one. (Don't make me come over there and gnaw on you.)

You should continue to query and whatever else you're doing to get eyeballs on your manuscript while you revise with this agent.

It's entirely possible an agent will suggest changes you think are bilge water. It's also possible you'll have second or third thoughts about whether you want to work with this agent.

This revision time is where you two get to know each other. Don't commit before you know what you're getting, and an exclusive is a commitment.

Some of my colleagues have been burned by authors doing revisions with them, then querying the freshened manuscript and signing elsewhere. I look on that as a bullet dodged frankly. An author willing to do that is someone I probably wouldn't want to work with, but it rankles agents when it happens. (And it poisons the well for that author forever as far as I'm concerned.)

What that means for you is that if you think the revisions are bilgewater, or the agent isn't a good fit, you don't keep the conversation going. You don't take up her time if you know you're not willing to sign if she offers.

Any questions?

37 comments:

Kitty said...

Some of my colleagues have been burned by authors doing revisions with them, then querying the freshened manuscript and signing elsewhere.

What if the agent's suggested revisions are good but the agent is not a good fit?

Kitty said...

Kinda like the sex is good but you wouldn't want to marry him.

AJ Blythe said...

Have I got it straight? You keep querying during R&Rs in case the agent doesn't make an offer at the end of the R&Rs (or in case there comes a point where you realise the agent isn't for you)?

But how do you not get a bad rep (like you mentioned, JR) if you decide the agent isn't a good fit? It would be a rather awkward conversation to tell them, but the flip side isn't so bright either.

Great questions, but OP has opened a can of worms I didn't realise existed!

OP, best of luck with the phone call, R&Rs and agent. I hope it all works out and we here your success story here soon.

Melanie Sue Bowles said...

I'm sorta confused... To expound on Kitty's question: You're discussing revisions with one agent, and the revision suggestions are good - revising is going well, all while you continue to query. While this is going on, you get a request for a full from a second agent. You send 2nd agent the ms, which you've been revising. In the meantime, it's becoming clear that "Good revision Agent" isn't a good fit personality or work ethic wise.

You thank Good Revision Agent for her time and suggestions, but tell her you're moving on. How could you have avoided wasting her time? If you're working on revisions together, yet you continue to query, the risk of wasting her time is huge.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

1. My
2. Hamster-wheel
3. Is
4. Spinning

Whew, too much to ponder on such a finally-sunny morning.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Another gently worded reminder that exclusives bad. Beer good. Whisky better. Have a shot of each before starting down an R&R path lest you turn your lovely chainsaw massacre into Dino porn:) This is based on wisdom born of experience.

I am cleaningout the attic today in preparation for move. I have found treasure troves of old stories and early drafts of stories that occur in my fantasy world going back decades - as early as 1981- I feel so old but some of this stuff I can revive. It's better than gold and jewels. So back to crawling through the past.

Good luck OP. This all sounds promising.

Amy Schaefer said...

I'd consider pausing the querying process while completing the R&R. Take the time to make the manuscript the very best it can be, then resume. It would be a shame to get interest on an old version, and not have the new one ready to show. And you do not want to hurry those edits. Be patient.

Joseph Snoe said...

It certainly is a balancing act. No exclusive. Keep Querying. But agent has no obligation to offer representation. Meanwhile another good agent has offered representation. Author would be happy with either. One has proposed after one date. The other not moved from friend stage. If agent feels burned, author has burned some bridges.

All I want is my book published and the world to love it. I don’t want anyone mad at me or to be left alone and confused when all is said and done.

LynnRodz said...

OMG, is it too early for a glass of wine? No, no...it's 5 pm somewhere in the world, so it's never too early. This posts can bring anyone to drink. The scenario creates more questions than answers. Wouldn't agents know that by not granting an exclusive and continuing to query there isn't an unstated obligation for the writer to go with them when the R&Rs are completed? And why would a writer continue to query if some of the suggestions are great and will improve the manuscript? Why wouldn't the writer take a hiatus until they have a better version to present to other agents if the first agent ends up not wanting to represent the writer, or the writer doesn't feel the agent is a good fit? And why oh why does that burn bridges? I have several more questions, but I'm going to stop now for a glass of wine.

LynnRodz said...

Okay, I think the answer to that last question of mine may be evident, but I'm sure the opposite is true where a writer has taken all the suggestions from an agent and has spent the time working to make their manuscript acceptable to said agent and then in the end, the agent still for whatever reason doesn't offer representation. There may not be any hard feelings by the writer for all that time spent, wouldn't/shouldn't that be true for the agent?

Mark Thurber said...

Like other commenters, I'd enjoy hearing more about what actions by authors in this situation might cause agents to feel burned. I suspect the last line in Janet's post is the key point -- that agents can sense if an author took their revisions but was never willing to actually sign with them. (This kind of bad faith seems similar in kind to "I'm only querying newer agents because I hope to get an offer that will move the process along with big shot agents.")

Do agents have a sixth sense for whether they were given full consideration? My guess is yes, but I'd love to hear Janet's perspective.

In line with what Amy and others said, my personal inclination is to stop sending out new queries when I am in the middle of a significant revision, whatever the impetus behind that revision.

Lennon Faris said...

It sounds like you the writer should not make an actual exclusive, but IF an agent gives you R&R suggestions that you take and IF that agent offers representation, you have to take the offer or that is ethically bad?

Just trying to follow the logic.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

OT
E.M. Goldsmith, your discovery is a treasure trove.
Did that a couple of years ago. While reading my 'old' stuff, I became 'young' again, for a few minutes anyway.
It's great to revisit your younger self and the ideas that were so perfect at the time. I remember thinking that the stuff was better than I thought it was when it had once consumed my thoughts.

After we moved my stuff went back into the attic for discovery by my children once I become a memory. Hopefully they'll remember me better than I was.

Mark Thurber said...

Lennon, my interpretation is that you should give very serious consideration to the agent who gave you an R&R, but that it's ultimately okay if you decide the fit isn't perfect. After all, that agent isn't obligated to choose you either! The problem is when one takes advantage of an agent's time while knowing full well one would not sign with them (although in that case I'm not sure why you would query them in the first place). But I'd love to have further clarification...

A valuable R&R from an agent certainly seems like one important data point suggesting that agent IS a good fit.

Panda in Chief said...

I think you can tell a lot from an agents suggestions for the R&R. For instance, you can tell if they really "get" your characters and story. When I was querying my picture book, I had one agent with whom I had several rounds of back and forth. In the end, she did not offer representation, but if she had, I'm not sure I would have taken it, because she really did not seem in sync with this story, no matter how complimentary she was about the quality of the artwork.

In contrast, during my mentor program experience with my now agent, I could tell that he was becoming invested in the characters as I saw them, and that his suggestions increasingly showed we were on the same page. Of course this was a unique experience with no obligation on either side beyond the mentor period, and going into it, I had to sit firmly on any expectation I would wind up with him as my agent. The bottom line being that he saw my characters as I saw them, so that helped in making the decision to have him represent me.

Without offering an explicit exclusive, I think a virtual one might naturally happen, as you want to see if the R&R suggestions will make your book better before querying further elsewhere. And as several people have said, if you can't see yourself working with this agent, it would not be fair to go through the R&R with them.

In other OT celebratory news, my Kickstarter project has funded in less than 3 days! Huzzah! My record stands. 🙃

Colin Smith said...

I thought of Panda during this whole discussion of working with a potential agent on an R&R, so I'm glad she chimed in. :)

The question that leaped to my mind seems to be doing the rounds today--quite the feisty question! (Questions can be feisty, can't they?) If I'm working on an R&R with Agent Interested while still querying, what do I do if I get a call from Janet offering representation? Isn't that the same scenario that Janet said would be bad form and potentially bridge-burning? But how do you not offer the R&R-ing agent an exclusive without raising the possibility for this to happen?

I think what tends to happen is what Amy suggested: you hold off on querying. First of all, you're not sure the agent's suggestions are any good until you work with them. If they are good, you don't want to query a novel that's not as good as it could be. If you end up loving the changes, but the agent is not in love with the end result, you part ways and query the new-and-improved model. If the agent is loving the changes--and I presume you will get a sense that things are going well, both with the novel and with your potential-agent relationship (as with Panda's experience)--then you'll probably end up with the R&R-ing agent, so you're not going to continue querying.

That's what I think, anyway. :)

BJ Muntain said...

At first, I was wondering about 'keep querying' and 'the agent getting burned'... so I thought about this a bit.

First, I would expect the R&R agent to get the first look at the revised manuscript.

Second, if the revisions are pretty major - and I agree with them - I'd probably stop querying, anyway, just because I'd rather query the fully revised manuscript than the less improved one I would be querying while revising.

Now, it sounds like you've still got two fulls out. If that's the case, and one of those agents offer representation, you will definitely go straight back to the R&R agent and tell her so. You'll have to decide yourself what you want to do from there, and you may have some feedback from the R&R agent about that. But it's up to you to decide where to go from there. Do you accept the offer? Or do you continue with R&R agent? Or maybe R&R agent will offer - now that she knows more about the novel and about you. But it will really come down to: which agent do you want to work with? You would also, of course, contact anyone else with a full or a recent query and let them know.

Deciding on which agent you want is probably not an easy task. Make sure you do your research on all agents involved (of course, you probably did this before querying them).

Good luck, OP!

BJ Muntain said...

Oh Janet! You've got those hamster wheels a-spinning!

I think the answers to all the worried questions all come down to: Be polite and respectful. If you do the revisions, but the agent turns out to not be a good fit - either during or after revisions - then TELL THEM. Tell them that you don't think your styles of communications are compatible (you want more, she wants less, or vice versa), or that her vision for your work just doesn't mesh with yours. She deserves an explanation for why it's not working out.

Don't ghost her, by any means ('ghost' being the new term for 'dumping her without telling her'.) Don't just take another offer and tell her, "I'm taking an offer on a full I sent out at the same time I sent yours." Instead, give her a chance to offer, first.

Be pleasant. It's not a pleasant situation to be in, but if you remain professional and respectful, you won't have 'burned' her. The key to not being black-listed is being respectful.

Always be respectful, no matter what you think of the person, because everyone deserves respect. If you keep that top of mind, you will rarely be in danger of becoming an a$$hat.

Jessica said...

I'm OP! Thank you for answering my question Janet and thank you for your comments everyone!

I had my call on Wednesday and it was very interesting. Some of the changes she suggested were spot on and I do intend to implement them before I send out any more queries. But, regrettably, she wants me to make changes that I'm unwilling to make (bigger, more bombastic story, revealing the villain earlier, etc.). So what I think I'll do is stop querying (except the occasional twitter contest), make the changes I agree with, and offer it to her first. I know she's going to say no because I don't want a huge plot that overshadows the characters, but she deserves first dibs on my manuscript because she definitely helped make it stronger. Then I'll go back to querying as normal.

One thing I'm worried about is if a different agent loves it as-is and asks for representation. Should I tell R&R agent? Because I have changes in mind but it's not actually written yet... I have one full out and one partial, so I'm *too* worried, but I don't know what I'd do.

John Davis Frain said...

This is the part that strikes me as incongruent with the rest:

"Some of my colleagues have been burned by authors doing revisions with them, then querying the freshened manuscript and signing elsewhere. I look on that as a bullet dodged frankly. An author willing to do that is someone I probably wouldn't want to work with"

I'm sure I'm wrong somewhere, but here's my interpretation:
A) Keep querying, even after an R&R
B) Don't agree to an exclusive
C) If you query your new ms after an R&R and sign with a non-R&R agent, you're in trouble.

That sounds like a trap. Because if C is a result, the way to avoid it is not to do either A or B.

So, clearly I'm missing something (what's new!). But I'm not on the hamster wheel, so I'm okay. I'm on the editing wheel and it's spinning at an optimal speed for me so far.

kathy joyce said...

Might I add a little levity (OT, totally) to this confusing discussion?

Microwave broken. I know this. Hubby and I sleeping late after busy week. Fifteen year-old son comes in, wakes me up. (Me!) "Mom, I discovered something! You can heat up the leftover Chinese by putting it in a pan on the stove!! Will you tell Dad when he wakes up?"

Jessica, congrats on the great interest in your story!

Colin Smith said...

Woohoo, Jessica! Congratulations!! :) First, I wouldn't assume the agent will reject because you didn't implement all her suggestions. Sure, there's a good chance she will, but she might also love what you do with the changes you make, and come around to your view of things. Assuming you do part ways, if you get interest from another agent on the original version, I would write back and tell them you've since made changes, and ask if the agent like to read the updated version. If you like the changes you made with the R&R, and if you think the novel is better for them, then that's the novel you need to be promoting. If you've sent your old version to agents, and you've yet to hear back, send those agents the new version, telling them you made some changes and you'd rather they read the latest-and-greatest.

Make sense? All the very best to you!! :D

Amy Schaefer said...

John Davis Frain, I assume what Janet is referring to is a more back-and-forth type of R&R. If an agent sends you one set of notes and you send back a revised MS, that's one thing. But if you have ongoing discussions and several rounds of comments, then you are essentially previewing (and getting the benefits from) the agent-writer relationship. A writer going several rounds with an agent clearly values that agent's feedback, and is improving a MS accordingly. That sounds to me like an agent that person could work with... because the writer is working successfully with her already. At that point, it seems dodgy to switch camps. And why would you, if that agent is a good fit for you? More assumptions, but maybe a writer in that situation is chasing a "star" agent.

In short, it's not on to use an agent for practice.

Julie Weathers said...

I'm kind of with John Davis Frain.

If you keep querying and you're making changes as suggested, there's a chance a new agent will see the improved version and like it. There's also a chance you may make all the changes suggested and the original agent still passes. So you spend a year making the changes. The agent takes 6-12 months to read and then passes. If you're not still querying other agents you've just tossed up to two years down the drain.

And people wonder why writers are crazy.

Jessica Congratulations!

I don't know what the answer is. As I've discussed before, I have a friend with a BAN (Big Arsed Novel). It was 450,000 words when she queried it and it was unfinished. She queried tow agents. One was a referral from a NYT best selling author and another was a big name agent representing another friend.

Both agents said yes. One agent wanted her to break it into three novels, splitting it up so different characters were the MC of each novel. The other just said, "Finish writing it. We'll figure out how to split it into more manageable bites later."

She went with the second agent because she really wanted to keep their stories woven together. I agreed with her. It would make the story far less rich broken apart.

Sometimes you just have to go with your gut.

Amy Johnson said...

Jessica: Congratulations! I'm so happy for you. You've had an eventful couple of months. I thought you might be the OP. (It's a game I play--"Try to Guess the OP"--based on what people have said about their writing projects, where they are in the publishing process, wording they use in their comments, etc. I'm guessing other reefers play the game too.) I hope everything keeps going well for you and your writing!

I was also glad to see this:
"Or am I overthinking it? (I'm overthinking it, aren't I) (4/5)"
"(4/5) of course you are, but you're a writer. It's what you do."

Barbara Etlin said...

E.M. Goldsmith, don't throw out all your old work in your effort to reduce what you're moving. I think that is my biggest moving regret.

My second-biggest regret is donating too many books. I've actually rebought some of them. I may be in smaller quarters, but that didn't downsize my need for books. :-)

BJ Muntain said...

Congratulations, Jessica!

"One thing I'm worried about is if a different agent loves it as-is and asks for representation. Should I tell R&R agent?"

Of course you'll tell the R&R agent. You'll tell all the agents who are in the process of considering your work. As Janet says, you need to give them all a chance to make you an offer.

If R&R agent doesn't know that you don't plan on doing some of the changes, you can tell her this at that time. Say, "I am planning on doing such-and-such, but not this idea." Then it will help her to decide if she wants to make you an offer or not. That will make it clear that you do or don't have the same vision for your project.

Claire AB. said...

Whoohooo! Many congrats, Jessica!

It sounds like you just have to stay fluid. I agree with Colin -- you really don't know that the agent will reject, but either way, you'll have a better book when it's all done. And it makes sense that you'd stop querying for now because the revised book is the one you'll want to query.

Best of luck with this!

Jessica said...

Thank you for all the congratulations!! You all give excellent advice, you rock. And that's so funny you figured me out, Amy haha!It certainly has been a roller coaster of emotion and/or angst lol. I'm almost relieved to go back into the editing cave because querying is NOT for the faint of heart. There are so many traps and pitfalls and vortexes of doom. Thank goodness Janet is here to help us navigate :)

Craig F said...

Congrats, Jessica, it looks like a nice place to be.

I would re-save your manuscript under another name and do the R&R on that document. That will leave your original for those you already queried.

Wait until those other queries have run their course before deciding how you want to move on. Maybe the R&R looks good and you wish to run with that.

There is, also, always the chance that you will get an offer in the mean time. Leave as many options open as you can.

Hoping for the best for you.

Panda in Chief said...

Jessica- huzzah! I was going to make a comment similar to what BJ said about telling the revising agent "yes, I agree with A but not with B and here's why". If this is a deal breaker for her, I'm guessing you'll find out quickly. If she decides not to offer representation at this point, you are free to use what ever part of the suggested revisions you want on future queries, no bridges burned. If the r&r agent says, "hmmmm...I think you have a point there," this may be someone you can work with and accept an offer should it be forthcoming.

And what everyone says here, be respectful, go with your gut. You got this.

Megan V said...

Congratulations Jessica!

Casey Karp said...

My two bits:

I wouldn't tell the agent which suggestions I'm going to follow, because I often find that my opinion about suggestions change as I go. Don't burn bridges before you cross them. Finish the revisions, then send them to the agent with a cover letter that says in part, "I didn't use your suggestion about X because Y" (I'm big on "why".)

And in the meantime, keep querying with the original manuscript. Sure, another agent might offer based on it as-is, but more likely she'll have suggestions of her own. That's a win--you had multiple beta readers to get more than one perspective, right?

But for the Goddess' sake, don't query with the revised manuscript while you're doing the revisions! After you finish it, you can use it in new queries while you're waiting to hear back from Agent R&R. Depending on how extensive the changes are, you might even send a note to the agents who are still sitting on the original version: "Hey, I got an idea that improves the novel 250%, and I'd prefer you to read the new version." Nothing obligates you to tell them where you got the suggestions. (That said, I wouldn't lie if they asked where the idea came from, I'd just be up front about the status of the manuscript with Agent R&R. They're going to assume you're querying widely anyway--and so will Agent R&R.)

If I'm going down a wrong path here, I'm sure Janet will tell you to ignore me.

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

If an author is considering going exclusive, they should ask themselves what they are getting from this. "Agent loyalty" is not the correct answer. An agent asking for an exclusive is like a boy asking you not to talk with anyone else while he thinks about whether or not to ask you out.

So what are you getting if you agree to an exclusive?

kdjames.com said...

BE BRAVE. BE BOLD. But if you screw up, we will NEVER FORGIVE YOU.

*sigh* This is why writers drink.

I'm having a disconnect here, along with quite a few others, it seems. In my case, it's due to ignorance since I have no experience with this process.

If an agent offered me an R&R, I would consider that to be their decision to do that work. Not something I asked for. I might ask for clarification: "When you said this character should be an eight foot man, did you mean a man who is eight feet tall, or a man with eight feet?" But after that, I would expect to retreat to my cave for several weeks/months of revision and not contact that agent again until I had a new draft for reconsideration.

What am I missing here? Is that not how it works? I don't understand how I could be unduly taking up an agent's time OR finding out whether we're a good fit during that revision time. I'm truly confused.

Janet, do you own stock in a hamster wheel manufacturer?

Jessica, congratulations on finding agents who appreciate your work (still shaking my head over the one who said it was predictable). I'm proud of you for forging ahead with queries and for asking questions. Questions with answers that torment the rest of us. Thanks a lot. [kidding] I hope the revisions go well. And if someone expresses interest in the original, just discuss the changes you're making and see what they say. Good luck, all fingers crossed for you!!

BJ Muntain said...

Just to clarify: I said to tell the agent which advice you're taking and which you're ignoring IF you have an offer from another agent. Because that's when things get truly serious. If you tell R&R agent only that you've got another offer, they may offer back, on the assumption that you'll be revising according to all their suggestions. If you decide not to follow a suggestion the agent thinks is really important, then I believe she needs to know that when she's forced to either offer rep or refuse it. There's little worse than making a major decision based on assumptions rather than facts. And she'd be within her rights to assume you're following all her suggestions unless you tell her you're not.

If you don't tell her, then A) R&R Agent will make the offer, THEN find out you're not following Deal-Breaking Suggestion (DBS). Then you'll either have the offer pulled, or the agent won't be as happy or sure of your novel as they had been. Or B) R&R Agent will have to guess at which suggestions you're following, might decide not to go there, and might say "Good luck with your new (other) agent." Result: NOT a blacklist, but you do have a disappointed agent who just didn't want to make a decision based on an assumption.

Mark Ellis said...

I recently recieved an offer of a free developmental edit by an editor at a small publisher I had submitted a manuscript to. I asked the same question on everybody's mind, saying, "I would not do this, but what's to keep a writer from shopping the reworked book around after all the trouble you've put into it?" The editor was a bit vague, saying that she felt comfortable guiding the manuscript to possible publication.(Note: I have a long relationship with another editor at this house, who referred me to the second editor.) In the never-to-be-final analysis, they want major changes, and I'm still thinking about whether to take them up on the offer.