April 22nd, 2010


On Revising: Part two!

In my previous post on revising, I discussed things from an author’s perspective—why you should be excited about revisions, and what a request means to you and your path to publication.  


Today, I’ll discuss things from an agent’s perspective.


Firstly, there are a lot of reasons I might, as an agent, request revisions. You may have an absolutely killer idea, but you took it in a direction I’m not sure works in the current marketplace. Or your book might totally hook me and I’m grinning and loving it…. And then it loses steam and I can tell you weren’t totally sure how to get through the sagging middle.


Plot is the easiest thing to work out in revisions. If the voice is there and the characters rock and your book has a great hook, we can figure out the events of the novel. But if there are bigger issues, I may be concerned that you won’t be able to fully execute the revisions. And that’s where the revision request comes in.


I generally do revision requests in the form of an email, detailing what I liked about your project and what the weaknesses are, and some ways that you might fix it.


And here’s where writers seem to get in trouble. They look at revision letters as some kind of to do list, and set to work, checking off each item on the list, and then without another thought, they send it back.




I mean, if I were a real estate agent and I said something like, “Before I list your house, I need you to give it a little curb appeal. Like, look—the lawn definitely needs to be mowed.”


That doesn’t mean you’d mow the lawn and call me back. It means go stand in the road and stare at your house and figure out what you can do. Because wow, now that the lawn is mowed, its really obvious that the tree needs to be trimmed. And holy smokes, did you see that the paint is chipping on your shutters.  Mowing the lawn was an example of the weakness. You, as the writer, need to process that and look at your project more closely.


Seriously, an agent doesn’t want you to just go through the letter, fix each thing they stated and send it back, without processing it yourself. You need to not just look at what they want changed—but why they want those things changed. You need to read the letter and figure out what the goal is with this revision, and how you can add your own ideas/strengths to what the agent is trying to accomplish.


An agent is not expecting to get your revisions back practically overnight. In fact, unless they wanted something uber light (in my case, if they’re really that minor I’d be offering, not sending a revision request) less than a couple of weeks makes you look like you didn’t process what she wanted. Two months looks far better than two days, or even two weeks.


Share the letter with your critique partner who read the last draft. Swap some emails with your writer friends. Discuss it.


Then dive into the book, and mark it up like crazy. See if you can actually find those weak spots the agent is talking about. Make yourself red notes. Use the yellow highlight feature. Tear it apart.


YOU WILL LEARN MORE IF YOU DO IT THIS WAY. Because the whole point is to become a better writer, right?


Once you’ve figured out what the problems are, start fixing things. And once you’re totally, completely convinced you’ve fixed them, send it to a critique partner or two and ask for feedback.


And if they come back pointing out the same flaws the agent did, it’s not ready. So go through it again.



And as a last note, if an agent requests revisions and you totally loathe her ideas, that is TOTALLY fine. It’s okay to say something like, “I really appreciate that you took the time to give me detailed feedback. I will certainly consider your ideas, and if I end up revising, I will send it to you.”


It might be a thinly veiled way of saying, “Your ideas stink and I hate them,” but it doesn’t close the door, either. Because two months from now you might have four other rejections that point to the same issue. And you might look at it differently.



Good luck!


Mandy, who just this morning offered representation as a result of a revision request.