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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.




( 12 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 22nd, 2010 04:46 pm (UTC)
I totally mark mine off as I accomplish them, because I like posting pictures like this:

That said, I don't mark them off in order because you're absolutely right. You've got to mow the lawn before you can see the et up tree and fuxxored paint chips. And sometimes, when you mow the lawn, you discover that the paint chips aren't actually bad, it's the rust from the fence getting stuff all dirty.


Short Version: You are absolutely right.
Addenda: I just wanted to post a picture. :D
Apr. 22nd, 2010 04:52 pm (UTC)
haha. Awesome picture.

And i guess I should say, its okay to mark things off the to do list-- you just gotta make sure you don't mark off curb appeal just cus ya mowed the lawn.

I keep looking at your picture and i want to say RAWR!
Apr. 22nd, 2010 07:39 pm (UTC)
I am totally saying RAWR in that picture. (Also, for those reading, that revision took me 4 weeks, and that's the whole letter. Tiny revision letter. A month of work!)
Apr. 22nd, 2010 08:34 pm (UTC)
Thanks for this post. It was really enlightening. If I got a revision request I would probably try to do it as quickly as possible and sent it back. It's good to know I can actually work on the manuscript for a few months before sending it back.
Apr. 22nd, 2010 09:28 pm (UTC)
"Your revision ideas are stupid and I hate you, mean agent person!" = the denial/anger everyone must feel when they bleed themselves dry completing a MS, only to be told, "Hey ... This needs work." But curse at your computer screen, people. Be nice to the friendly agent who took the time to sort through the weeds in your yard and give you his/her opinion on the appropriate Weed-and-Seed. :)

I have an unrelated question (I'm going to pretend this was an Ask Mandy column/blog post): I'm working on a novel with 2 sisters as narrators. One is 18 and the other is 21. Do you know if that could be marketable as YA? B/c it feels like YA to me, but there's the whole age-of-the-protagonist issue, and I'm just not sure ...
Apr. 23rd, 2010 02:45 am (UTC)
Thanks for this post, Mandy!
It's always informative to see things from an agent's perspective. Nice to keep in mind that a revision request is actually a form of encouragement.
Apr. 23rd, 2010 09:53 am (UTC)
Thanks, Mandy. Great post!

I wish my brain came with a giant dry-erase board. It would make revisions so much easier. Until then it's post-it notes on my forehead, I guess . . . ;)
Apr. 23rd, 2010 03:55 pm (UTC)
Great post. I learned this the hard way.

I have a short story being published in an anthology. When the editor sent me her notes, I changed whatever she said even if I didn't like it exactly the way she'd shown me. I sent the revised manuscript back that same day. I stewed over it for about a week, went back in and fixed it up and sent it back. Thankfully, she's awesome to work with and it wasn't an issue at all.

I think, had she been an agent or just not as understanding, my hastiness would have resulted in a rejection.

Apr. 23rd, 2010 05:12 pm (UTC)
Love this post -- I'm definitely sharing with my students!
Wish you were local so you could come in and meet them!
Apr. 23rd, 2010 06:35 pm (UTC)
Yeah, been there, done that. Sometimes taking the checklist approach to a revision is a little bit like slapping band-aids onto a broken manuscript. It definitely pays to take a giant step back and really discuss what's broken with a critique partner. We've learned that lesson the hard way.
Apr. 25th, 2010 06:27 am (UTC)
I totally *squeeeeeed* over that last line. =D
Jun. 28th, 2010 12:23 am (UTC)
Thanks so much!
I just received a letter requesting revisions from my dream agent. The recommendations were pretty specific and I agreed a hundred percent on every one of them. So I made a list and dove straight into fixing each scene that I thought she was referring to. I began on a Thursday and was planning to have the revisions back to her by Monday.
Then...I decided to further research this scenario.
This was the best post on this scenario that I've found. Even though you likely won't read my comment since you posted this a few months ago, I still wanted to thank you.
( 12 comments — Leave a comment )
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