Thursday, September 04, 2008

When Prospective Agents Ask For Revisions

One of my critique partners, SC, started working with an agent several months ago, and before this agent actually agreed to take SC on as a client, she asked her for rather extensive revisions to her book. This agent was one that SC really wanted to work with, and the areas in the book she was asked to revised weren't out of line, so she agreed. Even as she said to us that the agent had recently blogged about how she *never* took on clients after she'd asked them to revise a book. But SC knew the revisions would make her book stronger, so she did as requested.

And was promptly picked up by the agent.

Agent Nathan Bransford blogged a week ago or so about agenting and revisions, and he had this to say (in part. You can read the entire blog about "Exclusives and Literary Agents" here.):

Revisions: I don't generally ask for exclusives at the partial or even full manuscript request phase. But there is one situation when I often will. And that's during a revision.

It's very time consuming for an agent to read partials and fulls, although I see it as going with the territory. But a revision with a prospective client takes time-consuming to a whole new level. It means a serious commitment on the part of the agent without a sure prospect of success, it means committing to reading a manuscript multiple times, taking notes, thinking about the manuscript during most waking hours, and for me it means writing 10-20 page e-mails full of suggestions on each draft.

I don't know if there would be anything more gut-wrenching than to embark on a time-consuming revision to improve the manuscript only to have an author take that improved manuscript to a different agent who gets to benefit from my hours of hard work. Quel horreur! The mere thought of this happening gives me dry heaves.

Fortunately this hasn't actually happened to me, but just to make sure we're all clear what a full manuscript revision means, I often ask for an exclusive before embarking on a revision, and I think this is fair. When the author is done, if either of us aren't happy with the manuscript or how we've worked together in the process then we're still free to go our separate ways, but while we're working on that revision we're going steady, pinning each other, and any other serious dating metaphor you can find. If we are happy with the manuscript at the end, then it's time to move on to formal representation and submissions.

So, my point is, if you've been lucky (and talented) enough to garner the attention of an agent, listen to him/her. Don't do something that will, in your opinion, ruin the book. But do try to take an objective look at it and, if it's something that really should be done, then do it.

An agent wouldn't make the suggestion just to make the suggestion. They have better things to do with their time.

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