Friday, January 6, 2012

Agent Exclusives

Querying is a gauntlet. We all know that. For all the information out there about how to query (like here and here for instance), queries are still a major bugaboo for the writing community. I don't blame ya. They're hard. 

But even harder than querying is knowing what to do when you get something other than a form rejection in response.

It might be a simple request for a full, which is great! He/She liked it, really liked it!

But agents are often reluctant to sign an author off that full that you send them. They want "Revisions." Many people request those revisions before offering rep. I do because writing is a very different skill set than revising, and I want to see your revising muscles in action before signing you up. 

More and more, agents are asking for these revisions on an exclusive basis because, naturally, we don't want all our hard editorial work wasted if you abandon us, cold and alone, for someone else...with our carefully thought out edits.

But be careful. Recognize that the agent is taking a voluntary risk by doing that editorial work without officially signing you. You aren't beholden to him/her, and you don't have to stop everything else because they gave you notes. If someone asks for an exclusive but you're still awaiting word from Dream Agent, it's OK to say no to that exclusive.You are only required to be transparent and professional, so if someone else asks for revisions too, you should let Agent 1 know about it, and tell Agent 2 where you are with Agent 1.

If the revisions conflict, well, that's the risk you took in querying multiple agents at the same time (which I support).

If the agent likes your work enough, they'll carry on even if you won't give them an exclusive. If they say nevermind, well, you were waiting for Dream Agent anyway.


  1. As a writer, I'd add to make sure those revisions resonate with you. When I read the 4 page revision letter I received, I could feel the light bulb lighting up over my head. I did the revision. And another one after I was signed. It's not easy, believe me, but it's definitely worth it!

    Revision is something writers need to get used to doing. They don't stop once you've signed with an agent. I'm actually in the middle of another (minor) one. And I fully expect to do more once my brilliant agent finds a home for the book.

  2. Here's a question! Sort of going with what Joyce said about resonating with the revisions.

    Say an agent and author are working exclusively (but aren't signed), the author gets the revision notes, and feels their editorial direction doesn't match up with the agent's? Do you tell the agent, after all their hard work, you aren't sure you're feeling their ideas/suggestions? Do you take the revisions you DO jive with, do those, leave out the rest and send it back?

  3. @Kelley

    Yes! Tell us!

    There's nothing worse than getting into a supposedly committed, long term relationship only to find that your significant client doesn't like your

    Like any other relationship, if it doesn't start with honest communication it's gonna end in professional disappointment.

  4. One agent sent me a page of detailed notes for revision, saying she'd love to "take a second look" if I could revise those things. I did, and I resubmitted. Should I tell other agents considering the full manuscript about those revisions, or just wait to hear what they think of the original ms?
    When an agent asks a writer to do revisions, is that always a "revise and resubmit"? What is the difference between a revise and resubmit, and an agent requesting revisions?

  5. Thank you, Meredith! Makes me feel a little better. ;)

  6. Thank you for writing this! I wish more agents wrote about the etiquette of the revision process.
    I am in a similar situation as Miss Snip. I sent off an MS with the suggested revisions (and then some) to my "dream agent" several months ago.
    But this is a busy time of year, and while I'm trying not to fidget, I do keeping having insidious thoughts of "that phrase would read better worded like this," or "I could raise the tension even more here," and "urg, I need to cull the commas from this action sequence."
    If she is still interested, I fully expect that I will need to make several more rounds of revisions, but is it bad form to tweak the MS while I wait?
    Do you find it frustrating or encouraging if a potential client mentions that you don't have the "current" manuscript?

  7. @Ms. Snip

    If you've got revisions from an agent *and* they say they'll take another look, then it's a revise and resubmit.

    If they give notes but don't specifically say that they will look at it again, it's safest to ask in your "thank you, I got these" email whether they would look again.

    Sometimes I give notes but wouldn't take another look, just because I really saw some potential. It's rare that I do that and it's a line or two rather than pages, but I can see how it might be confusing, so I wouldn't mind you asking.

  8. @Kirsten

    This is always a hard thing to navigate, for us and for you. Basically what it comes down to is we're both taking risks: me by spending time on revisions that you might take elsewhere and you by querying multiple agents.

    By the time you've sent your query, you should be through the "Oh, I could..." stage of your revision. And you might think that would never happen, but it does. Or at least you'll be at "I could remove the comma," which is very minor, rather than thinking about modifying the book for bigger reasons, like to raise tension.

    Here's the test: once you think you've finished revisions (it's gone through several leave-it-alone-for-a-few-days and betas and copyediting), pretend you've sent the query out. Leave the book for a week or so and see what thoughts pop into your head as you think about the book being on submission, as you're reading blogs. If it's commas, you're good. If it's not, you need another round. Don't rush--we're still gonna be here.

    That being said, you can't obsess forever. Once you do query, it's best to let go and give yourself time on another project.

    I don't mind offering and finding that you've done polishing on the book, but if major changes have been made I get nervous because it might be a lot different than what I fell in love with.

    The answer is to not send the book before it's ready. And that's on you.

  9. My dream agent asked me for revisions a week after receiving my manuscript and I was so friggin' excited. But, I didn't know the etiquette. I kept querying other agents and even giving them the revision when they asked for the manuscript. Not cool.

    My dream agent did come back with an offer of representation after seeing my revision, but I almost blew it when she found out we hadn't been exclusive the previous two months like she thought. Thankfully, she forgave my ignorance and we're getting along like gangbusters. We go out to publishers soon. Still, I wanna go back in time and slap myself silly for that boneheaded move. I thought my research was so thorough...

  10. Good to know. I think revisions are half of writing--on my last WIP I spent as much time revising as I did actually writing it. David Farland said at a conference once that he goes through six to eight revisions on each book! And yet it still never seems done...


  11. Thank you for answering.
    I should have said "raise tension in the dialogue," perhaps. I definitely mean polish, though I admit it's hard not to obsess; I'm pretty excited to be this far in the process.

  12. This is such a useful tip to read, since I was wondering what to do in such an eventuality.