Thursday, October 9, 2008

Sara: Revision from the Agent's perspective

The Crowe's Nest authors have been blogging about revisions -- revisions for me as well as for editors. In almost all of my conversations with a possible new client, I am asked— how much do you edit?

Before submitting a book we want to make sure it’s as polished as it can be, and almost always, I will have some revisions. These can be very small line edits, or more global— rethinking a scene, a character. If there is going to be extensive revision involved, then I’ve let the author know this prior to working together.

Of course, we can’t envision or prepare for every editorial opinion and desire, but we can send out the best possible draft. Doing so puts us in a much better position for negotiating with editors. And, even though we work together to send out the most polished version, this is only the first revision on a road of revisions (see Kristen and Megan’s posts) and so I hope it’s also good practice for my clients on what is to come.

There are times when an author and I do not agree on a certain revision, and I think there is room for disagreement, as long as we are both happy with what we are sending out. I want to be behind it 100%, and I want the author to feel the same.

One revision is not always enough, and sometimes we go back and forth many, many times (see Mary’s post) and often I have read a manuscript five or six times before it gets out the door. Once in a while, I read a few chapters at a time as the author writes them. I get to see firsthand how the book is developing. This is not always the right way to go -- thankfully, or I would not ever be able to go home at night -- but I’m able to give a different kind of feedback reading along, then when I read a full draft.

If the author is deciding between a few different ideas for a next book it can be helpful to have me look at drafts of chapters and synopses to try to help figure out what idea to develop first. I always tell my clients to send material to me when my feedback will be useful, and I think that point is different for each writer.

I do like to read drafts before they are sent directly to the editor, even when they are a second or third book under contract. I also like to be kept in the loop and read revision letters from editors—as well as the revision, but I usually read that draft at the same time as the editor, depending on the time.

My suggestions to an author can come out of conversations with the author’s editor, who has insight into the market. For instance, Christine writes so well for middle grade audience and will keep doing so, but the books are not finding the audience they should at this moment due to a shrinking market-- so does she want to write for an older audience, as well? Is it something she is willing to try? (see her post about this!)

My other job as first editor is to think about the author’s career as a whole. Could Michael write for middle graders as well as for young adults? He writes young adult boys so well, but he also edited Sports Illustrated for Kids for years and loves and knows sports-- shouldn’t he try to write a middle grade about sports? The answer is not always yes— but when it works, such as Michael’s work in progress about a soccer player— it’s incredibly exciting. Of course, Michael was thinking himself about writing a book about sports— and a push was all that was needed.

It’s very satisfying to get a revision back and see that my comments were of use to the author and that the book is stronger as a result of our working together. Though, I am often one of a few readers in the early stages. It’s a learning process— figuring out how each author works best. And I know it’s a learning process on the author’s side as well— figuring out how to make sense of my edits. Our hope is that this process pays off, not only in a book deal, but in the successful creation of a story. When I am on the phone discussing possible stunts Corky, the crazy roommate on a summer program, might attempt, or how Cecilia, who escaped the French revolution and is trying to find her French artist boyfriend, will find her lost fortune, I feel incredibly lucky.


  1. What a great post, Sara, and so timely for the two of us!

    You give such spot-on feedback. We are lucky to have you. =)

  2. And Sara doesn't say it here, but she pushes us. Gently, it's always a loving push, but she pushes us to go beyond. Sometimes it's easy to just be tired of working on something and want it to go away, but having an agent who refuses to present a book until it's as good as it can be is such a gift. <3

  3. thank you for the kind words, Ladies!

  4. I agree - your feedback has been spot-on and I appreciate the time and care you take to make a manuscript the best it can be. I'm sure editors appreciate that as well!

  5. I think it's wonderful that you are such a hands on agent, Sara. Your clients are very lucky.

    I definitely agree that an author wants to send the best possible draft forward, whether it be to an editor or to an agent. And, hard as it can be at times, the only way to get there is with revisions.

  6. Terrific post, Sara. Not only is your feedback treasured, but the faith you have in us stays with us through those revisions. We are lucky.

  7. It's hard to imagine changes after I've already done so much revision, but I know it's coming, and if I trust my agent and my editor, it's coming for the better. Even now, when I totally love my book, I still think, "maybe I should have..." or "did I give that character enough..."

    It's all a process. And to the writer, her book is a living, breathing piece of her soul. It's still her baby. It doesn't stop growing just because she chose to stop writing after the 12th revision. I don't know many writers who truly believe every word is locked in place...even after it comes out in print!

  8. This was soooo interesting. Thanks for sharing your insight into revisions.

  9. It's hard, when you've worked on a book so long, to suddenly find yourself feeling, "Oh, so the last three years were just a warm up." However, the revisions Sara suggested made my book much stronger (and marketable). Now that I've really got my sleeves rolled up with my editor Emily, I am exhausted, overwhelmed, but at the end of the day I feel like I know my character in a way I never had before--this is thanks to outside eyes.

  10. Excellent post, Sara. An oldie but a goodie. Glad Casey linked it. Your blog rocks! And from the sound of it so do you:)