The Revision Request can be awesome… or it can be soul-crushing. Meredith Barnes blogged about The Exclusive Revision here, go check it out for a better summary.
Essentially, when an agent likes your manuscript, but feels it need extensive revision before it can be sold, that agent may ask you to revise it, send it back to them, and pending those revisions, they may offer representation. The key word there is “may.”
Why don’t we just offer on the manuscript and have you revise under contract? Sometimes we do. And (if we seem overly keen on revision requests) sometimes it backfires.
Revising is a different skill than writing. It behooves us to know that you can revise before we offer, because all too often it goes wrong. Why? Well. [Expletive deleted] if I know, but I suspect it has more to do with the troubles of communicating than any sort of failure on either the part of the agent or the author.
here’s how people think it works:
Here’s how it actually works:
Look at all that noise, the distractions (including perceptions, anxiety, fear, excitement) we both have to sift through! And it’s not just about communication with each other, but with ourselves. We have to successfully verbalize (and in the author’s case, write down) our vision.
You authors out there, you are dealing with a great divide; that seemingly unbridgeable gap between what you want to write and what you actually write, the black hole between your vision and your execution.
Don’t worry, it’s okay! Consider yourself a member of the team if you’ve wailed at a keyboard having aimed for John Green and hit somewhere closer to Highlights Magazine (no offense, highlights, I loved you at the Dentist’s office!)
Most of you talented devils find a way to navigate it. My point here is to illustrate the many opportunities one has to fail to meet expectations.
Offering and crossing our fingers that the revision is successful seems unwise and a little cruel, so we offer the revision request in the hopes that we’ll get lucky.
Mike wells blogged about the odds of the revision request calling it The Slow No; believing that 98% of revision requests are on a long road to “no,” that results in a lot of heartbreak, frustration, anger and wasted time on behalf of the writer. And you know what – he’s right. IT SUCKS. It sucks out loud.
But, I think Mike’s portrayal of the situation is decidedly one sided.
I can totally understand why an aspiring author, after months of revisions and positive exchanges would feel led on, taken advantage of, bull-dozed and utterly devastated. All that work for no pay-off. UGH.
But it can be just as tough for the agent! It is not our plan to turn you down even though it happens often. We are hoping for that last 2% that DO meet expectations and DO get offers. We’re hoping to be an exception. We are ALL hoping for an exception, are we not? Our jobs –both our jobs- are about beating the dismal publishing odds.
Still, unsuccessful revision requests can feel an awful lot like a break-up. There’s a relationship based on expectations, reinforcement and maybe genuine fondness, and when it all goes south everyone is pissed off and crying and WHERE IS THE CHOCOLATE AND WINE AND MY DVD OF “SOME LIKE IT HOT?!”
So, what are the risks and what are you supposed to do?
1.) in addition to feeling heartsick, like, truly in mourning…You also might end up working for free. You could put months into revisions and when all is said and done never be paid for that time. Granted, so can the agent. Some agents might be willing to work on your manuscript with out signing you. Some may never be willing to (agents can get burnt by authors who end up signing with another agent), but you’re certainly allowed to ask.
Is the agent just going to write you an e-mail or give you one phone call? or are they going to give you an editorial letter or maybe even line edit?
It still may not matter. It may only get your hopes up. But you might also get a better book in the end. Gauge how you strongly you feel about the agent’s efforts AND what they suggest because…
2.) You could always wind up changing the book so it works for only one person. Mike writes “Even if the agent or editor does not understand the highly subjective nature of the feedback he or she has given [a writer] [the writers] do! [Writers] know better than to spend weeks, months or years customizing their book,” and I agree. Don’t change things just because we say to. Don’t do it multiple times because we ask you to. You are allowed to disagree with certain points. You are allowed to choose an end date. You are also allowed to say, “I appreciate the offer, but I’d rather revise non-exclusively and re-query you.”
3.) Finally, Mike says, ” do not let so-called industry experts dictate what is “good” or “bad” to you. “ ( I don’t love his use of the phrase “so-called,” like we’re all running around flashing business cards we made out of construction paper and the lone office sharpie) but he is right. If you feel strongly about a point then stick to your guns. Take back your writing.
If that means turning us down- that’s okay. Obviously, I don’t want you to say “no” to me, but c’est la vie…