How Agents View Revisions

Typically when an author looks to revise their book they are looking at how to make it stronger. Is the plot working? Are the characters working? Is it a good book?

Agents however tend to add another dimension into revisions. In addition to the obvious about the book itself, agents look at its marketability. We aren’t just asking if readers will like the book or if the book works, we are asking if we can even sell the book and if not, how can we fix that.

Making a Book Marketable

Making a book stronger should be pretty obvious to the writer. It should be something you’re already doing in your edits. It’s the marketability of it that you’ll eventually have to learn and that you bring in an agent for.

In addition to whether or not the twist is truly twisty, you (and the agent) look at whether the book has a strong hook. There are a lot of psychological, twisty books on the market right now. If you’re going to compete with all of them how do we do so in a way that stands out? How do we give your book a hook that makes often jaded editors and readers snatch it up?

A million years ago (okay probably 10) I received a book proposal for a really well-written cozy mystery. I loved everything about it, but based on previous experience I knew it would never sell. We’d already tried to sell something with that exact hook and no one bit. Publishers just weren’t interested. But I still liked the book.

So I called the author and we had a long talk. I asked if they’d be willing to rework the hook. I had some ideas and so did they. We kept the core of the story–the characters, the plot and the murder, but we changed the hook. We presented a different marketing direction.

Bam. We sold the book.

Of course it isn’t always that easy. But it does show how important marketability is. If you’re looking to sell a product, and that’s what you’re trying to do, it isn’t enough just to have a great product. You also have to make sure that it’s something that can compete.

A bakery selling plain donuts isn’t enough on a street filled with donut shops. You need something to get donut-lovers in the door. Something to make you stand out and different. Something to make them want to try yours even if they already have a favorite somewhere else.

Books are a product and do compete on crowded streets. So how will you make yours stand out on a crowded shelf?

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4 comments

  1. Great perspective! As an author writing my first novel, is there a way for me to know which hook is appealing versus which isn’t? How would I avoid the situation of having a manuscript with great writing and story that no one wants because the hook isn’t marketable right now?

    1. The best thing you can do is read recent releases! By knowing what’s being published now, you’ll definitely have a better sense of what’s working lately.

  2. Great perspective!
    Do you have advice for how I can avoid ending up with a well written manuscript with a compelling story but a lackluster hook? Is a weak hook obvious, or is it a matter of timing to the market?

  3. Looking forward to getting an agent’s input on this sort of thing someday.

    Working with critique partners and beta readers is great “practice” for that day when you’re asked by someone in a professional capacity to revise your work. I used to get discouraged by remarks about what I could or should do better. But since I’ve discovered that, hey, turns out I actually CAN do better, I get excited about it instead!

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