An Agent’s Edits

  • By: Jessica Faust | Date: Feb 22 2011

I have a question. I submitted my full ms. to an agent approx 3 months ago, who wrote back that she loved it and would like to show it to a colleague of hers. I told her yes, as I was yet to sign with any other agents. Since this time she has spent significant time editing the ms. and we have spoken on the phone a couple of times. About a month into the process I asked her if she was planning to sign me as her client, and she replied that she would like to represent my ms. but she wanted to get the ms. to a point we were both happy with before signing anything.

Is this usual? I can’t see that I have anything to lose, since I haven’t had any other offers of representation. From her viewpoint though, it seems like an odd move. Technically I could sign with another agent and she will have wasted a lot of time and effort on her edits (I have no intention of doing so, but still). Can you advise the “normal” process of signing a client (if there is such thing as normal)?

I feel like I need to say this a thousand times over. There is no such thing as “normal” in this business. Each agent is an individual and works very differently. Is it possible that an agent will work with an author before signing. Absolutely. The agent will only offer representation on what she feels she can sell, and if she doesn’t feel she can sell this she won’t offer. That being said, she feels there’s real potential here and is seeing if, by working together, it’s something the two of you can make into a salable product.

Yes, technically you could sign with another agent, and I suspect every agent out there has a story of the author who thanked them profusely for their feedback or edits because it helped secure another agent. So unbelievably frustrating when this happens. Which is why we always ask that if an agent helps you out you consider giving her another look.

A lot of this business is based on faith and trust. We don’t always require you to sign something, we just hope and have faith that the work you’re doing will make you realize that she’s the right agent for you.


12 responses to “An Agent’s Edits”

  1. Avatar Laurel says:

    I also wonder if the agent might wish to see how well you work together during the editing process. Do you handle/apply critique well? It must be frustrating for an agent to sign a client and find that deadlines won't be met and edits are like pulling teeth.

  2. Avatar Erika Marks says:

    I second that, Laurel. As an author, you are more than just the product of your manuscript, which is why it's so important to be professional and courteous in this business, like in any other.

    It isn't just your manuscript that an agent is presenting to an editor. That agent is presenting you as an individual, and wants to be sure you'll be someone who is not only pleasant to work with, but someone who can adhere to deadlines and be flexible when it comes to editorial advice.

    I went through a similar round of revisions before being offered representation with my agent, and while I knew from the get-go how comfortable I was with her and her editorial direction, it was a wonderful thing to hear her say at the end of our revisions that she felt confident we made a good team.

  3. Avatar Kristan says:

    Maybe I am reading too much into this, but I thought this writer was saying that the agent was making changes herself, not asking the writer to do it… Am I mistaken? Because if that's the case, then yes, it sounds weird to me. But if it is just a matter of the agent working with a writer and suggesting edits/changes, then I would say that that is “normal”–at least I have heard of it many times.

  4. Avatar Michael says:

    I sure wouldn't stop querying other agents.

  5. Avatar ryan field says:

    "There is no such thing as “normal” in this business."

    This sentence should be the title of a publishing blog.

    Good post.

  6. Avatar Anonymous says:

    My understanding always was that if you're working editorially with an agent, you're ethically on hold with that agent until the outcome is decided. This happened to me after making the changes an agent suggested and waiting to hear back from him. Another agent requested material and I was honest with both parties about it. The new agent didn't want to see it until it was "free and clear," and after two months, I bugged the first agent for a reply. He let me go, I sent it to the second agent…and she rejected it in one week! That was a while ago, but I have an agent now.

  7. Avatar Kate Douglas says:

    Just a comment regarding edits–I rarely send my material to Jessica, but I recently sent a novella for her to check over, and she sent it back loaded with suggestions for revision. A LOT of revision, which I'm doing, because they all make sense. If you are not comfortable with the suggestions an agent makes regarding your work, it's probably not a good idea to sign with them, no matter how desperate you are for representation. At some point, you have to decide if you and your agent are on the same page–do you have the same vision for your story, and will your agent's suggestions have a positive or negative effect on your process?

    I can look at the suggestions and comments I got from Jessica and know they make sense–which means that, while I won't follow everything to the letter, I will be able to rewrite my book and make it better. If I didn't agree with her ideas, she might not feel as strongly about the story, and I wouldn't be happy with the finished product. You have to be on the same page for the agent/author relationship to work.

  8. Avatar S.P. Bowers says:

    I have heard that this is becoming more and more common. Agents aren't wanting to tie themselves, or the author, down if they aren't sure that the end results are something that they can work with. If you are uncomfortable with the process or the agent then thank them and go on your way. If you're working well together and you think there is a bright future then by all means keep working with her, but IMHO it would be respectful to stop querying until it is decided. I wish you the best of luck on the revisions and the agent.

  9. Avatar iheartya says:

    Interesting post! Thanks for sharing! 😉

    Also, I agree with Ryan. 🙂

  10. @Anonymous: I think that would only hold true if the agent has asked for an exclusive. Basically the agent is volunteering her time and expertise right now, and might not even sign the writer. It wouldn't really be fair to expect the writer to wait around either, although if I were the writer I probably would feel I was going behind the agent's back, so to speak, by looking for others. To remove that ethical taint, I would be up-front with all parties involved if I continued to query. (All parties being agents who request a full or partial, plus the editing agent. No need to mention the situation in a query letter, really.)

    From the writer's perspective, this can be nothing but a good thing. If the agent offers representation and you have a stronger manuscript, then it's great. If the agent doesn't offer, you can keep the edits or continue submitting the original ms to other agents.

  11. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Kristin, thanks, it was a touchy situation; I had just queried the second agent and received her request after the first agent's revisions. Maybe I just should have sent it, but I would have used the first agent's version, because it was better, and maybe I said too much, but I also felt it would be like going behind his back. So I pressed him for an answer. Would he have responded differently had I not pressed him? Who knows. He liked what I did, was just afraid he couldn't sell it. Anyway, I used his version to get the agent I have now.

  12. Avatar Karen Duvall says:

    Any time a professional offers editorial advice, it's always wise to consider. You'll learn from it even if you don't get signed with that agent or editor. Before I got my agent, this happened to me a few times and I know it made me a better writer. The experience alone of working with a professional is extremely worthwhile.

    I think it's wonderful that an agent would go through the trouble of working with a writer prior to offering representation. I wish more agents would do so.