An Agent’s Definition of “A Lot of Work”
- By: Jessica Faust | Date: May 12 2015
In response to last Friday’s post on Thoughts on Sending Rejection Letters there was a great comment from a reader that I thought would be better addressed if I broke it up and posted it for the audience at large.
E.L. Wagner said…
I’ve heard these kinds of comments before, and as someone who is out in the trenches querying a novel, of course, it’s hard not to get discouraged when an agent says they liked your book but it wasn’t quite what they need for their list at the moment, but they’re sure someone will end up repping it.
Out of curiosity, why would an agent feel that they personally couldn’t sell a well-written and marketable novel (or get it a deal that does it justice), but another agent might be able to? It may seem like a naive question, but it’s one that I’ve wondered about.
I get the “this is promising but it needs a lot of work yet” rejections some people get. All else being equal, who wouldn’t prefer to take on a manuscript that needs a minimum amount of polishing before shopping it to publishers? But all else being equal, what makes an agent think they personally can’t sell a given manuscript when someone else might be able to?
In yesterday’s post I discussed why an agent might think another agent could better sell a book. Today I want to address why an agent doesn’t seem willing to work with an author editorially.
Why if, “this is promising but it needs a lot of work yet” won’t an agent take on the job. If this is the rejection you’re getting it means that it doesn’t need a minimum amount of polishing. It means that book still needs good, intense revisions, and possibly a couple of rounds of them.
I’m working with a new client right now. She just completed a very intense round of revisions for me. When I offered representation I thought the book was in great shape and of course I absolutely loved it. I did have some concerns and I addressed them with the author when I first offered, so I thought we both knew what we were getting ourselves into, but as what often happens, once I sat down to read with my editor’s cap on I found a lot that was going to need revising. And let me tell you something, when an editor or agent tells you a lot needs to be changed, you better expect to move mountains. I always tell authors that “minor revisions” to an editor or agent mean something completely different (and usually much bigger) to an author.
She dove in, but I will tell you right now that book is, in some ways, a completely different book. And we might go another round or two before I’m ready to submit. And that’s a minimum amount of polishing.
If an agent is telling you you have a good idea, but it still needs work you need to take a close look at the manuscript because it probably needs a good rewrite or two (or something close to that).