How Close Am I?
- By: Jessica Faust | Date: Sep 08 2009
I currently have a manuscript under submission with an agent. After reviewing the manuscript the first time, the agent had good things to say about my writing and my main character but ultimately felt it would do better with a female protagonist in the YA genre. So, I asked if she would be interested in reading it again once I made those changes and she said she would. It’s been over two months now since I sent in the revisions and I’m just wondering if I’m close but not close enough. At this point, is there anything I can do to improve my book? I read constantly and I’ve been reading more YA books than usual. I know good writing when I read it, but how can you tell if your own writing is good enough? I’ve started outlining book #3, perhaps that’s what you do 🙂
I don’t think you can tell anything about your own writing and that’s the tricky thing in this business. There is no ruler to compare your writing or your ideas to. Ultimately it either catches fire or it doesn’t. Good writing, like a good story, is somewhat subjective. Sure, we can all look at great authors and say that person was a great writer, but it’s just as easy to argue that someone else was or wasn’t great depending on your own opinion. My advice is to move on to your next book (making sure it’s not the next book in series) and keep writing. With each book your writing improves and you learn more about yourself and your craft and that’s the smartest thing a writer can do.
How close are you? There’s no saying. One thing I do want to make sure of though is that you aren’t making changes because of one agent’s suggestion, and instead you’re making changes because it feels like the right path for you to be taking as an author. Agents are all different. We come from different backgrounds and different experiences and all of that can affect our opinions on books in the same way that as readers you bring your own experiences to each book you read. While one agent might say this book is better as YA, another might easily say it’s perfect the way it is.
It sounds like you’re building a relationship with an agent and that’s a great start.
There is no criteria for writing.Writing is a way to express feelings, so no rules can be apply.
There are a number of agents that will make these requests — sometimes for huge revisions, which the writer completes and resubmits. Then the agent will pass with almost no clue of why they are passing (because they don't know). It's happened to me before — twice — and now I'm much more reluctant to revise for an agent.
It would be different if the revisions made the mss stronger, but in my case, they didn't make it stronger, only different. If an agent doesn't see the potential enough to sign me and THEN discuss revisions, they aren't passionate enough to be my agent. To be honest, there are a lot of agents out there that don't have a clue what they want, and think by rearranging your ms like furniture, it'll help them figure it out. It usually doesn't.
Just make a back up!
I'd like to add some advice I was given by veteran published authors when my first revise-and-resubmit request came in.
*Keep a copy of your original manuscript.*
Opinions, tastes, preceptions of trends, and so on are all subjective and ever-changing. For all you know, it's the original draft which might sell and go on to the New York Times Bestsellers' List.
Something you said really struck a chord for me. "My advice is to move on to your next book (making sure it’s not the next book in series) and keep writing." I am writing the next book in a series, and I think that's not working for me. I'm halfway through and am enjoying it, but I keep feeling I'm supposed to be writing something else. I'm going to take your advice and move on to that next book outside of the series. The key is to be joyful while writing, not writing because it's a "should." Thanks for showing me what I knew, but wasn't able to articulate.
I also think that's good advice. If you continue with the same series, you're putting too many eggs in one basket. Every writer has their own methods, but I find it helps when I switch to a different genre. I think differently when I'm working on a contemporary romance than when I'm writing romantic suspense or paranormal, so I find I write and plot them a little differently.
It's so easy to get caught up in revisions for a particular WIP — especially if you are getting good responses but you're not sure if you have it right yet. I think that makes us more susceptible to requests for changes.
It's the same with contests — when I first started entering, I took the judge's advice as gospel and, in doing so, made revisions I shouldn't have. I did get some excellent advice; the trick is separating the wheat from the chaff. Now I try to focus only on the changes that are true to the story.
Since I'm full of doubt and angst, I gave my ms to a few select friends and my dad, with instructions to give me their honest evaluation, with no sugar coating. Some other friends didn't get it, because I knew they'd be unable to tell me the book sucked, if that's how they honestly felt.
Only after my dad and friend N., both big mystery readers, told me I'd hit a home run did I stop describing the book to others as "90,000 words, possibly 90,000 words of crap."
Having trusted readers evaluate your work before you send it out is very valuable. The key is finding people who will be honest with you, even if it means telling you to find another line of work.
I love this post!
Thanks for acknowledging, Jessica, that it's incredibly hard to judge your own writing. Since writing is communication, it's almost impossible to know the other side of the 'conversation.' If you get enough feedback over time, you can start to get a sense of things, but even then….ultimately, you have to stay true to your vision and hope that it reaches people.
I believe you should still listen to and incorporate feedback, but only when if feels right to you instinctively. That includes feedback from agents. Writing is subjective on both sides of the book.
Researching agents, and making sure that their taste aligns with yours, and the books they represent are books that you admire – I think that can help you know whether this agent is one to listen to.
Honestly, changing the whole gender of the protagonist – that really made me sit up and take notice. I don't know the book, so maybe that was an excellent suggestion, but it made me alittle nervous to be honest.
There is no "I'm there", because writing is a constant learning experience. You keep writing, you keep learning. You can see how far you've come if you look at older works.
AI agree with keeping an original copy and only changing the ms if the change is right for the book. At the end of the day it's only your name that's going on the book.
I think what Jessica said makes sense. Make sure you aren't responding to only one opinion. Don't be in a hurry but put your work out to a few select people and see what the consensus is, then make changes.
If the suggested changes make you feel excited, I think that is a good sign that you're on the right track.
An agent suggested some overall changes but it made me take a good, hard look @ the ms. and inspired me to make it even better. If your reaction is, Why didn't I think of that before? then you know the advice is worth taking.
Even if they pass, I feel confident that I'm making my book the best it can be. So yes, every little bit of helpful feedback is appreciated.
An agent made some suggestions on my ms–a few major issues including POV–and I did make the changes, but only because they made sense to me. She took the time to get on the phone with me and she's got a great track record, so I decided to trust her judgment. She asked for a short exclusive, which I granted, and although she ultimately passed, I do believe the ms is now better. I don't feel led astray, I feel very grateful for her advice.
If I make the changes you suggest will you represent me?
The question doesn't list how many agents the person has submitted to. If you like the manuscript, before you file it away consider sending to other agents. What one agent doesn't like someone else might. While you're shopping keep writing. Good luck!
As with everything in life, the publishing industry can be just plain unfair. You've probably read dozens of books with obvious flaws that you could write better. You've probably had works rejected that exist in even worse forms. That's the way it goes. It's subjective, like everything in life. But it sounds like you're determined to make it, and you're willing to take advice from the people with the power, which is really the most important thing you can do. I think too many writers think they're too important to take the advice of editors, and they lose out on the opportunity to have their book published altogether because they aren't willing to make a few minor changes.
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It wasn't a deal breaker, but my agent also suggested I'd have a much better chance with my latest YA novel if the main character were female. Since this was not possible, the book is now going out with a male lead. Did I make a mistake?
What are the benefits of working on a different series while your first book is out on submission? It seems to me that if my first book gets published it would help me to have a leg-up on completing the second book–but maybe that doesn't account for all of the revisions that will be suggested?
Also I'd like to finish my trilogy-in-progress whether it's published or not, but maybe that is the wrong approach…?
Appreciate your thoughts Jessica and commenters. Great post–I always wondered if I was alone in thinking it's impossible to judge one's own writing.
Why on earth would you advise against writing the next book in a series?
Hi. I submitted the original question.
I made the changes because I have a good feeling about this agent. How else can I explain it? She has a good track record and I've enjoyed our brief, but friendly e-mails. There are three main voices in my book, two males and one female. Though the agent was the first to suggest that my female character take the lead, others who have read my ms seem to like the female character the best. For whatever reason, I think she's the one that people identify with the most. I think the changes make it a better ms and I definitely saved a copy of the original ms.
I have queried a number of agents who represent my genre, but there are plenty left to contact. I have had about three partial requests and this one full request. That's why I feel close, but not quite there. Hearing the feedback from this agent was like a ray of light because it gave me some direction from a trusted professional and I felt like I was missing something.
So, the reason I decided that my third book would not be a sequel is because I wouldn't be able to present it to an agent without the first one. And if the first one is not good enough then there's a bit of a problem. Plus, I am much more excited about my new idea. Thanks for all the comments and suggestions.