Sunday, 7 March 2010

Should I Re-write for an Agent?

There seem to be two kinds of agent: those who like editing (and were probably editors in their previous jobs) and those who don't. Those who don't are much easier to send out to - they make a decision based on what they see in front of them, yes or no, and that's it. Those who like editing make suggestions...The worst are those who make lots of helpful suggestions because while a rejection is miserable, suggesting re-writes leads to a quandary: should I or shouldn't I?

I've seen people re-write extensively and still be turned down. Then they send out the revised ms, and get more suggestions that lead back to the first version. That gets turned down too. The author is left confused, demoralised and derailed. Now they have three versions, and they have no idea which is best. Or even which is closest to their original vision.

Some changes are more intrusive than others. Plot changes are often quite easy to accommodate - I've done this several times for foreign editions of my books. I've also made character changes. But this was for someone who'd bought the novel. Would I for someone who hadn't paid up front? I'm not sure.

A former student has an agent (but not yet a publisher) and is constantly re-writing stuff for this agent, sending out her new novel 5 pages at a time for comments. This seems unhealthy to me. I asked my editor what she thought about their arrangement and she said she'd be very wary of taking on someone who a) needed so much editorial support b) hadn't got confidence in their own writing and c) might have lost their own authorial voice in the re-writes.

I have to say that my former student is thrilled with the situation and I hope it works out for her, but it's not one I'd be happy with. Unless all the feedback you're getting points in the same direction I think you have to have courage of your own conviction. It is YOUR novel after all.


Lizzie said...

An interesting post Sarah, and a subject I hadn't given much though to before.

I guess as an unpublished writer you're just so pleased that an agent is taking an interest that you're willing to jump through hoops in the hope that it'll lead to publication. You're right though, it is your novel and you have to retain ownership.

I've just sent my first three chapters and synopsis to my first choice agent. If I get any response other than the standard thanks, but no thanks, I'm sure I'll be thrilled!

Sarah Duncan said...

Well, I hope Lizzie that your first choice agent takes you on without wanting a rewrite. Cross fingers!

I'd be really interested to hear from anyone who has rewritten extensively for an agent prior to acceptance and has found success as a result. So far I've only heard negative reports.

Minnie said...

Ah, Sarah - if only I'd known! First novel snapped up by publisher (many, many years ago needless to say!); I acquired an agent, who promptly scuppered the deal & compounded the injury by intimating the book was rubbish anyway! Heartbroken. Waited 7 years before trying again. Next agent edited and ordered and criticised and suggested and ... A process I found painful (not to mention time-consuming). All the time I kept doubting her views, though eventually lack of self-belief won out. Left it another 15 years (life, earning living, etc) before had a chance to try yet again. That didn't work, either. So I assume some of us (the majority?) just have to conclude that we are, indeed, rubbish (if only as would-be storytellers ;-))!
And it would be vital to have a minimum of two of life's essential props(home; family; friends; career/work/interests; health) to enable you to keep going in the face of constant criticism & regular rejections, surely? Or am I being horribly weedy (hm: likely!)?

Sarah Duncan said...

What a terrible story, it sounds awful. I can't believe that the first agent scuppered a deal that was already on the table. How very unprofessional.

But the next agent who kept on editing and ordering...well, that kinda proves the point re hanging on to the fact that it's YOUR novel. They can be very destructive and sometimes you have to have a lot of self belief to keep going. Cheerleaders definitely help, whether family, friends or writers' groups.

I don't think it's weedy to feel knocked about by criticism, but if you write for yourself first and foremost it's harder to be knocked. After all, most people who paint are never going to be exhibited in the National Gallery or make a living out of it (or even cover their costs) but that doesn't stop them from enjoying the process.

The only things worth writing are written from the heart, and they're they only things worth reading too, so write the best you can do, to your own satisfaction and stuff the lot of 'em!

Minnie said...

What a kind, thoughtful - and funny! - reply, Sarah: many thanks.
Oddly, I'd reached the conclusion you recommend - so it's heartwarming to see it confirmed. New motto = stuff 'em, I say! And you're right: anything less than total involvement ('from the heart') won't do. And writing is essentially satisfying of/in itself.
More power to you - and thanks again.
PS Please give my love to Bath (used to work there, then lived there for a while).

Sarah Duncan said...

You're welcome! Hope the writing goes well.