Thursday, 19 April 2012

When To Re-Write for an Agent - And When Not

An agent likes your 3 chapters and synopsis and asks to see more. Heart pounding, you send the whole thing out. They love it! Cue champagne...until they ask for some re-writes.

It's YOUR book.

Firstly, you need to judge the scale of what they want changing. Is it small stuff? Or big changes? Will it impinge on the theme or tone of the book? Do you understand the reasoning behind the change?

It's YOUR book.

I made major plot changes to one of my books to make a US sale. I'm not sure that it's better - the change makes the tone different - but I understood why they wanted it changed, and it didn't impinge on the important stuff of theme and meaning. I was happy-ish to make the changes (and very happy to cash the cheques).

It's YOUR book.

But what if you're not yet at that stage, and it's an agent who is wanting changes. I think it still applies: you have to understand what they see as the problem that needs to be solved. If you don't understand what that is, you won't be able to re-write convincingly. You also have to believe and agree that the 'problem' needs solving. If you don't, you won't be able to re-write with any conviction. Re-writing without conviction leads to unsatisfactory writing, and disillusionment and demoralisation.

It's YOUR book.

Re-writing just to please someone else is doomed to failure. In my opinion, if you don't understand why they want changes or you don't agree with their reasons, then you have to question whether they are a good match for you. You have to write from the heart, or it's no good. Your agent really has to believe in you, or they won't be able to convey that to someone else.

It's YOUR book.

However, if you do understand their reasons for wanting changes and think they're good, then go ahead and re-write. In my experience, re-writing when the author understands the perceived problems means a stronger more confident second draft.

It's YOUR book.

The main thing is that if you don't understand, or don't like the direction you're being steered to, then don't re-write. You're not a puppet performing for others, and you don't have to be represented by anyone. Nowadays, you don't need an agent or a publisher to see your work made available around the world. And above all, never forget that it's not their book and you ultimately call the shots because - and don't you forget it -

It's YOUR book.


Giles Diggle said...

Use your head and follow the heart of your book. Don't ever sell your soul. Count to ten. Take deep breaths. Return to your desk with positive thoughts. Improve your text.

Sally Zigmond said...

I wish I'd read this many years ago when, young and green, I completely rewrote a novel - twice - for a literary agent who had her own ideas about what sort of book I had written. It didn't work and no editor wanted it.

At the time I was so grateful that someone--anyone--was taking the time to talk to me that, even though she worked for a well-known and reputable agency, we weren't a good match and I totally ignored my own gut feeling. It wasted a lot of my time and my self-esteem. Be warned.

Diane Fordham said...

Top post Sarah. I do agree. Yes I think it is important to understand why changes are suggested and to believe that it will enhance your novel and chances of publication. As you say 'It's YOUR book'. :-)

Catherine Czerkawska said...

This can't be said too often - so thank-you for saying it so clearly! After half a lifetime as a writer you'd think I'd have learnt, and perhaps I have now, but it took me a very long time. The fact is that there are agents, editors (and since I'm a playwright too) directors who can clarify the things you know in your heart, but don't quite want to admit - often, they do it just by asking the right questions. But there are others who seem to be trying to make you write the book or play they think you should have written (and sometimes the book they wish they could write themselves!)If you go too far down that route - and I've been there once or twice - a whole project can implode leaving you with nothing. We have to learn to make the distinction.

Sarah Duncan said...

Giles - Golden advice.

Sally - I've known so many people who have been through this process and some have stopped writing because of it. You're absolutely right.

Diane - thanks!

Catherine - I utterly related to your comment. Yes, sometimes the feedback is spot on, and just what you needed. But other times it's just destructive. We have to learn to be true to ourselves and make the distinction, as you say.