Can you help me figure out how to revise my novel after rejection?
March 2, 2014 10:43 AM   Subscribe

I wrote a novel (hooray!). I got an agent (hooray!) The book went out to lots of great publishers (hooray!) who all rejected it (tears, sobbing, and gnashing of teeth). And now I'm flailing. Can you help me get my head straight and figure out a plan?

So, we are gearing up for a second round of submissions, and my job is to revise the book, taking into account the criticisms of the people who passed on it. Only, I'm facing a bunch of obstacles.

1.) Most of the passes are very vague, along the lines of "I liked this, I just wished it were a little...better." Me too, yo. The idea of making the book more "exciting" is daunting. I mean, it's not like I was holding back on all my good ideas the first time around.

Meanwhile, the criticisms that are more specific circle around this one plot issue that my agent and I spent almost a year hashing out in revision before she took it on sub. Her take on the rejections is: 'See, I was right all along, this is the problem and you have to fix it.' But I'm starting to have doubts; from the beginning, I felt like her vision of the book was quite different from mine, and that sometimes she's trying to argue me into feeling the way she does. It's exhausting, and it's beginning to feel like a dead end, so much so that I almost dread our conversations. And yet, it's not like I know how to fix the book so it will sell, so I guess I might as well listen to her? I'm not being stubborn in the service of my "art," by the way - I truly don't know how to fix the book in the way that she wants (in sum, take the plot in a more commercial direction). If I could snap my fingers and do it, I would. I'm not proud, just stuck.

2.) Revision, how does that work? It's clear to me that revising is not one of my strengths. I do a lot of fixing and changing as I write, so by the time I had a polished first draft, everything felt very "set." I can delete okay - I've murdered my darlings left and right - but when it comes to adding scenes, or making other major changes, I freeze up. It's like the productive, happy, imaginative part of my brain and the critical, assessing part of my brain can't coexist. Over the past six months, my critical brain has turned into a monster and completely taken over and I don't know how to quiet it. At this point, I can barely even look at the original manuscript without wincing...and yet I'm supposed to go to it and add in lots of plot twists and eventful scenes and it just feels impossible, even though I know it's not.

3.) Along those lines...confidence. Do you have any extra I could spare? Mine is shot. My friends and family keep saying I should feel great just to have gotten this far, which in a way, I do, but the truth is the revisions with my agent left me pretty wiped and then this round of rejections felt like running face-first into a concrete wall. I'm scared I'm never going to be able to write anything again. I wrote the book in a state of joyful ignorance because I thought if I could just finish the damned thing, everyone would love it and it'd be perfect. It was a fun delusion while it lasted! Now, though, the thought of starting anything new seems like a grueling slog, and I can't get the voices of people telling me everything I've done wrong out of my head.

Okay, so here's that wall of text boiled down into a few questions:

--For people who are experienced with this, how common is that sense of frustration and conflict with an agent, and what's a good way to resolve it? I'm incredibly over-sensitive & somewhat melodramatic when it comes to criticism, so part of me thinks I'd feel unhappy with anyone whose job it was to tell me what is wrong with my work. She's given me lots of good advice alongside the stuff that's been bothering me. But I really have nothing to measure it against.

--Any advice for making the kind of large-scale, plot-and-character-based revisions that I'm facing?

--Any general cheer leading/pick-yourself-up advice for tackling the same project post-rejection? Right now, I almost feel like I hate the book, and I need to start loving it again.

Really, any kind of relevant experiences and stories would be more than welcome. I don't know any other writers, so I'm feeling very alone in this. If there's stuff you want to tell me privately, you can leave a note and I'll memail you.

Thanks, friends.
posted by anonymous to Media & Arts (18 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
Question: Can you step away from this work for two weeks? Put the book away, don't think about it, and let your brain rest?

Because you sound exhausted and of course you can't think when you're exhausted.

And here's the thing: you can do this. You totally can. Stick with your agent (she's brought you this far), think about her advice, but take a moment. When's your deadline? If it's in a month take a week. If it's in two months, take two weeks. I'm estimating here but you get the idea. Time away from your book is as integral as sitting down to write.

When you're ready, in terms of the revisions themselves, I would read my favorite book, what I wanted my book to sound like, and consider the differences. Maybe pick up a good writing manual, like "The Art of Dramatic Writing" by Lajos Egri. (Genius.)

And don't think about the revisions as things that you "have" to do to sell the book. Because they're probably coming from a different place. Maybe at one point your protagonist doesn't act in character. Maybe they were too weak a protagonist to begin with, and you're asking them to do something they weren't built to do. But there will be something to point to, an underlying problem, and I am sure you can find it and fix it.

Good luck.
posted by tooloudinhere at 10:59 AM on March 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

Do you have any friends who could read your novel and give your their opinions? or even hire somebody to do this? (I would love to read it but understand that if you even wanted any bit of that you wouldn't have posted anonymously).

I agree that you need distance but time might not do it anymore. One gets burned the f**k out.
posted by DMelanogaster at 11:13 AM on March 2, 2014

I have been in a similar position to you, though not exactly the same.

It's hard to run counterfactuals on this kind of stuff, and I suspect that I would be kicking myself just as much if I'd made a different set of choices, but I sort of wish that in that position, I had listened to my gut and not tried to shape my book into what other people wanted it to be.

The immediately wounded and anxious part of yourself won't give you the right answer. I don't think there's any way but time to get past the fear and see the potential for the better version of your book; if you take time, then you can step back and get yourself to a place where you aren't just thinking "I have to fix X, Y, and Z so this book can sell," but you're actually finding things to be excited by and intrigued by.

I've done these kinds of large-scale revisions by making a full and fairly detailed outline of my current draft, and then figuring out what changes I needed to make in each scene and each chapter to address every thing I needed to address. And then from there I went on in a pretty linear way; sometimes I'd end up writing whole new chapters, and sometimes I'd end up just adding a sentence here and there. I tried hard not to skim over any bit, though, even if I was sure it was fine as is, because sometimes even subtle changes can throw the rhythm off.

I am afraid that I would give you a bit of an anti-pep-talk, because things really didn't work out the way I wanted them to in my case, but feel free to send me-mail if you want to talk further!
posted by Jeanne at 11:17 AM on March 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think it's worth at least not forgetting about what your gut is saying about your agent, but...unless you want to try finding a new agent, which you could certainly start doing, you don't necessarily have anything to lose by doing a rewrite to her notes.

You could go about this in several ways, but I think one of them would be to produce a detailed outline of the existing MS (if you don't already have one of course, but if you don't then this exercise alone might be worlds of help), and then work on a 2.0 version of that outline taking her notes into consideration, just to see what the wireframe of the story does as you mess with it.

Another version of that would be to break out the beats on notecards (this is a screenwriter thing that I find so indispensable to my own fiction writing, and if you don't want to do it on paper you could use Scrivener or another notecarding app to do it electronically, but I like painter's tape and index cards and my hallway wall for this kind of what-iffing) and then play around with changes.

But if you have the time to put it away for six weeks, do that first. There's just no other way to get some objectivity back.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:26 AM on March 2, 2014

Well, I can tell you that you're not alone... I've written a novel, gotten an agent, and been roundly rejected by editors... twice. So while I'm sadly unable to provide you with a hopeful, inspiring anecdote, I do have a lot of experience with revision and hopelessness at this point.

In terms of revision: the first thing I would urge you to do is find some other critique partners, perhaps a writing group, either online or in person. There are a lot of resources out there to connect with other writers. If you are having trouble figuring out which of your agent's suggestions to take and which to ignore, it can help to have other viewpoints to consider (not that you should revise by committee, but just that it can be helpful to have a reality check on "is my agent the only one who thinks this needs to change?" "am I the only one who thinks this should stay the same?" etc.). If you can afford it, you can also hire a professional editor to give you third-party feedback.

Also, people giving you feedback are often more adept at pointing out problems than finding the right solution. So try to identify what problem or missing piece the feedback is pointing out, forget (at least for a while) whatever you've been told to do about it, and try to brainstorm a ton of ideas for how to address it. Hopefully one of them will feel right.

Personally, when approaching major revisions, I find it most helpful to focus on the story and not the manuscript. The manuscript is (at this point in your process) a finished product, but it's really only one way of telling the story in your head. Put the pages aside and just think about your characters, and what matters most about the story, and what might happen differently that would fix the problem you've identified without doing violence to the heart of the story or your characters. Again, you can wander down a lot of possible versions before thinking of one that feels right. Once you've found that direction and re-imagined how the story will look, it's much easier to go back to the manuscript and identify what you need to change to get there.

In terms of confidence... The sad fact of the matter that this writing business is fraught with failure and rejection, and there is no guarantee of success no matter what you do. But there's a guarantee of failure if you stop trying. So if writing is really what you want to do, keep at it, and periodically go back and look at old stuff you wrote. You will either think "wow, this is actually pretty good," or "wow, I would do that really differently now, I've gotten a lot better since I wrote that," and in either case you should feel encouraged. Also, try to keep in mind that the editors rejecting your manuscript aren't the all-knowing arbiters of objective quality, they are fallible humans with individual taste trying to predict what might sell.
posted by unsub at 11:43 AM on March 2, 2014

First off, I send you a big hug. I don't blame you for feeling exhausted and overwhelmed.

I agree with the suggestions for putting the manuscript away for at least a couple of weeks, even a month.

Then I would definitely seek out a writers group who can give you some feedback, and/or working with a writing coach -- someone who can help guide you through the revision process without any personal stake in the nuts and bolts of the outcome. (I'm working with a coach as I get through my novel's first draft, but I'm sure she works with writers on revisions -- memail me if you'd like me to give you her contact info.) I'd avoid bringing friends and relatives into the process unless you know they can give you the kind of feedback that's going to be conducive to problem-solving.
posted by scody at 11:46 AM on March 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

Massive disclaimer: i have never written a novel and am extrapolating from what has helped me on much shorter writing projects in different genres.

Could you immerse yourself in a few books with a more "commercial plot" as part of that break suggested above (which you deserve and probably need and should take if at all possible!). Or watch a few movies? Or listen to audiobooks? (I find I care a lot more about plotting when I listen to audiobooks than when I read print books.) Maybe go with books in a very different genre so you won't feel like "so this is the competition." Read some John Grisham or something?

I suggest all this because it sounds like you work best when you can focus on creating and when you have an image in mind of where you want to go (as opposed to trying to work by finding "problems" and "fixing" them). Your task seems to be finding a way to add twists and turns (or otherwise moving toward a more commercial plot) while remaining true to the book's intent and the characters. I'm wondering if the best way to get there would be to spend some time in works that are plot heavy, with your own story simmering on the back burner on very low heat. I wouldn't be surprised if you gained an internal sense of what changes you'd like to make?

You have ALREADY done the essential task of expressing the story in your head in a high quality way that attracted an agent. That is a skill few have and reflects an amazing amount of work, skill, and dedication. The publishers' responses don't change that. Harry Potter was rejected by 12 publishers! If you want to immerse yourself in commercial plots and make changes along those lines, I do think you'll be able to do it. I think that's why so many of us are recommending a break if possible, because we suspect the only reason this seems so very hard could just be your very understandable exhaustion.
posted by salvia at 12:12 PM on March 2, 2014

Do you have writer friends? I do mean critique partners, but also actual buddies? Above all else, my author pals are my strength and solace in this crazy mercurial industry. Friends and family can commiserate, but they'll never understand on a gut-level what an emotional mindfuck publishing is, and why we stick with it anyway.

Then of course, when facing a large-scale overhaul, the ability to talk it out (via email, skype/google chat, or in a chat room) with other writers who've read the book is the most helpful thing ever. Even if I don't take their suggestions, their input always inspires new ideas and fixes. I'm always recommending the forums at Absolute Write, but it's where I found the majority of my writer pals & critique partners (directly or indirectly).

Regarding your experience on sub: it happens all the time (allll the time) and it never stops hurting. With one of my books, I went on sub twice; had a couple super-close calls, three (!) massive overhauls over as many years, much angst. And after all that, I just (like, last week) received an offer from an editor I love. Which is great, being on the other end of it. But it was a long, painful journey, and many times I wondered whether all the time and energy I'd spent was wasted. With writing (on spec), it's so hard to know whether your efforts will pay off, or whether you're merely adding to already-sunk cost. Just educated guessing, like storytelling itself.

Regarding your agent: I almost always see eye-to-eye with mine, but I've had that sort of dissonance with editors. I never make a change I'm not mostly on board with. However, even if you're not excited about a suggestion, try to isolate the underlying problem and brainstorm some ways to fix it that feel truer to your story.

As others have mentioned, putting the book away for a while (at least a month, is my recommendation) is invaluable. In the meantime -- and this is the advice I always give, my best advice -- start another book. Get excited about a new project. First, the brain break from book 1 spent in a different story universe might inspire the epiphanies you need. Second, if book 1 doesn't sell even after the overhaul, having something in the works is the best consolation.
posted by changeling at 12:13 PM on March 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

I am not a writer myself but i have friends and acquaintances who are. They talk about "trunking" novels that aren't working for them and doing something else, i.e., a different novel idea, when they're rejected and unwilling or unable to sell a novel or make editorial changes.
posted by immlass at 12:28 PM on March 2, 2014

Hello, fellow agent-having, rejected-feeling author! I've been where you are.

Submission is RAW. It is intense. I feel like it's normal for any writer to feel at odds with their agent when their agent's goal is "get 'er sold" and their own goal feels...different. I would consider sitting on those feelings for a while and thinking about the possibilities for this book. What about spinning off one of her suggestions into something that actually excites and challenges you?

That said, this really jumped out at me:

I'm incredibly over-sensitive & somewhat melodramatic when it comes to criticism, so part of me thinks I'd feel unhappy with anyone whose job it was to tell me what is wrong with my work.

By entering the commercial selling-a-book process, you are entering a long season of people telling you what's wrong with your work. First you yourself. Then your agent. Then your editor. Then (possibly) the publishing house. Then your reviewers. Then your readers. You absolutely must be able to withstand this if you're going to be out in the world with your writing. With the exception of maybe your reviewers and your readers, everyone in this process with you wants you to write a great, readable, sellable, marketable, successful book. If you were staying in your garret or whatever with the book and never wanted to show it to another human being, you'd be able to avoid criticism, but by going out into the world with it, you're opening yourself up to critique. That's okay.

I'd recommend getting some more critique experience under your belt to normalize the experience. You don't have to take all advice, even from editors or agents! But you also are going to have to know when to pick your battles and what is in service of your book, not you.

Sorry for sounding rambly and preachy, but this is something I've struggled with a lot over the years. Feel free to MeMail me if you need to commiserate.

PS: A few of my novelist friends have been raving about The Plot Whisperer of late.
posted by mynameisluka at 1:16 PM on March 2, 2014 [5 favorites]

I disagree with everyone who says to have friends read it or get a writers' group. I recommend showing it to NO ONE and discussing it with NO ONE. That is my process, and I greatly prefer it.

I will only address your second question.

Tear your book apart and comb it into strands. Surely you have some sort of distinct through-line of different stories, or people, or even themes, that intertwine. Take a physical manuscript, and pull it apart into two, or three, or six short books that comprise those individual pieces.

(If there's no different paths of different characters, or what have you, then divide the book into between four to six chronological periods, and use those chunks.)

Now make an index card for each of the chapters inside those individual chunks. Write "Joey finds out about his grandma" on it, then color code it green for "Joey's plotline."

Do the same for all the rest, and put those index cards up in a timeline for each chunk around the room.

Now read each "chunk" and attend to it as a lone piece of work. Does the tale of Rose finding love work entirely on its own? Take a look at Rose's timeline. What's missing in this summary index card version? Is it saggy as a story? Are the revelations therein front-loaded? Does it lack urgency, excitement, meaning?

Do the same for all the rest of the chunks.

When you assess what's missing, rearrange each timeline's index cards, and make NEW index cards of scenes you must write.

Then, go write these "chunks" as complete entities, like little stand-alone novellas.

Then go to your timeline cards, and INTEGRATE them into a single timeline, going around the wall of the room. Shuffle as needed.

Rewrite to bridge as needed.

Revision done. It'll be great.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 1:18 PM on March 2, 2014 [13 favorites]

I'm not a writer. Instead, I'm an editor. I've spent the better part of ten years rejecting 99% of the novels that I've read.

So, first, some perspective: When I say that I've rejected 99% of the manuscripts that I've read as subs, I'm not exaggerating. I tracked it for a while, and 98-99% of slush I personally read got rejected. The numbers were better for agented stuff, but when I say better, I mean that I rejected 90-95% of them, depending on [various stuffs]. Which is to say that you're in the same position as many, many other authors. Don't let this shake your confidence in writing. I have no idea how many places your agent sent your book to, but a dozen or more rejections is par for the course, even for books that eventually become bestsellers. Stephen King's Carrie, Harry Potter, Twilight, Left hand of Darkness, To Kill a Mockingbird--they all had multiple rejections. Like, a dozen plus. So, you know, you're in good company.

Also, I'm betting here that this is your first novel, right? Lots of first novels don't sell until the second novel does, which I realise is a weird thing, but there you are. Are you working on a second novel? It might be time to pack this away for a while and work on the second novel for a while, especially if the second novel is a little more commercial/mainstream than this one is.

If you're starting to dread conversations with your agent, and if you feel like she wants you to write a different book, it's worth considering if this is really a good fit. It's one thing to dread conversations because you're nervous or whatever, but there's no indication here that you feel better after talking to her--from the sounds of it, you feel worse. (I assume that you feel overwhelmed and unsupported, and not just defensive because criticism.) That's not a great sign for your working relationship. An agent is not the end all, be all of publishing, and this agent in particular is definitely not. You shouldn't feel like you have to argue with your agent for your own book. If you move on from this agent, the world will not end. Someone else might have a vision more in line with what you're doing. That said, if you do move on, make sure you've got a complete list of editors to whom she submitted the book--sending to the same editor with a different agent is frowned upon.

Revisions. I'm aware that I'm biased, especially because I do freelance work like this, but if you can afford it, hiring a developmental editor to help you with this might be your best bet. If you find the right person, not only do you get to take a month off from your book while they work on it, but they'll also help you find weak spots and figure out what you need to be putting in, as well as what you need to be cutting out. Sometimes having someone else help silence your critical brain is more effective than doing it yourself.

Failing that, though, the best thing you can do right now is stop working on this book for a little bit. Maybe a few weeks, maybe a few months. It's nearly impossible, though, to constantly look at your own work, especially if you're trying to look critically, and some out with anything close to a realistic view of it. You know how if you say the word fork too many times, it stops seeming like a word? If you look at your book too long, it stops seeming like a book. You hate everything, it all seems stupid, etc. This is the point at which you need to back away, because I promise you that you're doing more harm than good, especially if you're having to do it all on your own.

When you're ready to go back, when you no longer hate it, sit down and read the whole thing. Then start poking it--do all your characters have logical arcs? Do all your plotlines have logical arcs and conclusions? Are some of the characters inconsistent, or is some of the plot stuff kind of abrupt? Make notes. Then spend a few days thinking about those notes, and what you might be able to change or expand. Don't try to do it all at once. In my experience, revising is much more difficult for most people than writing is, and a slower process for many people. Don't be too hard on yourself.
posted by MeghanC at 2:47 PM on March 2, 2014 [13 favorites]

Re. #2: Read the chapter "editing by ear" in Howard S. Becker Writing for social scientists. Don't worry a bit about the title of this book. It's about writing, period. This is the single most encouraging publication about this topic. It's easy read, you'll be done in a half day with that chapter (unless you sneak peek in other parts, which I would…). After that, take a break - take walks in nature to get your thoughts spinning (max. a week). Then sit down to edit. You'll be fine.
Re. #3: Read about everything else in that book. You'll be, I think I may have mentioned it, fine.
posted by Namlit at 3:31 PM on March 2, 2014

Disclaimer: never even gotten close to getting an agent or publishing much of anything because I have the same editing issues that you do, so I may stick to just answering your first few questions.

"Most of the passes are very vague, along the lines of "I liked this, I just wished it were a little...better." Me too, yo. The idea of making the book more "exciting" is daunting. I mean, it's not like I was holding back on all my good ideas the first time around."

My number one suggestion for you on this one would be to read some Donald Maass books. Dude is freaking brilliant about how to soup up a novel and make it gripping.

As for your agent and that one plot issue: So are all or most of the critiques you've heard from publishers agreeing with your agent? Do your friends who have read the book agree with that? If it's almost everyone but you saying that X is a problem, may seriously, seriously want to consider that the agent is right. Especially if your priority is to have a sellable book.

On the other hand: if you just can't freaking STAND making those changes, if it ruins the book for you to do so, then maybe this agent and this book aren't compatible. Or maybe you should look into self-publishing. I mean, the bottom line is what you can stand to live with and what your priority is: selling a book, or keeping this book intact as is. We can't answer that one for you as to what you can live with.

"but when it comes to adding scenes, or making other major changes, I freeze up."

Well. You could just try writing everything from scratch once again, NaNoWriMo style, and then see if that helps anything. I hear ya, I hate trying to figure out how to add new stuff in and "fix it" and "make it less boring" too. Another idea is to try Holly Lisle's One Pass Revision method, which sounds to me to be one designed to be less freaking crazy than the usual revision method.
posted by jenfullmoon at 3:36 PM on March 2, 2014

I disagree with everyone who says to have friends read it or get a writers' group.

so do I for the most part, particularly if you're intending to reconcile things with your agent. Unless your friends etc are more or less in agreement with him/her, I don't see it getting you anywhere.

What I would suggest is based on ...

Revisions. I'm aware that I'm biased, especially because I do freelance work like this, but if you can afford it, hiring a developmental editor to help you with this might be your best bet.

I recently had similar problems to yours with a screenplay (though it was a producer I was wrestling with, not an agent). What eventually happened was he (the producer) hired a story editor to sit down with me for a few sessions, with the story editor knowing going in what the producer's issues were.

But it wasn't just more of the same, because this guy (the editor) was far enough away from both of us to build a useful bridge. Not that my sessions with him weren't sometimes intense, I just felt that he wasn't arguing for anything he didn't believe in (ie: driven by dramatic/story concerns as opposed to potential box office). And he did tell me as much. He would never have taken on the gig if he didn't think there was substance to some of the producer's ideas.

Long story short -- we made huge progress in what amounted to less than a month's work. I ended up having to make many unanticipated changes, but I was enthused about them, because,despite his criticisms, this guy (the editor) was clearly enthused about my story. It was infectious. And it's now a far stronger screenplay.

good luck.
posted by philip-random at 4:25 PM on March 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm agented and published, and I've had these issues a couple of times. If you're dreading talking to your agent, then you have a problem. You guys are supposed to be on the same side-- if editors are agreeing with the agent that Thing X is what's actually wrong with this book, you have a couple of options:

1) Rewrite it. You keep your original version, and you attempt the revision, even though you don't want to and you don't think the vision fits. Sometimes you get into the revision and realize that it was much closer to what you really wanted after all. Taking criticism is tough, but you have to learn to do it. When you sell this book, you will get more revision notes-- it will be true for every book you write and sell. So sucking it up and just trying the revision cannot hurt.

2) Trunk it and work on something else. You have your vision, it's on the page, and you don't want to change it for your agent now, or an editor later. This is a totally viable choice. Sometimes you've written the book you wanted to write, and it's not compatible with the market.

3) Ask your agent to do one more round of submissions with the novel as it is. A smaller round, even, just to see if people continue to agree with the agent's perception of the issues. You risk tapping out the market on this novel, but then you have at least gotten a bigger consensus on the issues.

As for advice on making large-scale, plot-and-character revisions, start on page one. Open the original file, side-by-side with the blank file, and start over You can break a manuscript down in lots of ways-- color coding characters and story elements, charting it in an outline, using a whiteboard, using cards in Scrivener...

But basically, think about the change you have to make. Then, instead of typing in your old file, which makes you feel like you're deleting everything, start over typing from the beginning and change things as you need to change them to reflect the revision.

This way, you won't bounce around and accidentally leave traces of things that got edited out, and you will be getting more intimately acquainted with the new version of the story. It sounds like this will take a long time, but it goes surprisingly quickly once you get going.

Finally, you're allowed to hate the book. What you do now is you take a couple of weeks off and don't touch it. Don't open the file. Don't work with it. Work on something else. Read books that inspire you. Read books that amuse you. Just do something else completely and let yourself heal some. Allow yourself to be raw and upset, recharge, and then come back to it.

Taking that time will also help inform you which tack to take from this point on. Sometimes revising becomes more palatable after a break. Sometimes you realize that you really are done with the book. Take the time. You need it, and so does your book.
posted by headspace at 6:57 PM on March 2, 2014 [3 favorites]

Also, if you continue to have this problem with your agent-- if you feel like you can't talk to them, and are afraid to bring up issues with them, consider that you may have the wrong agent for you. I'm not saying cut them loose right this second. If you think this is a continuing issue, have a come to Jesus talk with them about it.

But over a long career, you're going to have lots of issues. You can't afford for your agent to be one of them. They are supposed to facilitate your work, not hinder it. It's not super uncommon for a writer to part company with their first agent. Finding out how you work together, and what works best for both of you is part of the process.
posted by headspace at 7:00 PM on March 2, 2014

I recently got a chance to be one of the first outsiders to read someone's novel (outside his workshop/collaboration crowd). I think it'd been kicked thru nearly a year of edits and rewrites before I got to look at it. I enjoyed reading it, but some of it was cliche, it took a long time to get to the action, and it clocked in at maybe 20% too long. The other reader wasn't so definite about the length but voiced similar opinions. The author was unhappy to hear it, but took it gracefully.

The other week, I saw the author again. He was really excited b/c a Name in his genre had given it a read through and agreed (pending revision) to pass it along to the Name's agent. I don't know what else was required, but Name said to just plain cut the first several chapters, which were home to some intricately arrayed character development and world building.

What I understand from the author about all this process: - it kinda sucks, but you'll probably have to make some large-scale changes to help your reader understand/feel the right things. - it takes as long as it takes, don't turn it into a death march. - you need to honest feedback from different people and at different times. if they say similar things, you should listen to them.

Unless you have some other readers (who know something about writing and will tell you if yours is/n't good), it's hard to know if you should be listening to your agent about your disagreement.
posted by cult_url_bias at 11:15 PM on March 3, 2014

« Older Great psychiatrist in Manhattan, NYC?   |   Where to get feedback on a French play? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.