What Editing with an Agent is Like

If you've been following me here on this blog (somewhat unlikely since it's been all of four months!), then you'll know that I just recently (October) got my very first agent for my very first book, Deity Six.  But what I haven't told you yet is what the editing process has been like so far. You may be aware that some agents like to take on a manuscript fully formed, no adjustments needed. While others like to leave their own stamp on it and help the author draft it into something bigger...or smaller, possibly even better.

This latter part is what's going on with me right now.

Things and stuff...they're going down:

One of the first things that happened after signing with my agent was a phone call. If you look online you'll see this is pretty standard protocol. If you haven't met your agent in person, the next best thing is obviously the sound of their dulcet tones over a grainy cellular network while you constantly question if they actually said what you think they said. This can simply be about introductions. "Hello. How are you? Nice to sort of meet you. You sound different then I thought you would have based on your picture." That sort of thing since it's likely you've never met in person. But with me, since I had met my agent at a writer's conference, the phone call we had was about jumping right into work. Deity Six, if you don't mind me self-indulgently plugging my own work multiple annoying times in one short post, and about the myriad things wrong with my baby. If you want to call it a baby. Really just an amorphous blob of too many words and misplaced modifiers as the author (me) tried sounding more intelligent than he/she/it actually is.

Sad.

Edits...Round One:

With Deity Six the main point of contention was the fact that the story didn't have an entirely clear genre/sub-genre that it fit when I originally wrote it. It was kind of YA because of the character's ages, but I didn't really think of it as such while I was writing. And it wasn't until later that I realized, yes, in fact, it is YA. So when my agent wanted to represent it, it was in that category...Young Adult Science Fiction.

And this is where the real work began. Taking something that kind of fit one category, and trimming down the more adult elements, all the while beefing up those elements which were YA and adding even more of them to make it fit squarely in Young Adult. The lesson to be had here: Know your genre and your target audience. And that will make it easier to tailor your story and your characters to fit what appeals to them.

Side Note:

Does that mean you should change your story to fit what's popular? No. Let me say that again...NO! Write the story you want to write. But knowing where your story fits and who it appeals to will not only help you to sell to the market best suited to it, it will help you to better engage your readers. End of side rant.

Edits...Round Two:

Similar to round one, this next pass through was about continuing to make changes to keep the story firmly in the genre it needs to be in. But there's more to it as well. Now you start getting into more specific refinement. Are the characters fleshed out? Are the story elements cohesive? How much of what has been written needs to be in the story? Can you add more backstory? Internal dialogue? The answer on all of these things...yes. At this point I removed chunks of chapters, pages and pages at a time because they served no real narrative or plotting purpose. Because filler, like fire, is BAAAAD! All the while I moved on, adding more personality to the characters, giving them uniqueness. I added more backstory and internal conflict, more personalization of the journey from my main character's perspective. Pretty top down stuff, and all of it useful.

What's next?:

The name of the game is refinement. Just like with your own editing of your story, with each pass your job is to make the story better, to make it fit the genre with meaning and authenticity. Only now you have help. Trust your agent. But ultimately this is your story and if something they suggest doesn't make sense to you...don't change it. Or, or even better, talk about it. Discuss. Compromise, without compromising the integrity of your story.

But don't be headstrong or arrogant. Some of the most valuable information you can get is from someone from the outside looking in. Because it's them, not you, that might have just the right perspective to see a problem, or make a change, that you weren't able to see before. And when that happens, your book will be that much that better for it.

Maybe someday soon I'll be able to put up a post about "Editing with an editor," and tell you with some authority what differences there are between that and this. Well, here's to hoping anyway. But until then, Merry Christmas! Or Happy Holidays. Or whatever floats your yule-tide boat.

Guest Post: “We’d like to request an R&R” By Janet Fogg

Receiving any sort of positive response from an editor or agent is always a shiny moment, but when one such response included an acronym with multiple definitions, I found it impossible to resist substituting a few of those alternatives.

Excerpt from an editor's recent email after reviewing full manuscript:  [We've] highlighted a number of ways that the story could be tightened and angled a little more towards the target audience. We’d like to request an R&R if you’re open to taking a look at the notes.  Please let me know how you’d like to proceed.

R&R?

Rest and recuperation?  Reading our manuscript must have exhausted this editor.  Poor thing.  Yes, please take some R&R.  Wind and waves?  Mountains and trails?  Regardless, margaritas are on us.

Refuse and resist!  This could work.  In fact a friend of mine had an agent request revisions three times before declining to represent her manuscript.  That didn't seem fair when it happened and it still doesn't sit well with me.  I suspect my friend might refuse any query-related R&R unless it's for rest and recuperation.  And margaritas.

Roles and responsibility?  This one's easy!  My role is to write a terrific book.  Yours, dearest editor, is to offer a multi-book contract with a million dollar advance.  Wait, that creates too much performance pressure.  How about a nice six figure advance?  Yep.  That'll work perfectly.

Revise and resubmit?  Or request for revisions?  This is what the editor meant and his notes  provided some terrific insight.  Did I agree with all of his suggestions?  After re-reading our manuscript with his suggestions in mind, I did.

However...

My first agent tried to sell my third novel for about six months, and after a number of declines she received a request for revisions (R&R) from an editor.  As in, change the book from dark fantasy into a romance.  A complete re-write.  I pondered this for a long time.  After all, I'd hooked that agent with the dark fantasy version.  Plus, I'd never set out to write "romance."  After some R&R (Research and Reconnaissance) about what was selling well (Romance and more Romance), I decided to try a few chapters, which evolved into my changing the entire story.  And that version did sell, ultimately earning a HOLT Medallion for Best First Book. (Romance Rocks!)

For this newest manuscript, even though the editor liked the revisions, he eventually declined because of word count.  (Hello!  We only cut 2,000 words!)  But all is well.  I'm enormously grateful for his R&R (Review and Recommendations), as the new, improved version is so much better and already under consideration by an agent.

Do I love R&R?  You betcha!  (Rock and roll, baby!  Rock and roll!)

Have you received a request for revisions from an editor or agent before signing a contract?  Did you choose to edit your manuscript?

 

Janet Fogg

www.janetfogg.com

Janet Fogg’s interest in writing began in the 5th grade when she won bronze for a statewide essay contest. Her focus on writing flourished while CFO and Managing Principal of OZ Architecture. Several decades and 15 writing awards later she resigned from OZ to follow the yellow brick road, and 10 months after that signed a contract for Soliloquy, her HOLT Medallion Award of Merit winner. Her military history, Fogg in the Cockpit, co-written with her husband, Richard, received an Air Force Historical Foundation nomination for best WWII book reviewed in Air Power History.

Janet joined RMFW in 1993 and has volunteered at conference and served on RMFW's Board of Directors. She has also served on the boards of the Boulder Chamber of Commerce, Downtown Boulder, Inc., OZ Architecture, and KGA Studio Architects, P.C.

 

Tips on Working with a Manuscript Reader

By Alissa Johnson

Alissa JohnsonWhen I finish a book I love, I turn past the last page. I look for anything I can read so I don’t have to set it down. I want to stay immersed in the feeling of the book. Inevitably, my search takes me to the author’s Acknowledgements Page.

I’ve come to believe this page would be better called the Gratitude Page because it’s so often more than a list of names. It’s a tribute to the people who helped bring the book to life, and it’s a reminder to writers: writing may be an individual act but the process of creating a good book is never solitary.

Chief among those listed on the Acknowledgements Page are trusted and insightful readers—people who identified where the story flowed and where it needed some work. Theirs is one of the most important steps in writing, and one of the most vulnerable for the writer (I imagine it’s like parent teacher conferences, waiting to hear if your kid is a pro or a total slacker).

I’ve seen it go incredibly right, inspiring a writer to move forward with her story, and I’ve seen it go incredibly wrong—literally stopping a writer in her tracks because she didn’t pick the right reader.

Here are a few ways to make sure that you and your reader get it right:

1. Select readers with the skill sets you need. My two most trusted readers brought opposite (and equally important) skills to the table. One responded to the big picture—did the plot make sense? Were the characters clear? Where was it confusing? The other favored a black pen and editing a sentence like his life depended on it.

2. Ask for sample feedback. Send five to ten pages or a chapter and ask what he or she would suggest so you can get a sense for the input you’d receive.

3. Choose readers you like. If the communication flows easily it’s going to be a lot easier to take the good and the bad when they send you feedback on your manuscript.

4. Let your reader know if there are specific questions you want addressed, but trust that he’ll be seeing it with fresh eyes. Leave room for him to tell you what he sees.

5. After you send the manuscript, do something fun. Go for a hike, a ski, a run, or out with friends. Celebrate the fact that you care enough about your story to get someone’s input on how to make it better.

6. Resist the urge to edit before you get feedback. It’s difficult to work with feedback based on an earlier draft, and the time away from your work will let you see it with fresh eyes.

7. Set your own expectations before you get feedback. You’ve been living and breathing this story, which means that you are too close to see it clearly. You’ll hear some good stuff, but you’ll also learn where it’s not working. That’s not a failure—it’s the point of getting feedback.

8. When you get the feedback, read it and digest it. But before you start making each and every change, look at your manuscript for yourself. What do you see that needs work?

9. Once you’ve made all your revisions, read the feedback one more time. You don’t need to make every suggested change but make sure you’ve carefully considered each one.

10. Remember that revision is where the magic happens in writing—where prose comes alive and the storyline comes into its own.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Alissa Johnson is an award winning writer and writing coach in Crested Butte, CO. She helps clients find peace with their writing process so they can get the most out of life and feel productive as writers. Her work has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, Dirt Rag Magazine and Green Woman Magazine among other publications, and she holds an MFA from Western Connecticut State University. You’ll find her at her personal website and blog, and at the Writing Strides website.