Agents can meet anywhere from 20 to 60 potential clients at any given writer’s conference. Sometimes our feedback is a simple yes or no, but sometimes it’s more elaborate. When I sit across from someone who is pitching, I usually know immediately if I can/want to sign their project. From time to time, I give the potential client constructive criticism or advice to help them move forward (either with me or with someone else). The advice might be about their blog or website, their craft, platform, or content. Sometimes, a writer comes to the table and there is nothing to change in their proposal, sample chapters, or full manuscript, but many times—and more often than not—there are slight tweaks and sometimes large revisions that need to take place.

I sat with a lovely author at my very first American Christian Fiction Writer’s Conference a few years ago and we had the best time chatting about writing and life. She gave me a one sheet and when I got it home I saw great potential in what she had written, but I felt the ages of her characters would not allow me to sell the story. There were a couple of other elements that didn’t make sense to me as a reader or agent. But, I had a huge vision for what her series could be. I felt that with a few tweaks it could sell. We set up a call and I let her know that I would be super interested in representing her, but I explained some necessary story tweaks. I told her that some writers didn’t want to make revisions and I understood if she felt strongly about her original choices. We got off the phone. Six months passed and she emailed me one day with her revisions. I was so thrilled that she came back. I really, really wanted to work with her and I honestly wasn’t sure if she would come back after our initial call, but she did. Her story came in much stronger after the revisions, and she even spent extra time editing other areas in the manuscript that weren’t as strong. Not only did she get an agent, but she won an award and got a 3-book contract with a reputable house.

Sometimes, agents see that you are really close to your goal—really close to hitting the mark, and we ask for changes. There are many times when we actually decline representation, but tell you to re-submit after you’ve re-worked some trouble spots in your manuscript.

I mean the entire point of you signing with an agent is for us to be able to turn around and sell you to a publishing house. Some of you get extremely close to the home run, but never listen and revise according to the advice you’re given. Okay, so I’m going to tread lightly here, but I want you to hear me out.

I have dealt with all types of writer personalities over the past few years. You’ve got to be thick-skinned to be a writer and you have to believe that agents read and see so many pitches, that we know 99% of the time what is broken in your writing. And any feedback is not meant to hurt, it’s meant to help you and make you a better writer. I’ve not woken up one day of my life and said to myself, “Boy, I’m ready to crush some writer dreams today!” But, seriously, most people are pliable enough to listen, but I’ve had writers tell me that their BETA readers loved their work therefore, they were not going to change anything in their manuscript. Please, don’t ever tell your agent or a potential agent that your BETA readers opinions’ take priority over theirs. If you have 25 avid readers that have told you that your writing rocks, and then a professional comes along and tells you it’s not ready, I promise the professional is right. And if by chance they aren’t, would it hurt to stop and get a few more professional opinions to make sure? Please don’t get offended when people try to help you improve your craft.

Just listen.

Think through the advice. 

And revise accordingly. 

I have a golden rule that I tell all of my clients and it goes something like this: “If it’s broken, you have to fix it. You are not obligated to fix it the way I suggest, but I will freely give you my best ideas, and you can take them if you want them. But, you still have to fix it.”

I don’t force anyone to do what I say, but once we sign clients, we have a reputation to uphold too. The last thing we want is for editors to say, “I don’t care about what she sends me, her stuff is never up to par.”

When you finally snag an agent, that is a huge milestone! But, it is only step one in a series of editorial changes that you will complete throughout the publication process. In other words, get used to revising your work. Here are several items that an author might have to change or tweak just to be ready to pitch to publishing houses:

  • Title—Is the title unique? Go to Amazon and see if it’s been overused.
  • Metaphor—A metaphor is simply the visual imagery you use to convey the message of your book. Applies to memoir.
  • Proposal (marketing section, book comparisons, chapter outline, take away value etc.. are common areas that might need adjustments).
  • Sample chapters—This is where the editor asks “Are they a good writer?” “Did they hook me in the first sentence? The first chapter? The first page? Is their voice/style unique? Do they show and not tell?

When I ask an author for revisions either to their manuscript or proposal, my answer isn’t necessarily a “no” but simply a “not yet.” If I am not interested in a project, I will immediately tell you no. If I’m on the fence, then I’ll ask for changes. Sometimes these changes lead to a yes, and sometimes the changes show us clearly that we aren’t the right agent for the project. I’ve seen all of the below scenarios happen in the past:

  • The writer receives a request for changes as a total rejection, and don’t do what we suggested because they can’t get past the disappointment.
  • The writer plans to revise and then life gets in the way and it takes them longer than they meant for it to take, therefore they don’t send it back in because they think it’s too late.
  • They don’t think the agent’s suggestions are correct concerning their work, therefore they refuse the constructive criticism.
  • They rush through changes, moving too quickly, instead of methodically, and then we tell them no because it’s still not ready.

I would rather an author get it right, than give a manuscript to me too quickly. What good will that do you or me? So, go slow, listen, and make the revisions if an agent takes the time to give you constructive feedback. Those corrections could be the only thing standing in between you and your dream agent.




31 Ways to Snag an Agent is part of the #Write31Days challenge. To read all the posts in this series click here.


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(Day 7)

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