I recently was asked by the exceptional agent I’m reading for (“La Agent” hereafter) to look at a manuscript on which she had requested some revisions. She didn’t tell me what her initial thoughts were, nor what kinds of changes she’d suggested to the writer (she’s always trying to test me :P) (not really) (maybe really). So I read. There were problems and not little ones, either. I started wondering about what kind of suggestions La Agent had given but, even more so, about how much of those suggestions the writer had taken to heart.
Not until I’d sent my thoughts on the manuscript back did La Agent reveal both her notes – and the fact that the writer took three days to complete the requested changes.
It is not an impossible feat to complete revisions in three days. The line edits portion of revisions are an easy fix. It’s also not impossible to complete some revisions in three nose-to-the-grindstone day;. even larger plot-specific or character development revisions can be completed in a short period of time, though I've yet to see a successful example since I began interning.
Writers really need to get it out of their heads to do quick revisions. Maybe it's a combination of excitement that "Wow, the agent likes it!" and fear that "Oh no, if I don't do the revisions quickly the agent will forget about me!" that helps drive these fast revisions. I promise, the agent won’t forget your work. Even in a month. Even in a year. I’m not lying about this. The agent obviously saw something intriguing and that spark of interest doesn’t just peter out. If an agent takes the hours to produce insightful comments on your manuscript, there is interest on the agent's part.
After I'd read the revised manuscript, La Agent and I discussed the original vs. the revised manuscript; talked about the continued problems we were seeing; and mourned the rejection to be sent to the writer (I can’t stress enough that agents really, really want to see great work from writers, really, really want to sign writers, and really, really don’t love sending rejections). But we also aired our frustrations over writers taking a Revise and Resubmit and not doing a thorough job of it.
We know you don’t have to follow every agent suggestion. You don’t have to add everything s/he wants you to add or cut everything s/he wants you to cut. This is your story. Revisions are suggestions – but they are coming from a place of experience in reading/writing and a knowledge of what editors are seeking. So, no, you don’t have to do everything an agent asks, but please take the suggestions to heart. Here are some suggestions for completing a Revise and Resubmit.
1. Take your time. Read the suggestions. Mull them over before making actual physical changes. Mulling does not take fifteen minutes. New definition of mull: To think or ponder for a long time. Decide how the suggestions affect/change your characters, your plot, tension, motivations. Rip everything apart to the point that band-aid solutions won’t stop the bleeding. Dig deeper. Revisions are not the same as “rearranging,” nor are they the same as “slap another scene in there somewhere.”
2. Utilize beta readers. If you don’t have any, find some. Find a writer you know and trust and who likes you enough to be honest and thorough but not so much that s/he feels they have to hold something back. We all know beta comments can sting, but you will not become a better writer if you can’t take constructive criticism. Make sure your beta reader(s) understand the changes you’ve tried to implement so that they know what to look for. Give them guidelines and questions to answer.
3. Ideally, you’ve continued to mull over possible changes while your beta(s) read. If you think those changes make the manuscript better, implement them. It’s not required, but when you’re ready to send the manuscript back to the agent (in . . . a few weeks’ time? A couple months’? Those are both okay time frames), talk a little bit about the changes you made. I’d be more interested in reading a rambling e-mail from a writer detailing changes and concerns and her/his thought process than simply getting a “Here ya go!” with the new manuscript attached.
It really is okay to take your time. Beneficial, even.
At the end of this whole experience, La Agent made this comment in an e-mail to me. It’s a lightning flash/light bulb over the head kind of statement that drives home the idea that you need to take time with your R&R because, while you have "something," it isn’t there yet:
Dear Writers: If it was a simple revision, I would do it after I signed you.
(cross-post from http://www.kristindmiller.com/2010/07/i-recently-was-asked-by-exceptional.html)