January 18, 2011

After The Call: Revisions, Revisions, Revisions!

"After the Call" is a new feature on my blog! It chronicles what happens after an agent offers you representation: how to choose the right agent, how to communicate with your new agent, what the revision process is like, etc. For previous posts in this series, please click hereherehere, and here.

Right after you sign with an agent, there will be much merry-making, cupcake-eating, and champagne-drinking. Huzzah, you have an agent! Rejoice, rejoice!

Bask in this glory while you can... In a matter of weeks, your agent will send you his revision notes and then there shall be much gnashing of teeth, crying of tears, and screaming of pain. Welcome to agented life!

Haha, I know I'm being melodramatic but, chances are, you're going to go through at least one revision process with your agent. With the publishing industry becoming pickier and pickier due to the flailing economy, your book needs to be sparkly clean before it goes on submission. So roll up your sleeves and grab your trusty red pen. Time to get to work!

My own revision process with Jim went a little like this:

May 2010 --- Signed my contract and mailed it to New York. Sobbed with joy and thanked the Writing Gods profusely.

June 2010 --- Received revision email from Jim. Stopped my rejoicing and sobbed with grief instead. Jim's comments were spot-on and gracious, but I was nevertheless overwhelmed. I decided to let his notes percolate in my mind for a couple weeks.

July 2010 --- Started tackling the minor suggestions Jim had made (fleshing out certain chapters, clarifying a confusing scene, etc). I needed to start small since the big changes still scared me.

August 2010 --- Tackled the big picture edits, like character arcs. Cried. Sent Jim an email concerning my revisions and he was very supportive.

September 2010 --- Edited some more. Mailed shiny manuscript to Jim. Bit nails in anticipation. Received email from Jim a few days later...we were ready to go on sub!

Every agent is different, of course, but I think my experience is generally the norm. Some agents prefer to give notes via email while others over the phone. Some agents prefer to line-edit a manuscript while others prefer to give general notes. Either way, most agents I've researched like to make at least a few changes to a book before they deem it ready for submission.

Here's a general breakdown of my observations and my own experiences:

1.) Time Frame
It can take between a couple weeks to a couple months to receive your revision notes. I know---a couple months sounds like a long time but agents are busy people and sometimes they get swamped. Try to be patient as you await your notes, especially if you sign during a busy time of the year (BEA, summer conference season, Christmas, etc.). However, if you haven't heard from your agent in awhile and you were supposed to get your notes two weeks ago, then feel free to send a quick email. Most likely, she'll get to it soon!*

2.) Deadlines
Some agents like to give deadlines while others don't. It just depends. My agent, for example, didn't set a hard deadline for me to finish my revisions. He told me to work within my own time frame, which was ideal for me because 1.) I work slowly and 2.) I had to deal with some family issues. On the other hand, my friend's agent gave her a month to turnaround her book. This agent is fantastic and successful, and she simply prefers to set deadlines for her clients.

3.) Scope
When it comes to your revisions notes, the scope of the notes will depend on your agent's editing style. From what I've observed, some agents like to give heavy line edits while others only give a few suggestions. Thus, revision notes can vary widely!

In my case, I received about a two-page revision letter from Jim. The email itself was organized into two main categories: big picture edits and short critiques of certain chapters that needed re-working. I really appreciated this format so I could tick off the stuff I had finished and focus on the things I still needed to change.

Other agents, however, prefer to do more in-depth revisions. In a recent blog post, Agent Suzie Townsend mentioned that her editorial letters stretch over seven pages on average! Wow! On the other hand, some agents offer only a few suggestions here and there. One of my critique partners recently signed with an agent like this. Fortunately, my friend likes a more hands-off style when it comes to editing because she relies on her critique groups for comments and suggestions.

I hope this has been a helpful post! Feel free to leave a comment or send me an email if you have any questions!

*That being said, I've known a few writers who have waited months and months and months...and who are still waiting for notes. Yipes! If three months go by and you're still twiddling your thumbs, I'd suggest having a frank conversation with your agent. (Who knows? Maybe he has a legitimate reason.) 


  1. Awesome post - the "gnashing of teeth" was a little scary, but I'm sure realistic so I'm glad you're prepping the rest of us LOL!

  2. Wow. Just found you today and read the whole series. I am following you now. This was SO helpful! I started querying my first novel last month and sent out 12 and have 4 agents with fulls, one partial and still waiting to hear back from 2. I was just thinking LAST NIGHT how while I am keeping expectations low (for my own sanity) what would I do if more than one offered? This series was a blessing! You ROCK

  3. Your agent's technique for edits looks super, super helpful! You can go from Tiny Edits to Big Edits pretty smoothly. You are SUCH a fortunate cookie!!! :D

    Awesome post, by the way. It was great to see you the process worked for you. And, mark my words, all that hard work? Totally going to pay off, my friend. *fist pump*

  4. Sounds like you and your agent are a great match.

    I really enjoy your After the Call posts. It's so interesting to read about everyone's differing experiences. Looking forward to the next post. :)

  5. Thanks for sharing this! I won't be looking for an agent until late spring but these posts offer great preparation.

  6. Another seriously great post in this series CTR!

    My agent, John, operated in a similar manner to yours.

    One difference is, I got my revision notes before I signed with John. Then the offer and contract came when I said I was more than happy to make the changes he'd mentioned. Honestly, I'd have been a fool not to, they were so spot on and helped strengthen the story tremendously.

    I had a soft deadline, with no fixed date set, but within about a month time-line. My changes weren't bad at all. They involved re-jigging paras (shortening and ending on tension), fleshing out my main character's emotions a little, adding a little more character building and story to the beginning. Oh, and the renaming of a character for a rather valid reason.

    Erm, btw did I say, 'Top post, Caroline!' ?

    I've been waffling so long I can't quite remember.

  7. It sounds exciting, and scary, but mostly exciting. It sounds like you and your agent are a perfect match! Thanks for the view from "after the call."

  8. Lindsay, haha. I think I just like the phrase, "gnashing of teeth"!

    Rachel, welcome to my blog! I'm so glad you've found this series to be helpful! I'll keep my fingers crossed that you'll get an offer soon!

    Amparo, thanks! I hope my work pays off... :)

    Katy, thank you! I'm actually getting my next After The Call post together!

    Sheri, best of luck for when you start querying!

    Ian, aw shucks! You are far too kind! And it's so interesting to read your own experiences with your agent. I think you should write your own post about it!

    Julie, thank you! I consider myself very lucky to have signed with Jim!

  9. VERY helpful. Thank you!!

  10. I'm really enjoying these posts. Especially since I can learn about Jim's working style too :-)