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ASK THE EDITOR "Staying Afloat In A Sea Of Submissions"

By Susan Malone

April, 1999

The business of publishing has grown so autonomous, that writers often feel completely lost in the dark sea of the submissions process. You query and query and do everything right, only to get enough rejection slips to wallpaper the guest bedroom, and rare is the rejection that contains even a hint of personalization (you know, as though the one rejecting even read the damn thing).

So its not surprising that when a writer receives a personalized response, his or her heart jumps, clinging to every word of the missive. Questions abound. Did that the agent has taken ANY interest mean that he wants to see revisions? Does she know what in Gods name shes talking about? I.e., if I do these rewrites, will my book really sell? Or is this a ploy for one of those editorial service fronts?

Once youve ruled out the last (and by all means, do so. So many scams are running around these days, be SURE this isnt one of them. Check out the agency with the NWANational Writers Associationand see if AARAssociation of Authors Representativesmembership is a priority), begin asking a number of questions, of both yourself and said agent, in order to decide if these revisions, and this agent is for you.

First off, is this the only feedback youve gotten? Have you received other rejections that identify similar problems? Other requests for revisions? Or is this the only advice youve received?

Meredith Bernstein, of the literary agency of the same name, added, The writer should show his material to some other agents and get more feedback. If no one else is interestedthen he might want to take the advice of the person who took the time to give it in the first place.

Second, did the agent tell you why she wanted the specific revisions? In other words, is the request for a long manuscript due to something lacking in the story/plot/characters, or because she wants the novel to fit into a certain line that has word-count specifications? Or vice-versa: did the agent request the manuscript be trimmed to a standard length? And was this due to verbosity of style, or to fit a genre requirement?

Sometimes writing feels a lot like rocket science. The latter, too, has whys and wherefores, reasons and laws.

Naomi Reichstein, of the literary agency of the same name, put it this way:

Generally, if an author is not already a client, Ill offer editorial suggestions to his or her manuscript only if I am seriously interested in considering a second draft for representation. Although I cant make a firm commitment to a project until I have a draft in hand that I believe I can sell to a publisher, I try, in fairness, to offer editorial advice only when I am optimistic that the manuscript will turn out to be salable and likewise when I think there is a fair chance of my representing the client. At the same time, authors should always bear in mind that reacting to any book is a subjective process, that no ones editorial response should be regarded as law, and that opinions may vary. Authors should decide for themselves whether agents editorial suggestions make sense or not before they undertake extensive revisions.

In other words, do YOU agree with the revisions regarding plot, character, etc.? Did the agent tell you WHY he wanted to see these done?

Finally, is this a reputable agent, and one who has sold works such as yours? In other words, does he know what hes doing regarding your genre? All agents have their niches, though they may sell a wide variety of work.

If the agent is reputable, proficient, and successful, chances are shes asking for said revisions in regard to a specific line, and that you wont have to then revise for a publisher as well (you would already have done so as per that lines specs). Publishing these days is a different beast from what it once was. A book must be pretty well camera-ready when submitted. Yes, an editor may want some revisions, but theyll be minor ones by that point or the editor wont be able to take the time to make the book fit.

So, get answers to your questions. Get a second or third opinion. Submit to more agents, join a workshop, hire an independent editor, or all of the above. If the critique remains constant, consider it and dive back in.

And always keep in mind the agent who took the time to respond. Once your revisions are made, contact him/her again. That just might be the very agent for you.

Susan M. Malone is a Contributing Editor to Authorlink.com, Associate Editor for THE LITERARY MAGAZINE, multi-published author, and owner of a successful editorial and manuscript assessment service. You may email questions to her at: aaasuz@aol.com