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Agent-Requested Revisions: An Interview with Literary Agent Joan Paquette


Having just finished my first round of revisions for my publisher, maybe I'm just more in tune with the topic of revisions on forums and networking sites than I've previously been, but it seems like everyone is talking about it recently. More and more, the topic of agents requesting pre-offer revisions is the center of the discussion.

My agent, Joan Paquette, was kind enough to answer some questions I see in these discussions. She was hands-on with my manuscript from the beginning and has a keen eye for detail. I've no doubt that without her suggested revisions, my book would not have sold.

Before I launch into her interview, I want to give you my profound revision analogy (that's a joke. It's not profound--but it works for me).

Revisions, no matter how small are like moving furniture in a carpeted room: Any change leaves rug dents. Change one thing, and chances are it will have an effect somewhere else.

So when you move a bookcase, you scrub out, cover up or somehow disguise the big nasty carpet dent left by what you moved, right? Same with revisions. So often, writers fail to check the entire manuscript for the effects of the change.

Moving furniture often makes a room more attractive or functional, but occasionally, it is the wrong thing to do, which brings me to the real topic today:

Why agents request revisions and when you should consider doing them.
(An interview with Joan Paquette of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency)

How often do you ask writers to revise before you offer representation? Why do you ask these writers to revise before instead of after you offer?

Ms. Paquette: The decision of whether to ask for a revision before or after offering representation usually depends on the type of work the manuscript needs. If the changes required are fairly substantial, or if I want to give a project a little more time to test out how strongly I feel about it, then I will ask for revisions first. If I'm so persuaded of the need to represent this project that I can't bear the prospect of it getting away, then I will offer right away. It's all about getting the manuscript to the point where it strikes magic; it can happen early or late, but when it happens we'll both know it.

What kind of things do you most often request in the pre-offer revision?

Ms. Paquette: This completely depends on the case. Two things that usually hook my interest in a project are (1) a strong voice, and (2) a unique premise. When I read sample pages that have these two factors, I'm then looking for a certain flow of language that resonates with me, a smoothness of pacing and a readable quality that's hard to put into words. Those things are more challenging to infuse if they are lacking in a manuscript. But if a project has these elements but is weak in other areas--in world-building, for example; or the story begins too slowly; goes on too long; needs to go deeper within the characters; needs a smoother arc or more complete resolution at the end--those kinds of things can be fixed. I think what I'm looking for is a project that feels so close to being ready that I can easily articulate a few fixes that I feel would bring it to that point where I could fall in love. Those are the kinds of revisions I would ask for before signing.

What are the most common kinds of mistakes you see in revised material? What is your primary reason for rejection?

Ms. Paquette: One big mistake I frequently see is writers who return the revision too quickly. Sometimes there is a perception that interest from an agent should be capitalized on as soon as possible or it will expire; unfortunately, this can result in manuscripts being sent back before they're fully ready. Don't be afraid to take all the time you need to do a thorough revision; get some additional readers; let it sit a while and then come back to it with fresh eyes. It doesn't have to take a supremely long time, but there are no special benefits from a super-speedy turnaround--and sometimes, to the contrary, it can be a red flag of an inexperienced reviser.

Why do I usually reject a revised manuscript? Truthfully, there's no one reason. Before I sign a client's manuscript I must truly fall in love with it. So, put simply, I'm looking for the revision to knock my socks off--to make it so I can't pass it up. That's what I'm looking for.

When would you recommend a writer not revise for an agent?

Ms. Paquette: If you don't agree with the direction an agent proposes for a project and you wouldn't feel comfortable having these changes in your final book, then don't make them. Otherwise, it's a case where you are being provided with an insider's critique and input on your manuscript which, even if the end result doesn't end up resonating with the requesting agent, will hopefully result in a stronger finished product that can go on to even greater things elsewhere.

* * *

Once again, I thank Ms. Paquette for taking time out to answer questions for QueryTracker. More can be found about Ms. Paquette and the Erin Murphy Literary Agency on QueryTracker.net.

Have a great week!

Mary

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20 comments:

On April 7, 2010 at 9:02 AM , Candyland said...

Great insight! Love it!

 
On April 7, 2010 at 9:03 AM , Terri Tiffany said...

Thank you for this! Especially the part of taking my time to revise! I always though the faster the better.

 
On April 7, 2010 at 9:03 AM , Terri Tiffany said...

Thank you for this! Especially the part of taking my time to revise! I always though the faster the better.

 
On April 7, 2010 at 9:27 AM , Lindsay (a.k.a Isabella) said...

Great post. The main thing I'm gonna take away from it is not to rush. If an agent asks for a revision then they will wait for it.

 
On April 7, 2010 at 9:39 AM , Girl with One Eye said...

I enjoyed reading what is most requested. I assume that these requests are more specific from an agent, not that would be nice to see.

 
On April 7, 2010 at 9:42 AM , Christine Fonseca said...

Great insight - thank you both

 
On April 7, 2010 at 10:14 AM , Piedmont Writer said...

Thank you for this information, fantastic post.

 
On April 7, 2010 at 10:39 AM , Kristi Helvig said...

Fabulous interview - thanks!

 
On April 7, 2010 at 10:43 AM , Stina Lindenblatt said...

Thanks for the great info. Obviously the more you have to "fix," the longer it's going to take. If you're fast, then how can you be sure you fixed it? And that's the same thing the agent's going to be thinking.

 
On April 7, 2010 at 11:27 AM , Tere Kirkland said...

Thanks for this, Mary and Joan. I'm just about to start querying again, and I hope this information will be useful to me. ;)

 
On April 7, 2010 at 12:12 PM , Rebecca Knight said...

Fascinating interview, and something I've wondered about :). It's nice to get a glimpse into why agents may or may not ask for revisions.

Thank you, Joan and Mary!

 
On April 7, 2010 at 12:55 PM , maybe genius said...

Wonderful interview, thanks to you both :)

 
On April 7, 2010 at 2:38 PM , Casey McCormick said...

Great interview, Mary and Joan. Thank you. : )

 
On April 7, 2010 at 5:34 PM , Jackee said...

Great, insightful interview. Thank you, ladies! Joan is one generous soul.

I've been in this spot a couple of times and always second guess myself about when and if I'm ready to resubmit. This helped me see the other side of the desk!

 
On April 7, 2010 at 6:03 PM , Natalie Aguirre said...

Great interview. Such good advice to not rush the revisions and even let some of your critique partners read it first. I loved the furniture analogy.

 
On April 7, 2010 at 6:11 PM , Elana Johnson said...

Fantastic interview, and such well-thought out answers. Thanks ladies!

 
On April 7, 2010 at 10:09 PM , Deb Salisbury said...

Great post! Thanks to both of you!

 
On April 8, 2010 at 12:53 AM , Corinne said...

Thanks for the advice not to rush on a revision. Excellent questions, and such fabulous full answers. Thank you!

 
On April 8, 2010 at 10:50 AM , KM said...

Lots of good stuff in this post. Great interview! Thanks!

 
On May 22, 2014 at 3:01 PM , Laura Gokey said...

This has really helped me. I have an agent who seems really interested and wanted me to take 6-9 months before sending it back. I thought that was a little long, but now I know she just wants me to make it right. Thanks!!