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.
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.
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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.