When should you holster your guns?

I’m going to speak here now like I know what I’m talking about, and I suppose I know just enough to be dangerous, but the point of this post is to put forth a question. When it comes to suggested revisions, how long do you stick to your guns . . . and when is it time to give in?

I’m discovering that revisions are a necessary evil for a writer. For me, it seems like I’m always nibbling away at my novel. Continually changing a word here, description there, or moving a paragraph to achieve a stronger impact. But those aren’t the type of revisions I want to discuss today. I want to focus on those significant alterations that substantially re-define the premise of your book. These types of recommended changes can come from numerous sources. They can be self-induced, brought on by your own re-imagining of a plot line, character motivation, or one of a hundred other reasons. Input from a critique group is another basis for making radical changes. Yet another, and one that is on my mind right now, are those suggested by a prospective agent.

I have read that it is not uncommon for agents to send back a manuscript, declining representation, but offering to reconsider their position if certain revisions are made. What do you do if this happens to you? Let’s make it even more difficult by saying you don’t really agree with the recommended changes, even though you can see where it might make the book more marketable. Do you move on to querying the next agent on your list, hopeful that he/she will like your book as it is? Or are you just thrilled that you received a response back at all, and dive head first into making the changes. If the agent still passes on your manuscript, even after making the requested changes, which version of the book do you query then?

How willing are you to compromise the integrity of your book in order to make it commercial?

Does that sound too cynical? After all, the goal is to be published, isn’t it? And publishers (and therefore agents) won’t touch a book unless they believe they can make money with it. I wonder though, how often does the aspiring author give-in and revise their books too soon.

So I’m curious. Would you consider making revisions to your manuscript you’re not 100% comfortable with?

17 comments

  1. It's hard for me to say as I've never submitted anything yet. My first thought would be, no I will not compromise, but is that the reality??? I guess it would depend upon how many times I've been rejected, who is suggesting the changes, how reasonable or unreasonable the suggestions are and if my "voice" would be lost making them. Tough call...

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  2. DL--It really depends on your goals...If you want to be published and have a marketable book you might want to take the agents advice. I'd save the reised document as xxx.agents name. Continue to query other agents. If you feel the agents requests ruin your book, he/she is not right for you. He obvisously is interested, so who's to say that another agent won't be interested with less changes? Best wishes and congrat's on an agent being interested!

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  3. Elena ~ I agree totally. "Tough Call".

    Sharon ~ I didn't mean to give the impression that I had an agent interested in my book, I don't. It's just that a read a story in a blog that basically detailed that scenario and it made me question what I would do.

    I guess for me it would come down to something I'm always telling my kids . . . "Consider the source". If the suggestion is from an agent I know and respect, and has a proven track record, I would be more likely to revise even though I'm not 100% convinced its right.

    As for goals, the funny thing is that they evolve. When I started this journey, my goal was to just finish a book for my own self-satisfaction. That's no longer the case.

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  4. I would probably be more apt to revise as they suggested if it was my first book, because getting your first book published is the hardest part. Once you've been published, then maybe I'd say you can be a bit more picky. I guess it all depends on what's more important to you.

    Is it getting published, or is it getting YOUR story out there?

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  5. I would never swap the integrity of my book, a direct reflection of my personal integrity, to make it more commercial. End of story. Nothing is worth that sacrifice.

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  6. I admire your resolve Bethany. I'm not sure I could resist the temptation, like voidwalker says, especially for a first book. (I'm chuckling as I type that. Why not shoot the moon and dream about multiple books?)

    I'm thinking that hard questions are ahead.

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  7. Some suggestions for revisions may make your story stronger. You may even love it more after the changes. You still have final say in which version you put out into the world. Only agree to the pub deal if you feel great about it.
    Click for My Blog

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  8. this is hard.

    when you get an agent - they WILL ASK FOR REVISIONS. some are hard.

    I do the 80/20 rule. I always give it time to sink in and see what resonates.

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  9. I'd make the revisions as long as it didn't change the theme of the book. I'm not saying revising it wouldn't break my heart...but to have a good agent giving feedback would tempt me. And agents understand the market in ways we don't.

    Great questions.

    Winged Writer

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  10. I wouldn't. And I've had agents ask for revisions before offers. They give suggestions, guidelines, and all three (yes, THREE) of them said to do what felt right to me and the story.

    So I think if someone's asking you to do something that doesn't feel right to you and the story, you shouldn't. There IS someone out there who will think it's marketable, and you'll be happy with your choices. After all, it's YOUR NAME on the book, right?

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  11. Hmmm ... You ask tough questions. I think (having never been in the situation myself) that I would take a serious look at the suggestions. Especially if I had heard it from any other source.

    If I completely disagreed with the suggestions, and I felt that it compromised the integrity, then I would try to get more information from the agent to see why they made that suggestion. Because sometimes there is an underlying problem that you could fix that would solve that problem for the agent, but not ruin the integrity. I hope what I'm trying to say makes sense.

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  12. Tiana~
    I do understand what you are saying and I can only hope I find an agent like that. One that is collaborative and can express the underlining issue clearly (and uses really small words).

    This has been really helpful thread for me. I've gotten some really good advice. Thanks to all!

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  13. This happened to me. My first novel. The publisher's response was so positive and encouraging, and their suggestions were concise. Their requested revisions included cutting two characters, losing 80 pgs, including the last 30, the ending. Gulp. But I wanted to see what I could do with these challenges, some of which I already knew were issues. I cut 60 pgs, including the ending, which instead became more poignant. I cut the characters and it strengthened my plot. The dialogue tightened up and everything moved the story forward. Extra words fell to the wayside.
    They accepted the ms and I love the book that will be coming out next year. It's the first in a trilogy, so I communicated the things that simply could not be cut, and they were thrilled it was a series.
    I say give a little, you never know what professional input can do.

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  14. Congratulations Krista! That experience is one I could deal with. I guess I'll just hope for the best and fear the worst.

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  15. Because I'm also a first-time novelist, I would seriously consider any revisions an agent or publisher requested. I want My Story to get out there...but I also want people to read it.
    I would consider these factors:
    -This person knows the market, the business, and what makes for a strong, sale-able piece of fiction
    -You don't have to be as good as the books on the shelf: You have to be Better.
    -And finally..if you realize the revisions will actually make the book stronger.
    -If someone is trying to completely change the premise of your story, they might not be the right agent for you. Nevertheless, it might be that they've seen your story a hundred times, see potential, but are offering a fresh perspective for you to try.

    I'm starving for a pair of professional eyes to have a look at my novel, because it's getting as good as I can make it.
    I'm also terrified that it's not good enough.

    (Sorry, that was long )

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  16. Jess ~

    Don't ever apologize about the length of a comment...unless of course it's the same word over and over again...then I might actually have to delete it...but seriously I soak up each and every comment I receive regardless of length. You make some very relevant points and I'm beginning to believe its conceited to struggle against recommended changes. It all comes down to the trust I have in the individual making them.

    And believe me . . . I am right there with you regarding the fear of it not being good enough!

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