Friday, January 4, 2013

Owning The Process: Revising For Or With An Agent By Taylor Martindale

When the amazing ladies from Operation Awesome asked me to address the topic of revising for an agent, I was thrilled. This is an area of the writing process that can get so gray and confusing—for both parties—and I instead hope it can be a place of focus and successful collaboration.

As I began writing this post, I had planned to discuss general revision tips. But you’ve heard those before, and from more eloquent agents than myself.  I realized that what I wanted to talk about was the idea that revising isn’t about reluctantly changing your work to catch the attention of an agent. Revising is the process that betters your novel and, more importantly, betters you as an author. Don’t get me wrong, I know how tedious this process can be and how exhausted many of you are. But if you are staying true to the heart of your novel, making the changes that improve and grow your work, then you are continually moving in the right direction.

Writers, you’re drafting, scrapping and starting over, pitching, revising as you go, trying to absorb as much advice and direction as possible. It’s understandably overwhelming. You may have received advice from agents, possibly conflicting advice. Some of it may be helpful and completely spot on. Some of it may revitalize the way you see your book and spark new energy. However, you may feel that some notes you receive just aren’t right for your book, and that’s ok.

From the other side of the desk, agents are reading as many projects as we can get our hands on, trying to evaluate how the market is developing, comparing each project to those we already represent or the others waiting in our inbox, helping our clients and others flourish as much as we’re able. The honest truth is that agents don’t recommend changes to a book unless we really believe it’s the right choice. That doesn’t mean, though, that you will connect with our thoughts for your novel. Ultimately, the decisions that will shape your book lie with you, the author.

Because the goal, whether you’re the author or the agent, is finding that magic when everything falls into place, your novel lives and breathes, and we have no option but to fall madly in love.

But how to get there?
As you write, you are in one of three places right now:
  1. You’re revising an early draft, getting ready to start the submission process and find representation.
  2. You’ve received notes from an agent, whether they are wanting to see a revised or not, and you’re deciding whether to use their notes in another draft or just keep moving forward.
  3. You’re an agented author and currently doing some development work with your agent before sending out to publishing houses.

Here’s the thing—while each of these phases is incredibly unique, one element remains the same. This novel is your work, your creative process, and you must have ownership of that. Yes, you need to be honing your craft as much as possible, shaping and developing this book into the best work you can send into the marketplace. What you can’t forget, though, is that you’re not writing for someone else’s specifications. You need to write the book you are so passionate about that sometimes you can’t sleep at night. And because of those sleepless nights, you’re obligated to make it the best manuscript it can be. When you do that, your agent is the one who has sleepless nights thinking about your incredible work and what the future holds for your career. I know from experience.

Revising for or with an agent is a multi-step process that can be incredibly beneficial provided one thing—you need to be on the same page. You have to believe that the changes you’re making are right for your novel. If you’re making a change only because an agent told you to, and you don’t trust him or her, then you’ve lost sight of your own work. If you do that, you ultimately won’t be connected to how that change shaped your book. The flip side, though, is that when you do trust an agent’s opinion/advice, that collaboration creates the chance to make your work truly shine.

I’d like to share two blog posts on this topic that I feel are particularly helpful and/or enlightening. The first is a collection of revision advice, featured on YA Highway, put together by the wonderful Kristin Halbrook. If you’re looking for specific pointers on where to start with revisions, this is a must-read. The second is a post from one of my own clients, the fabulous Emery Lord. Emery is a stellar reviser, and when we’ve needed to work on some touch-ups to her novels, she continues to surprise me with what innovation and creativity she brings to the process. I might make a suggestion, and she always comes back with a resolution that is more true to the book and characters than anything I could have brainstormed. She wrote this post on what it was like to revise before and after being represented. I thought it was a fantastic and charming look at how revising is about trust and the way you can tackle it one bite at a time. (Hehe, you’ll get my little joke once you read it.)

At the end of the day, remember that as difficult as the revising process can be, it’s all about seeing your passion come to fruition. We know how hard you are working to get it right, to make your novel flawless. Stick with it.

Happy writing, and all best,

Taylor Martindale
Full Circle Literary 

TAYLOR MARTINDALE is a new member of Full Circle Literary, actively acquiring primarily children's and young adult fiction. She began agenting with the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency, and prior to that, was the submissions coordinator at Bliss Literary Agency. She is a graduate of The College of William and Mary, where she studied English and Hispanic Studies. Taylor is looking for children's/young adult fiction and non-fiction, women's fiction, and select non-fiction projects. She is interested in finding unique and unforgettable voices and characters that stay with you long after a story has finished. For contemporary projects, she would like to find both the uplifting/romantic and the gritty stories. She loves working with multicultural books that present new perspectives both at home and abroad. In fantasy/paranormal, she is looking for new and intriguing concepts with characters who make their worlds alive and engaging. She is also interested in women's fiction - multicultural, historical, and contemporary. More than anything, Taylor is looking for character-driven stories that bring the world vividly to life, and voices that refuse to be ignored. When looking for non-fiction projects, Taylor uses much the same approach, and hopes to find authors with fresh ideas and perspectives, with writing that is accessible, entertaining, and compelling. She is looking for teen non-fiction, memoir, and how-to projects.

When not working, Taylor can be found traveling, cooking, spending time with loved ones, or (surprise!) lost in a good book.


Katrina L. Lantz said...

"...revising isn’t about reluctantly changing your work to catch the attention of an agent. Revising is the process that betters your novel and, more importantly, betters you as an author."

I love this! Thank you so much for being part of NYRC, Taylor! This was paradigm-shifting.

Angelica R. Jackson said...

Thanks for this insight, Taylor! It can be confusing, especially when different agents highlight different things in their notes.

Anonymous said...

The reminder that we have to remain true to the book is a good one. Good advice. Thanks.

Unknown said...

Great compilation of resources on a complicated topic, thanks so much!