Columns > Published on May 29th, 2012

Ask The Lit Coach: "Is It Normal For An Agent To Request Changes And Then Pass Withou Offering Representation?" and More

Question from John H. 

Recently a literary agent requested my full manuscript and after reading it, wanted me to make some changes. I made the changes he suggested and sent the revised manuscript back to him. A few weeks later, he passed on the manuscript, saying it wasn't for him. During this time, I never saw an offer for representation or agent contract. Is this normal?

Yes, unfortunately, agents suggest changes without an offer of representation and writers are only too happy to oblige, mistaking this agent interest as a potential agency agreement. Is it normal? Well, that was never one of my business practices when I was an agent, but I don't know of any rules that say agents shouldn't do this. Personally, I don't agree with the practice and I think it's generally unwise for a writer to begin incorporating major editorial feedback from an agent without signing a standard agency contract first. Imagine if more than one agent did this to you and you followed their lead. Not only would you be totally frustrated, your novel would stand the risk of losing it's focus.

Don't change your manuscript at the will of an agent without signing a contract that's fair to you. And don't sign with an agent that gives you any kind of pause whatsoever. No agent is better than a bad one. After you've signed, really consider the feedback. Do you agree with it? Is this feedback you've heard from other sources? Are there any common threads with the feedback? If your answer is yes, then revise. A successful writer/agent, writer/editor relationship is built on editorial give and take, and trust. A little resistance on your end is expected. If you feel unsure of the changes, sleep on it. Take your time, in fact. Listen to your gut. After you've had time to digest the suggestions, have a meeting with your agent to share how you feel about the editorial direction they're suggesting, but keep it professional. Maybe there's a compromise. Make changes that will make your characters and your story stronger, not more marketable, on trend, or "book-to-film ready," as those elements may change by the time the work actually sees the desk of an editor.  

Good luck, John! 

Question from Allison M. 

How big does my platform need to be before an agent will finally be interested in representing me?

Whether you decide to go the traditional route or self-publish, your platform should be sizeable, but it really depends on what you're writing. If you're writing a prescriptive "how-to" nonfiction book, you should seek an agent only when you're nationally recognized as an expert in your field. You should be getting thousands of hits a day on your website, a substantial subscription base to your blog and/or newsletter, and we should see your articles and contributions across the media (magazines, newspapers, online, radio, TV). If, however, you write fiction, platform is less of an issue - the work needs to stand on its own. Yes, it's important to have a portfolio of work that you've placed in magazines, lit journals, etc., but a publisher isn't going to expect you to come to the table with a nationally known blog or hefty twitter following (of course it helps, but it's not a pre-requisite). Here's a short list of what agents consider when representing a fiction author:

My best advice for those of you pre-occupied with platform is to put it in the back of your mind. Focus instead on experience. What is your plan to get your work seen? What's the best, most original way for you to share your voice and your expertise? Get involved in your writing community and ask questions. Eventually, this will all add up to platform. For now, focus on the work in front of you, not what you need to amount to 5 years from now.

Good luck, Allison.

That wraps up this week's Ask The Lit Coach. Thanks for your questions, LitReactors!

Now go do something worth writing about. 

About the author

ERIN REEL is a Los Angeles based publishing and editorial consultant, writing coach, columnist, blog host of The Lit Coach's Guide to The Writer's Life and outspoken advocate for writers. A former literary agent with nearly 10 years in the industry, Erin has worked with a wide array of writers worldwide. She has contributed to Making The Perfect Pitch: How to Catch a Literary Agent's Eye (Sands, Watson-Guptil, 2004); and Author 101: Bestselling Secrets from Top Agents (Frishman & Spizman, Adams Media, 2005).

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