Sending a Revision to a Literary Agent While They’re Still Considering Your Work

So I hear you’re considering sending a revision to a literary agent while they’re still considering your work. Should you be in this situation? No. Because ideally, you would’ve queried only your strongest work. Because Mary told you to send query only your strongest work. But you didn’t believe me or didn’t know any better and then you decided to revise and here we are. It’ll be okay.

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Dearest Agent: About that submission you previously received from me… Funny story, my account was hacked…

Writers frequently ask about submitting a revision request to an agent. Here’s the situation: you polish a manuscript draft (so you think) and then you send it out to agents. Then, since publishing is notoriously slow, you sit around and have some time to think about what you’ve done. And think. And think. You realize things about your manuscript that you should’ve done differently. You begin to revise and realize there’s a LOT you could’ve done differently. Finally, you realize that “how to get my novel published” does not entail submitting the piece of garbage that’s out there in agent-land.

Oh no.

Will Sending a Revision to a Literary Agent Make you Look Bad?

Now you can’t even begin to fathom how awful your last draft is and you can’t believe that it is sitting in Dream Agent’s inbox in that deplorable, horrid, unfinished condition. An anxiety flares up and makes your pinkie toes tingle. Sending a revision to a literary agent is an unquenchable compulsion.

But there are lots of questions involved. Will the agent take it? Will it make you look bad? Will even submitting a revision request to an agent guarantee a speedy rejection?

Here’s the thing, and I can’t say it enough: there are only a finite number of agents in the world (or, only a finite number worth working with… The point, remember, is to get a good agent, not just any agent…). You’ve spent all this time writing a book and you can only show it to those agents once, unless they ask to see a revision down the line. Why wouldn’t you take the absolute maximum time you can to make sure this book is polished and perfect?

Because you’re human and you’re impatient and you want to get feedback from publishing professionals on it now now now. It’s okay. I understand this urge. I’ve sent out manuscripts to agents only to do a huge revision. I’ve sent that dreaded “Actually, can you look at this instead?” e-mail.

Making Your Request to the Literary Agent

So if you find yourself in this situation — having rushed out a manuscript that wasn’t ready and sending a revision to a literary agent– you are in the same boat as many, many other writers. It happens. Agents know it happens. So when you e-mail us and ask to submit another draft, it is likely we’ll say “Sure, send it in,” unless we’re already reading your manuscript. If we are, we still might still say “Sure, send it in,” but only if we like what we’re reading so far. Or we might reject you, because some agents have no tolerance for this. At this point, it’s up to you whether you want the risk.

The fact that writers pull the trigger too early is no secret in agenting circles. Besides, there are precious few debut manuscripts (if any) that go out on submission to editors without some revision. Whether you do that revision for an agent before or after signing their contract, you will do some revision. So, agents know that a manuscript is a malleable thing.

If You’re Going to Send a Revision to a Literary Agent…

It doesn’t exactly impress us that you submit a manuscript and have a brand new draft the next week, but it happens. Just make sure the second draft you submit is really, really, really good. Otherwise, you will lose points in the competence and professionalism departments. I repeat: if you plan on sending a revision to a literary agent, take your time, for the sake of all that is holy. Don’t just rush through this draft, too! Someone once said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over but expecting different results…

I will say it once, I will say it a thousand times: patience is a virtue, my dears. You’ve got a list of agents. You’ve got a manuscript that represents your tears, blood and late-night tiramisu binges. That stack of words and paper better be your damn best piece of work before ever the twain shall meet. Don’t be That Guy who’s submitting a revision request to an agent. Dig?

Are you revising and revising only to figure out that you don’t know what you’re doing? It’s okay. Make your next revision your best revision yet with me as your manuscript editor. I’ll give you feedback to not only inform your next revision, but your entire approach to fiction writing.

16 Replies to “Sending a Revision to a Literary Agent While They’re Still Considering Your Work”

  1. I have to really agree here. The biggest mistake I made with The Deathday Letter was deciding to send out query letters before I’d finished revisions.

    I’d spent a lot of time reading up about agents and their response times an was confident that I’d have weeks to finish revising before anyone requested it (ah how naive I was!). I got my first request the same day I sent out my query (via email of course). I ended up working through the night to get my revisions done so I could send it out.

    I ended up with a great agent who saw the book’s potential, but that was sheer luck. My agent and I ended up going through a couple of rounds of revisions and my editor and I are currently going through extensive revisions.

    Like I said, things went well for me, but it was absolute blind luck and I can’t stress enough that waiting is key. Those agents will still be there if you spend an extra couple of weeks on your story. If you only get one chance, it should absolutely be your best!

  2. Shaun,

    Once again, you make me look good. Thanks! It’s really great to have your perspective on here because you’ve gone through it all and have a shiny new book out of the bargain for everybody to ooh-and-aah over.

    And you are indeed lucky that an agent saw the potential there. A lot of agents do. They know when something has promise and how much work it will take when they get enthusiastic about a project.

    That brings up a whole other thing: how well the author is capable of revising. It looks like revision is one of your strengths. Folks could learn a lot from your story.


  3. On a related, but slightly different train of thought, are there any advantages to sending more than one MS to an agent? Some of us write in different styles from funny to folksy. Perhaps one MS may appeal to a particular agent more than the other. If you have, for example, two wonderful picture book MS which are very different, wouldn’t an agent want to see your range of ability? Or is the point of the submission for an agent to see if you have talent?

    Michele Tennant

  4. Michele — Will tackle this in a post. Watch for that soon!

  5. One of the great things about having a critique partner is that your partner can help talk you out of instances of “sender’s remorse” — the fear of “I really should have sent THIS version instead. It’s so much better!” that leads some writers to re-send their manuscripts to agents.

    Ideally, your critique partner will have contributed to and reviewed your revision before it has been sent out — and can tell you when to stop obsessing while you wait for a response.

  6. Beth Hull says:

    Thanks for linking to this from today’s entry; I only started reading your blog in January, and while I’ve cruised around and browsed, I hadn’t read this one yet.

  7. Great advice. It’s kind of like pretending you feel good about yourself on the first bikini day when your legs are pale and you replaced exercising over wintertime with grandma’s cookies and creamy hot cocoa. As a writer, it seems all manuscripts and books can be revised and there is no ending point – that is of course, unless an outgoing, personable, darling agent who looks fantastic in a pink pokadot bikini at any time of year gives the okay.
    Thanks for yet another great tip.

  8. I LOVE this post. I’ve had this question so many times and I’ve never known what to do because I’ve been revising my WIP for two years. I sent it out after it went through a developmental edit, but I keep taking classes and learning more. And getting better. And of course, once you see what you’ve done wrong, you can’t unsee it. And I am so glad to know that I am not the only person who has done this. Twice now. But it was better each time. Thank you for this.

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