Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Rewrite for Literary Agent

(following requests for manuscript!)

[Here's the link to my *top ten Amazon best-seller* book (grab a copy for just £2.99!):]

Yipsville! After a few more submission rejections (the Felicity Bryan one being printed without even addressing me by name, on a ‘compliment’ slip—ha!), more requests for the whole shebang!

Two more literary agents were interested enough to want to read the full MS of If Everyone Knew Every Plant and Tree so, up I chugged on the confidence roller coaster.

I found myself in the peculiar and lucky position of two agents giving both positive feedback and much valued suggestions for changes at the same time. Huge learning leap: assessing which content I was attached to versus content I’d be willing to revise/let go and coming to terms with the realisation that some of the advice was conflicting.

Agent numero uno questioned the inclusion of a ‘horticultural’ theme: ‘With the objective of Oliver being relatable to the target audience, I’m afraid I did question his interest in horticulture.’ She advised me that her problem was that we don’t actually see that much of it going on. She did say, ‘I know the horticulture element gives you this brilliant title, but I’m afraid I do worry about it’.

Agent numero due had suggested I add in more gardening scenes, so that seemed to be a consensus—make sure this theme runs throughout. Wonderful to have two excellent literary agents offering similar suggestions.

Uno asked that I work exclusively with her—‘If you want to revise the novel along the lines I have suggested, then, I might suggest you pull it from other agents now.’
She assured me that, although there was no guarantee of being taken on, it meant she was ‘very interested.’ She hoped I understood and explained that there were novels with her title and her opening line out there, for which she was given no credit as the writer had gone with another agent. I agreed to put on hold any communications with other agents and take some time to make revisions, after which she would decide the next move. Exciting times, full of promise...

I rocked back and forwards for weeks, assimilating her notes, mulling it all over, planning mentally how to implement changes. Some were smallish like the proposal for the MC to show anger derived from his ill little sister getting so much attention. One of them was a pretty big ask—to change the age of the protagonist from twelve to fifteen, which was hilarious because (whether she believed me or not I don’t know) I had already changed him from fifteen to twelve, following the advice of another professional! I more or less took on board everything she suggested, but asked, ‘Now that I'm making Oliver fifteen again, would it be okay with you, in the first instance, if I kept the horticultural angle?’  

The rewrite was no mean feat. Changing the age of any character affects everything: language, predilections, relationships, emotions etc. You have to more or less start again.

After several weeks tackling the editing, I sent it, with racing heart, to Uno.

Two months later, I heard back.

She said she had read half of it, and didn’t think it was, ‘working quite right.’ I had been so dying for her to read the new version. I can't pretend I wasn't upset that there was not one positive comment in her rejection email, though she did thank me and apologise for giving me bad news. Almost six months had elapsed between my initial submission and the email turning me down. And I don’t imagine that’s out of the ordinary. Of the three sentences she wrote in the body of the email, one of them was, ‘I’m afraid I still don’t really think the horticulture aspect is going to be interesting enough to the audience, also, I’m afraid I found Joe a bit whingey in this version.’ Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that she’d recommended I ditch the MC’s name as she thought Oliver/Ollie was too middle class.

I truly do appreciate the job of literary agents, though, and I am most grateful for the time and valuable advice form Uno. And I do quite get that rejecting writers, even ones with whom they’ve helped to make changes, is par for the course. But my troubled main character, whom I’d grown to know and care about over the years, she casually described as ‘whingey’... Ouch of ouches. Say it as it is, I suppose. Thick skin needed. I desperately hope he's not whingey, but I have to accept that a person who absolutely knows what they're talking about deemed him to be, so there's bound to be some truth in it.

I’d say I was a pretty tough person who certainly doesn’t expect to be treated with kid gloves, but, if I were an agent, after a six-month bout of communication with a writer, I would hope I would not add insult to injury, especially at the byebye stage, by slagging off the MC (see how personally I took it—well, after all it’s ME really she’s slagging off, since I wrote the bloody thing. Oooh, there’s me whingeing now!). I just wonder how she thought (if she thought) I’d react to that—give up maybe? I very nearly did. She managed to get to my soft bit inside that got all squidged up and stabbed and the roller coaster more or less buckled and flung me into nettle world. But again, I do (half) get it. And that experience pushed me to 'grow' as a writer in a commercial world.

Enter Agent Due, stage left. No, she didn’t snap me up, but wrote a candid and caring email. I agonised over why I hadn’t found myself able to drop the plant/flower/tree theme, telling myself that perhaps that was the true reason Uno hadn’t taken me on and please God I wasn't being precious about it, was I?? But probably, I decided, it was my reluctance to play ball, Uno-style, that I wasn't signed up. After all, she had said, ‘…if you want to revise the novel along the lines I have suggested...’

What Due wrote is, I hope, enlightening for any would-be-author at the stage of working alongside a literary agent.

Dear Julia

I think with changes you have to remember that this is your book – if something feels wrong, don’t think that just because someone else suggests something that it’s automatically right; we’re just another opinion (hopefully informed by the market, but ultimately still just a person with personal tastes). Books about children dealing with [themes] are out there so you need to make yours stand out – the most convincing way to do this is the voice of the main character through your writing, and if Oliver’s plant and tree interest gives him something unique then my advice would be to keep it.

All best
Agent Due

Anyway, I do truly appreciate the invaluable assessment and suggestions from both the above agents. In effect, they spent precious time on my novel with no reward, so for that, I am grateful.

Would love to hear other stories of being led up the garden path only to be flung into nettles. Fly farther off, wretched horticultural theme…!

[Here's the link to my *top ten Amazon best-seller* book (grab a copy for just £2.99!):]

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