Wednesday, December 2, 2015

When an Agent Asks for a Revision, Take Your Time!

Lately, a lot of authors have been sending me revised manuscripts just a few weeks or so after I gave them revision notes. I’m not saying it’s impossible to overhaul a book in that time, but it’s highly improbable. And more often than not, their revisions aren’t thorough enough.

I get it, authors. You’re eager to get published. You’ve worked on your book for years. You’re tired, impatient, tired, excited, TIRED, and so, so close. But being close is not enough. It has to feel right. And when an agent takes the time to give you thoughtful revision notes, your best move is to take this opportunity to make your book as perfect as possible.

Revising is a grueling, intimidating process. It’s where all the actual work happens. Producing the raw material to work with isn’t even half the battle, in my opinion. All the real magic is created when you go back to it and tweak it endlessly to make your story, your characters, and your world as complex and multidimensional as they are in your head.

This is what the revision process should look like:

  • Go back and read your manuscript again. (Yes, the whole thing.) And if you have to, read it again—this time, more critically. Read with your revision suggestions in mind. Make notes if that’s your thing.
  • Think about whether you agree with the suggestions the agent made. (Heads up: you don’t have to, and that’s fine.) Make a list of the ones you do agree with, and make a game plan.
  • Implement the changes you wish to make to your book. Do this systematically and thoroughly—we can tell when authors have just revised their opening chapters and slacked off with the rest of the book.
  • Take as many palette-cleansing breaks from your work as you require for your own sanity. You will need them to be able to maintain your ability to look critically at your own writing.
  • Revise your new material as much as possible. Remember—it hasn’t been scrutinized as much as your other writing, so you need to make sure it’s squeaky clean in every way.
  • Read your new, freshly-revised manuscript through, from top to bottom. Assess how it reads with the changes you made. Make sure everything flows seamlessly, and that it’s impossible to distinguish the revised sections from the older ones.
  • Get a few trusted critique partners to read the new version of your book. Listen to their feedback. See if they have some useful suggestions to incorporate.
  • They have suggestions? Great! Now repeat the entire process again. Repeat it until everyone you know and trust, including your own gut, tells you that your book is absolutely, 100% ready.

If all of this feels too tedious, you’re on the right track. You’ve only got one shot at impressing an agent with your revision, and you don’t want to waste it. Don’t be afraid of taking your time—we want you to take your time! We want to fall desperately in love with your book, and we’re willing to wait for it to be ready. Trust me, when it happens, it will be worth it. And at the end of it all, no matter what happens, you’ll have a much, much better book in your hands. Win win, amirite?


Saba Sulaiman is a literary agent at Talcott Notch Literary Services, a boutique agency located in Milford, CT. She's looking to build her client list in a variety of genres (because that's the beauty of agenting - see website for details.) Captivating storytelling with characters who are smart and weird and wonderful engage in meaningful relationships that evolve over time is what makes her world spin. She's an unapologetic advocate for all things Bollywood and she really, really just loves soup.

Where to find SabaWebsiteTwitter


  1. It's a very useful post. Thanks Saba.

  2. Wise counsel, Saba. When my brand new agent, Rachelle Gardener, told me she loved the opening of my story but that the final three-quarters (a whopping 75,000 words) didn't work, I was in shock. I trusted her, though, and dove in. I changed what I could, but I realized I had to ditch much of the lackluster portion of the story.

    The rewrite/revisions took nine months, since I'm a slow writer and had much to learn about the writing craft. The time I spent was well worth it because I ended up with a story my agent felt was ready to submit. We received two offers, and that story became my debut novel.

    I've contracted three stories since then. My savvy editor's revisions notes aren't always easy to read, but Emily Rodmell of Harlequin Love Inspired knows her stuff. It takes a day or two to process the changes, but once I have, I see why the changes and necessary and how much better they'll make the story, which can be exciting. I take my time on the revisions so I can turn in the strongest stories possible.

    It's not easy to take a story apart and put it back together, but it's well worth it. I want to give readers the best experience I can, and my editor helps me do that.

  3. Saba,
    As before I find your advice pragmatic. And a special thank you to Kelli for her insight.