Pub Rants

Do Agents Make Clients Revise?

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STATUS: Snowing again in Denver. I think I’m tired of snow (and I thought I would never say that). By the way folks, I said SOME agents keep blacklists. I didn’t say I keep one. And if you’d rather I not be honest with you… then I certainly don’t have to share what is the truth in this biz. But personally, I’d rather let you know the inside scoop—even if it’s not shiny.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? ALL STAR by Smashmouth

Do agents ask their new clients to revise?

In short, yes.

Here’s how it works for me (and I certainly don’t speak for all agents). I don’t sign a client on unless I feel comfortable with sending out the manuscript as is. Why? Because if the client decides not to revise, and that’s his/her choice, I have to be game to submit it regardless.

Now lucky for me, every single one of my clients has been delighted to get feedback. And when I send my critique electronically in track changes, I say, “take what works and ignore what doesn’t.”

Ultimately it’s their story so a revision has to feel right.

This is why I often pass, with regret, on manuscripts that I like a lot but just need too much work before I could be comfortable sending it out. Now often I’ll write a detailed letter to those writers if I’ve read the full in an attempt to give helpful feedback. Often I’ll give them the option to resubmit if they do choose to revise. The manuscript has to be pretty close or in my mind, easily fixed via a large revision.

When I send my revision suggestions to my authors, my comments aren’t always 100% right but what they discover is that I usually put my thumb on what is problematic—even if my proposed solution isn’t quite right. It just gets the author thinking and analyzing and often he/she will come up with a new solution that makes sense to them and the manuscript.

They revise based on that. Now they always feel obligated to explain their reasoning for not making my suggested change, which mostly amuses me because they don’t have to. It’s their novel; their word goes.

43 Responses

  1. Kimber An said:

    I think it’s good of you not to keep a blacklist, because most writer fumbles are due to inexperience. Not malicious intent.

    Miss Snark brought up a similar issue – a writer signing with another agent after the first agent had spent months advising her on revisions. Sure, I can see how this would be a nasty thing for a writer to do, but I can also see how a newbie would do it without realizing she was doing anything wrong.

    I hope agents are clear about their intentions and expectations about such things. And I hope writers appreciate any help they receive. In this instance, it’s important to know we’re supposed to keep agents informed when other agents are also looking at our work.

  2. Maprilynne said:

    I think it is very reseonable to keep a blacklist as long as you are selective about who goes on it. I don’t care how great a writer’s next book may be, if they sent me (assuming I was an agent, hehe) a ten page letter telling me how awful I was and how I ruined their life and that I was missing out on the next Harry Potter I would know that I do NOT want to work with this person.

    Having a blacklist that people go on for, say, not using the “right” font is ridiculous, but I think a reasonable blacklist is perfectly acceptable.


  3. farrout said:

    Manuscripts are much like teens. Teens believe they’ve all the answers, and resent suggestions from parents. But! There’s always that favorite teacher, the rowdy uncle, or the hip aunt. Their suggestions are worth considering.

    And boy howdy, if you suggested improvements to my manuscript, Aunty Kristin, i’d sure consider revising given your “hip” in with the publishing industry!

  4. kik said:

    …okay, I got the picture after reading one of your previous post (things you should never do); that sound reasonable enough to be added to one’s blacklist.

    First time at your blog, taking it all in (very informative).

  5. B.E. Sanderson said:

    I wouldn’t mind if you did keep a ‘blacklist’. The thing for us authors to remember is to remain rational enough NOT to end up on any list like that. If you’re reasonable and rational, then you wouldn’t really have to worry about anybody’s blacklist floating around.

  6. Douglas said:

    When asking for revisions do you find that you more frequently request a widespread uplift in the writing quality or want a gap in otherwise superb writing filled?

  7. Kasey Mackenzie said:

    I have absolutely no problems with a “blacklist.” I mean, really. Most everyone has a list in the back of their mind of people they do and do not prefer to work with. You know, the egomaniacal jerk in the corner office you avoid whenever possible, the nosy biotch who can’t keep her fingers out of everyone else’s business, etc. I think it’s only natural for agents and publishers to do the same thing. And I’m sure that the GOOD agents and publishers only put the really rude people who will NEVER get a clue on those lists, not the simply inexperienced. At least, I like to think so! =)

  8. Anonymous said:

    My agent asked for revisions with “an eye toward representation.” The revisions were all plot-based, which are much easier to fix than a major character flaw, for example. She also said my manuscript was very polished. (I’d heard that from other agents, too.) So the quality was there, I believe. The storyline just needed some adjustments.

    And yes, I did sign with her. (But the day I sent her the revised ms, I also sent out a batch of queries in case she didn’t offer representation.)

  9. Kalen Hughes said:

    I find it funny that there’s such a kafuffle about a blacklist. Almost all businesses have them (even if it’s not a written list, just a mental one). I sure kept one when I was looking for an agent.

    The agent who asked for revisions and then responded to my resubmission with a form letter saying they don’t handle my subgenre? BLACKLIST.

    The agent who nearly got a friend sued by her publisher? BLACKLIST.

    There’s nothing wrong with knowing who you don’t want to ever work with.

  10. Bernita said:

    Considering how screwy some people can be, I would think it wise for agents to keep not only a blacklist but a correspondence file pertaining to aforesaid screwballs – for their own protection.

  11. megan said:

    When asking for revisions do you find that you more frequently request a widespread uplift in the writing quality or want a gap in otherwise superb writing filled?

    Douglas, as someone who did her post-signing revisions for Kristin recently, I can tell you how it worked for me, and maybe that will help answer your question. Kristin’s main suggestion for my novel was to flesh out certain aspects of the plot and character interactions, mainly to make the climax and resolution stronger. I agreed with her, so the biggest changes I made were adding a couple of new scenes, and adding to and extending existing scenes. There was a little line editing, but most of the words that were already there stayed the same. So I guess that would be more the second of your options rather than the first, though I generally don’t go around declaring that my writing is “superb”. 😉

  12. Heather Janes said:

    Honest mistakes are one thing. Nasty emails attacking agents for polite rejections are quite another, and being new to the industry is not an excuse.

    People talk; I’d imagine agents have shared horror stories of nasty rejection responses and the like. Blacklist or not, new or not, people should know better when it comes to being outright rude.

  13. Jana DeLeon said:

    I sometimes hear other writers say “there’s no way I’d make revisions for my agent.” I never understood this sentiment.

    Kristin is absolute hell on editing and her revisions will pull the last breath of creativity out of you, but when you’re done – well, a lot of times her clients go straight to copy-edit. How fantastic is that?

  14. Anonymous said:

    Wow yet again. Every time I swing in here after a chorus of “We don’t kiss Kristin’s ass!” I am stunned to see it going on yet again, in blatant fashion.

    “It’s okay if you keep a black list, Kristin, I wouldn’t blame you for it…”

    Ass kissing losers. Blacklisting people is a fundamentally un-American practice, and has been castigated since Tailgunner Joe did his thing during the Red Scare. There is no need for keeping a “black list”- how about just reading every letter you receive, and tossing the non-productive negative ones? Or is that wasting too much valuable agent-time? Yeah, I get it… this way you wouldn’t have to spend time opening letters you wouldn’t possibly wish to read. That’d save a bunch of time.

    Quit kissing her ass, she’s not going to sell any of your books, anyway.


  15. Anonymous said:

    It is funny that people are upset about this black list nonsense. I have an agent blacklist, and feel no qualms about keeping it.

    Any agent who failed to respond with my SASE is on it.

    Any agent who reps non-writers is on it (porn stars, actors, business types).

    Any agent who reps romance or erotic literature is on it, because these aren’t real genres.

  16. Anonymous said:

    As a writer who ordinarily writes with pen and paper rather than word processor, I have a different view of people asking me to make revisions to my work. When one puts so much work into crafting prose on the handwritten page (erasing, editing, re-writing), one tends to have a very mother wolf attitude towards the finished product. Especially when the work has been transcribed to manuscipt format via typewriter. Most agents are very well informed as to the business side of the publishing universe, but are ill qualified to judge the merits of true literature.

    True, my reluctance to learn the latest tools contributes to my lamentable pace of one novel every five or six years. That said, you can be sure that every manuscript I send to my publisher is ready for publication with very few changes, and I have never been asked to make any revisions.


  17. Douglas said:

    Is it just me or are other seeing alot more Blacklist commentary in this Revisions thread that you’d expect given that there is a perfectly good post from the other day to attach that too?

    Blogger bug?

  18. Anonymous said:

    No one wants to let go of the blacklist thing because whether they like Kristin or not, it has taken hold of their imaginations. The concept is electric, and has enough watts that they just can’t let go of the wires.

    If you look at the second posting, torrey meeks starts out speaking of the revision topic, then stumbles back into the blacklist topic with all the grace of a drunken moose. Kimber an trips right along with her, and BANG we’re back on the old topic.

    Like I said, like Kristin or not, the idea of the blacklist horrifies writers, even the ones who are too obstinate to admit it.

  19. Anonymous said:

    Even better, Douglas, is this- Ms. Nelson has unwittingly admitted that she has a blacklist (or whatever euphamism she uses to feel better about it), and all these blog forumites are now biting their lips, wondering if they’ve said anything to disturb her in the past. The unpublished ones who post their names and websites have to be in a special tizzy, because they now realize that they are in danger of the blacklist.

    It’s why I trust the anonymous posters more than those happy to blast their identities about with all the subtlety of a shotgun blast… there is honesty in anonymity, none of this playing at integrity. Without a doubt, were Ms. Nelson’s anonymous detractors to be identified they would all summarily be filed onto the blacklist.

    The frightening implication, of course, is that agents may possibly share their blacklists. Wasn’t Ms. Nelson proud of calling herself and fellow agent cronies the “Agent Cartel”? Sleep tight.

  20. Anonymous said:

    “anonymASS”! That’s great! I get it! “Anonymous” is usually spelled with “ous”, and you replaced that with “ass”. Whew, that’s quite a burn. Very clever! Is your book full of clever stuff like that? I’d imagine it’d be selling like hotcakes, with high level wit like that percolating from the pages.


    AnonymASS. (Really, I can’t get over how funny that is.)

    Oh, that’s right… you aren’t allowed an opinion unless you’re another pathetic blogger identity! I retract anything I have ever said as an anonymous person, and would coax and cajole my fellow anonymous posters to do likewise (if only I knew who those pesky devils were!).

  21. Anonymous said:

    I would imagine that there are writers who show themselves to be p.i.t.a. beforehand.
    Who wants to work with such a person? If they’re difficult before, what’s it going to be like when it gets tough?

  22. joanr16 said:

    Wow, there are some bitter, childish morons posting comments today. Do you unsigned wusses conduct yourselves similarly in public? Key cars in parking lots when you disagree with the bumper sticker? Drive by a coworker’s home at midnight and hurl half-full beer cans through the picture window?

    A string of insults is not an “opinion,” and only a socially-maladjusted jerk would mistake the two. If you don’t like Kristin’s blog, do the mature thing for once and stay away.

  23. Miss Guzzums said:

    Hey anonymous, if you really wanted to prove that you’re chock full of balls and that you’re “raw and honest,” then why don’t you act like such a jerk under a profile? That way you’d seem legitimate. Being anonymous only makes you seem like a coward. Don’t go around insulting people unless you’re willing to show your face.

    –The bratty teen.

  24. BuffySquirrel said:

    Just as courage is about how we deal with fear, so professionalism is about how we deal with setbacks, unfairness, rejection, rudeness, other people’s unprofessionalism, etc. etc. If professionalism is seen as ass-kissing or dishonesty by some, so be it. They are free to be as unprofessional as they wish–anonymously, of course, which keeps them safe from the consequences they profess not to fear.

  25. katiesandwich said:


    As far as revisions go, anon from 2:10 said he/she finds agent revisions more difficult to deal with because he writes with pen and paper. I write with pen and paper, then type it into my computer, too. But I don’t think I would mind any suggested revisions, because I’m one of the few writers whose favorite part of the process is revision. I can understand the sentiment, though.

  26. Kanani said:

    Now often I’ll write a detailed letter to those writers if I’ve read the full in an attempt to give helpful feedback.

    That’s actually very nice. It’s not expected, but I can see if something is very close to what you’d find acceptable, and also profitable for you, that it would be advantageous to do it. Besides, there’s a certain validation a writer would get just knowing an agent took the time to read it and comment.

    However, I’ve known a few writers who get in a fluff over being asked to make changes. I can imagine that some might follow your advice, while others would disagree and move on.

  27. Anonymous said:


    I didn’t notice the other anonymous posters using too many insults, just differing opinions, so I’ll do the lightning rod thing.

    Jana Deleon- congratulations on selling your romance book. I checked on B&N’s website, and saw a whole five reviews for it. I’m willing to bet most were by your agent and family members, since they read like advertisements. Again, congrats.

    joanr16, miss guzzums and buffysquirrel… people with handles like this are making fun of the anonymous posters? You are officially ass clowns, and among the lame blog idents the other anonymous poster mentioned.

    What a wonderful world this is, filled with such great people who can’t stand the thought of someone else having a difference of opinion and still being able and allowed to express it. You want to line up and lay down, accepting every word a business person throws out? Fine. You’re retarded.

    I’m sure that Nelson keeps a black list, though she probably calls it the Twisted Souls list, or some other thing so she can say, “I don’t have a black list!” I’m sure she constantly rants about being a powerful agent from Denver because she’s self conscious that she’s not in New York (you know, WHERE THE PUBLISHING COMPANIES AND ALL THE BIG AGENCIES ARE). Every business person in the world says that his/her company is the best in the world, because that’s the nature of business; if they don’t think and speak that way, they dry up and blow away.

    Nelson’s a business person, you complete and utter morons, not a frigging saint. Please realize that the people with IQs over sixty read this blog BECAUSE she’s a business person and has some good stuff to say about the industry— write her love notes and e-mail them directly to her, if you think she’ll help your career.

    You want a name? Call me Fiendish Lurker. Piss off.

  28. BuffySquirrel said:

    Lol, “fiendish” wasn’t the word that came to mind. As for the nick, I suppose that if you don’t want to admit that you have no clue as to its origins, your only recourse is to name it lame :).

  29. Jana DeLeon said:

    anon – Thanks so much for your congrats. I can only assume this negative attitude of yours comes from not being able to write even a grocery list. With such a chip on your shoulder, it’s amazing you can even lift your arms to type.

    So sad to be you. It must be a very painful and depressing life.

  30. Anonymous said:

    Actually, I wrote a grocery list for Valentine’s Day and lucky me! It was picked up by Leisure Books! It’s the torrid tale of an affair between a stalk of celery and a tomato, who are being kept apart by an evil produce clerk… how can these two vegetables make their forbidden love bloom, in a world that only sees them as ingredients?

  31. Miss Guzzums said:

    Actually anon 9:18, I do have an IQ over 60, and that’s why I see so many faults in your post. If you had actually reread the comments that you’re pretending were written by some other anonymous poster (which we all know is still you), you would’ve noticed that you called everyone “ass kissing losers.” Huh. That’s not an insult, right? And it’s completely not immature.

    *rolls eyes*

    And it was the first moron (in other words, you) who is intolerant about the opinions of others. It seems completely unthinkable that anyone could say anything nice and mean it. No. It *has* to be ass kissing.


    And if it’s so lame to have a “pathetic blogger account” then why are you even on this site? If you hate Kristin so much, then why do you keep reading it? Because you’re a miserable creep.

    And since it’s not realistic of you to claim that you just read literary agent blogs for the fun of it. I’m guessing you’re trying to break into the industry yourself. Judging by the way you’re so hypersensitive about blacklists and good comments, I’m gonna take a wild guess and say that you’ve been rejected countless times.

    So I don’t really know how you get off trying to insult someone else’s book when yours is probably still busy getting rejected over and over again.

    –Fifteen, not stupid

  32. Anonymous said:

    Miss Guzzums,

    It is good to see that high school has failed you. You are a credit to your class. Concentrate on reading comprehension a little more, and go back to read every post you quote. You will find no mention of hating Ms. Nelson; there is only contempt for those who find her faultless out of pure, blind, misplaced loyalty.

    I love it when folks like you jump on folks like me. A negative opinion is not a membership in the Nazi Party, dear girl. It is only an opinion. Funny, though, that you are willing to leap at my throat without actually paying attention to what was said.

    And if you are fifteen and not stupid, shouldn’t you be in school right now? Or are you wasting some teacher’s time, crouched in the back of the room furiously thumb-typing on your cell phone when you should be learning? I’d revisit your test results to check on that IQ score, Miss Guzzums.

    Oh, and I did not write every anonymous posting. There are others with brains enough to question what is said and to dislike romance novels.


  33. Anonymous said:

    Also, Guzzums, who is to say that I haven’t been published? Many opinions masked by anonymity may be detrimental to one’s career.


  34. Miss Guzzums said:

    The reason I am not in school right now is because my school day already ended, genius. Winter break, see?

    No, you have not been published, and no one’s buying it. You’re miserable and bitter (and probably not married).

    And if you can’t determine the difference between a “negative opinion” and as insult. . .well, then you should take *this* negative opinion just fine:

    You’re a jackass.

    Feel free to reply, but won’t bother to read it.

  35. Anonymous said:

    “Please don’t feed the bears.”

    That sign is all over our nation’s parks. As rules of thumb go, it works online too. Let these negative nellies spout off all they want, and eventually they’ll go away. Respond to them, and you sound like a jackass too. 😉


  36. Termagant 2 said:

    Like everything else, fun is better in moderation. I’ve put whomever this is on “ignore”. I’ve got better things to do…

    And I think I was the one who started this kerfuffle by mildly stating that we’ve been told for years that nobody keeps blacklists.

    So, some agents do. Big deal. Possibly some agents don’t. Equally–big deal. It doesn’t interest me one way or the other, ’cause I’ve got publishers I will NEVER send anything to, no matter how Rich & Famous I someday might get (“Muppets Take Manhattan: ‘Get out the standard rich and famous contract!'”)

    That’s my blacklist, and frankly, it’s the only one that concerns me.