How To Deal With Editorial Feedback From Your Literary Agent

by Margaret Graton

You might hear that agents like authors who are “easy to work with,” but that moniker goes beyond authors who are generally agreeable people. This often has to do with how well the author works with feedback: will the author listen to suggestions and be amenable to edits, or will there be a lot of pushback? Literary agents know the market, and know the editors they may pitch your book to, however, if changes need to be made, it’s up to you to work with the agent and hammer out the details. 

Writing is a very personal endeavor. The words you’ve strung together and the characters you created from your own head, research, and personal experience cannot be written by any other person. So, the dilemma is how to respond when someone suggests cutting scenes, moving sections or whole chapters, and other thorough edits. Removing scenes or characters can often be heart-wrenching-after all, a lot of research and writing time went into your book! 

adults-collaborate-collaboration-1036641Sharing your writing with the world means that every person who approaches your book will feel differently about it. They might hate one character and love another, contrary to what you yourself feel; some might love the plot and others might feel they could’ve written the book better than you! If you are going to seek feedback on your book before sending it to an agent, make sure to limit that feedback to a few people you really trust. Too many opinions will overwhelm you and may not help you (or the book!) at all. The agent or a trusted editor will give you feedback, positive and negative, that you can depend on.

If a developmental suggestion makes you very defensive, take some time and try to pinpoint why. Is what you’ve written personal, even if the reader can’t tell? Is it a detail that you consider one of your finest writing moments? Communicating throughout the feedback process is imperative. Let your agent know how you feel: even if the suggestion still stands, being open and honest will not only improve your book but will also open your mind and improve your working relationship with your agent-something you will hopefully have across many successful books!

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Sometimes, having a “recycle document” of descriptions, characters, or whole chapters that have been removed from works-in-progress can help you feel that the effort wasn’t wasted. The words still exist to be recycled or edited for future works, saving you from the despair of the “wasted time trap” in a big way. I often felt that the words I removed were the best way to describe something, but in later perusals of my recycling document, I found it was not true. Deleting can feel quite defeating, but the recycling helps you grow as an author. Don’t erase your past work-see if you can salvage it for the future, even if it takes another form. 

Be experimental and come up with several routes that scenes might take. Like a film director trying different moods on different takes, tweak your character descriptions and vary how your characters respond in different situations. You’ll end up with lots of material on the cutting room floor-but if you’ve got your recycling document, the work was never wasted! 

After all, you’re not writing a novel only to keep it to yourself-not if you’re querying agents! When the going gets tough and the feedback seems overwhelmingly critical, remember that your agent is on your side and the end product may just surprise you with a swift book deal!