I was sitting at my computer one day when my email dinged—that glorious and terrifying sound for a querying writer. It’s infinitely more terrifying when you have fulls out to agents. When I saw the name of the sender, my heart dropped. It was from an agent that had my full. I tentatively clicked on the email expecting a couple line response including a thanks but I didn’t connect enough to take this on. To my surprise I saw a decent sized paragraph ending with the phrase “I’ve decided to pass, but I’d be happy to take a second look if you decide to revise.”
And here I was. It wasn’t a no, but it wasn’t the happy yes either. I was stuck in limbo. The gift and curse of a revise and resubmit. If I did it well it could be that yes, but if I screwed it up, didn’t do enough, or took it in a direction the agent didn’t like, it’d be a no. I didn’t know if I could handle that kind of pressure.
What did I do?
I reread the paragraph again. There was a line of notes about what the agent liked and many more about what wasn’t quite working. But in reading it again, I started to get angry. It didn’t seem like this agent even read my whole manuscript let alone really liked it. Why even ask for a revision? I stewed for a bit then messaged one of my critique partners with HELP WHAT DO I DO???
After what seemed like an eternity, my CP got back to me. I sent her a copy of the email from the agent. After reading it, she said, wow it sounds like this agent really likes your work and gave you a lot of great notes.
Wait, what? Were we even reading the same email? I expressed my concerns to my CP, and she told me to read the email again.
So I did. I read it about five more times. And the more I read it, the clearer it became. This agent did really like the story, and despite my original inference, it did appear she’d read the whole manuscript with interest in the concept and had passion for the story. But if I hadn’t taken a step back and gotten some additional advice, I might never have seen that. I might have just stewed in anger forever.
That said, there were still some items there that I agreed with and others I didn’t, most of the feedback though I didn’t know how to address. One of the comments was one I’d even seen before from two other agents, but I still didn’t know how to tackle it. So instead of responding that day to the agent, I sat on it. I periodically went back and read what the agent said expecting a great epiphany to hit me, but it didn’t.
I put the email aside, but in the back of my mind were some changes I had previously wanted to make running through my head. They didn’t really address the issues the agent raised, but it would make the story a bit better. And on top of that, was one piece of important information about my main character that I’d always known but hadn’t ever mentioned because I didn’t know how to make it mean anything to the story.
All this information was swirling around in my brain and bugging me. And then that evening when I sat down to watch TV something clicked. That piece of information about my main character I’d always known but not included, I finally knew how to make it matter. Even better, the key to making it mean something was rooted in the feedback I’d gotten from the agent. I’d had this comment twice before and not known what to do with it, but something in the way this agent had written it made it finally click in my brain. I FINALLY understood the problem and knew how to fix.
Once I’d made the big epiphany, the wheels began turning and the ideas were flowing. I took lots and lots of notes. When I felt like I had a clear path forward, I opened a reply email to the agent. I thanked her again for her time, that I appreciated her honest feedback, and let her know that I’d be interested in making some edits.
And then I hit send.
It wasn’t another minute before the panic set in. What was I thinking? I had no idea what I was doing. What if the agent hated the direction I was taking the manuscript? I hadn’t told her what I was thinking, just that I’d like to opportunity to edit with her feedback in mind. What if I did all this work and the answer was no?
After many frantic messages to my CPs and their reassuring words that I was doing the right thing because I had a direction and a passion to make this manuscript better, I finally calmed down a little bit. But I still had this fear in the back of my mind. A fear of doing what I needed to do, what was right for the story.
This fear was crippling me. There was so much riding on this. If I did this right, I could come out with an agent. If I didn’t, it was back to the dreaded query trenches. As my brain reeled I had to ask myself an important question. Was I doing this just to get an agent or because I wanted to make my manuscript better?
The answer was first and foremost that I wanted to make the manuscript better. Sure I wanted an agent, but whether that happened or not, I believed in this manuscript and the new direction I had planned up.
In order to move forward, I put the crippling thoughts aside (as best as I could), and threw myself head first into the edits. Sure the doubt crept in from time to time, but every time it did, I went back to that important question and my answer: this was about improving my manuscript, making it the best it could be.
And when I finally finished the edits and submitted them back to the agent, I was proud of the manuscript. I was proud of what it was and even more proud of what I accomplished. And whether that agent decides to take it on or not, I had the best piece of work I could offer. And that was something to smile about.