Saturday, February 20, 2010

Agents as a Critique Service?

I have had several writers ask me, since opening Greyhaus, why I wouldn't sign an author with a sotry that was sort of OK but might have the potential if the writer had the guidance from the agent? We all know that with time, writers can improve, and certainly with the guidance from someone in the business, that writer can really grow. We see it all the time with writers that have agents. So why not start now.

Although, in a perfect world, it would be great to work with every writer, crafting and molding their stories into that perfect NYT Bestseller, but there is simply not enough time in the day. This is not to say that agents (and yes, I know there are some that might not) don't want to help out, but it just doesn't work that way.

As a writer, I know it is frustrating to receive a rejection and want to grow and learn from the comments that you received from an agent. That, I have to say, shows the potential for growth in a writer, and certainly the professionalism we all want to see. With that said, reviewing all stories 2 and 3 times would beyond swamp any agent with work. For example, just in the last month, I have received over 300 submissions. Now I understand some agents receive that in a week (or sometimes a day) but remember I only look at romance and women's fiction - they look at much more. The point though is that if all 300 of those then turned around and re-submitted revisions... you can see where we are going to with this.

I will tell you though, this is not a hard-fast rule. I have asked writers to revise and re-submit to me in the past and I may do that in the future. When I do this though, it is because I saw something screamingly good in the partial or full I saw the potential. I went back and reviewed my submission log and noted that in all of these cases I requested a partial first, liked what I saw and then requested the full. Only then did I ask for a revised manuscript. The funny thing is that since 2003 when I opened the agency, only 2 writers have ever re-submitted.

But there is a light at the end of the tunnel. A writer yesterday asked if she could submit a second story, even though I rejected the first. When I get a message like this, I scream enthusiastically, YES! This is a chance for someone, if they did their homework, to demonstrate they have grown and learned. When I get a manuscript from someone I have already rejected, I review my notes from the last time and see if the growth has happened. Yes, I also look at the story with a fresh eye. If that growth has happened, I often ask to see much more of the story.

And in answer to some of your questions, yes, I have signed an author in the past for their second project. As to the first, we can now take the time to go back and work on it, now that we all have a stake in the work.

There are also a ton of other ways to learn and grow from agents, even if you haven't signed with one yet. First of all, there are a lot of agents out there blogging away in the effort to teach and guide new writers, The Nelson Agency, BookEnds, Caren Johnson, Janet Reid, and Jessica Jackson, to name a few. Frequently, these agents, answer "Questions from Writers" so ask them! That is why they created the blogs.

Secondly, sit and talk with them at conferences. When we go to conferences, we are there to network with editors about our current writers, but we are also there for the new writers. We run workshops, we sit on agent panels. Go there and ask questions.

Finally, invite them to your groups. In the next couple of months I am off to Wisconsin, North Houston. These groups simply took 2 minutes out of their lives and sent me an email. I fly there, I talk, I teach. Has your group done that?

Can't afford getting the agent to you? Guest blogging and electronic chats are also a great way to make that connection. I have done guest articles for the Atlanta chapter, live Q&A with the RWA Online chapter, and guest blogged for the South Carolina Writer's Workshop and NINC. How did they arrange this? They simply asked.

Look, the point of this is not to say we refuse to help with your stories. We want to and there are ways we can help out.


  1. A positive post, thanks. It was an encouraging read.

    Thanks to blogs and sites of agents and editors, I feel my writing has grown. I am more aware of what is required of me. I do find it encouraging that you would consider a revision if you saw potential in the ms.

  2. Awesome post :)

    What conference in WI are you going to? I'm from that area, and I've been looking for some conferences in the midwest...

  3. Really, WI? Where 7 when? Outstanding.

  4. Dates for any conference are on the News page of