The latest Little First: feedback from my agent

December 6, 2010

For every newbie author, there are firsts on the road to publication.

There are the Big Firsts, like landing your first book deal and seeing your published book on a store shelf for the first time.

But there are also lots of Little Firsts, firsts we each need to experience before hitting the big ones. Like sharing a chapter with a critique group for the first time. Or finishing a first draft. Completing a first revision. Sending out the first query. Receiving the first offer of representation from a literary agent.

Because writing and publishing a book can be such a long, lonely process, those Little Firsts often feel as triumphant as the big ones. We need the Little Firsts to keep us going, to remind us that the book will, at some point, finally be finished, and that all the work we’re doing is worth it.

Little Firsts deserve celebration, too. (Photo taken in Madagascar.)

So here’s the Little First I’ve anticipated for the last two months: the first feedback from my agent about my full manuscript. Rachelle gave me some helpful advice (a gentle version of “scrap the second chapter, write a new one”) when she offered representation back in May (Check out: What I learned from the query process). But I wanted to go through one more revision before she put the effort into editing it. So she hadn’t read the full manuscript — until now.

Luckily, right after I handed over the manuscript in October, I moved to Washington, D.C. I started a new job, and became overwhelmed with trying to keep up with my social media business, my blog, finding an apartment… and nearly forgot Rachelle had my manuscript. Which kept me from holding my breath during those six weeks or so.

Then one morning, Rachelle messaged me on Twitter saying she was halfway through my manuscript, and she felt like I was talking to her everyday. For a hot second, my heart stopped. That was a good sign, right? She hadn’t actually said she liked the manuscript, but if she felt like I was talking to her, that meant she liked it, right?!

By this time, a good number of people had read my manuscript, or at least parts of it. I’d worked with several critique partners throughout the writing process, and gotten feedback from a handful of beta readers. Most of those readers liked the book. But what what really mattered, at least at this point in the process, was what my agent thought, since she’s the one who will sell it. Unlike most of my generous critiquers, my agent reads manuscripts all the time, and she knows a good one when she sees it. Which means she also knows a bad one when she sees it. Which led me to wonder: On which side of the fence would my work fall?

That’s why I was so happy to read this tweet from Rachelle, to learn she was enjoying my book. When she told me that yes, indeed, my manuscript was the one she didn’t want to put down, I closed the door to my office and jumped around. (True, I swear.) She liked it! She liked it! I felt both relief and a rush of excitement.

A day later, Rachelle e-mailed me her editorial notes. It wasn’t a line-edit of the manuscript, but a bullet-point list of what she liked and what needs improvement, as well as suggestions for how to make those improvements. We talked on the phone for more than an hour, going over ideas about how to polish the manuscript. And that’s when I finally understood why it’s so important for a writer to click with her agent: Because Rachelle really understands where I’m going with this story. She sees the big picture. And rather than simply suggesting what I need to fix, she suggested how to fix it. Which is exactly what I need right now. Her ideas for improvement made complete sense to me.

The problem, now, is finding the time to make those edits. The changes are mostly minor, like giving certain characters more depth and tweaking the story structure. If I were still writing full time, I’d expect this revision to take me two or three weeks. But I’m now working full time as a journalist and part time as a social media coach (and starting to wonder whether that’s a good idea), and I’ve been having a wicked hard time finding even minutes to write.

In my next blog post, I’ll explain my strategy for tackling the revision.

What Little Firsts have you encountered with your most recent project? How’d you feel when you accomplished them?

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16 Replies to “The latest Little First: feedback from my agent”

  • Andrea James says:

    Congratulations Lexi!

    This is a fantastic Little First!

    Please revise as fast as you can — I can’t wait to buy a copy and give it as a gift!!

  • Wendy says:

    So many things about this post made me smile. A very cool thing she felt you were talking to her.

    Rachelle’s encouragement must be a real inspiration for you.

    Congratulations!
    ~ Wendy

  • Amy Sorrells says:

    Her feedback is awesome, isn’t it?!? She doesn’t hold back honesty, and for that I am always so, so grateful. Without honest feedback, I can’t honestly progress. Blessings and writing mercies to you!!!

  • Andi says:

    CONGRATS!!!!! Sound like you might need to become best friends with coffee for a while. 😉

  • Caitlin says:

    Oh yay! How exciting for you! I smiled at the image of you jumping up and down in your office.

    I’m really glad you posted this, because I am in the midst of one of many, many burnout periods I’ve had while working on my manuscript. My issue is that I keep thinking everything has to be PERFECT and LITERARY and HUGELY MEANINGFUL, and it’s wearing me out. Knowing that a good agent can be like a coach of sorts is a very reassuring thought. (Assuming a) I find one and b) s/he’s a good one.)

    • Alexis Grant says:

      Hey Caitlin!

      Have you tried putting the manuscript aside for a while? It’s really hard to do, but I found that when I was forced to take some time away (usually when someone else was reading it), everything seemed clearer when I went back to the ms.

  • Keli Gwyn says:

    I wish you well on your revisions, Alexis. It’s great that you have Rachelle’s input. She really knows her stuff, doesn’t she? Not only is she an AMAZING agent, she’s a gifted editor as well. I’ll be eager to hear that you’ve completed your revisions–despite your very full life–and are out on submission.

  • Lanham True says:

    Just another congrats here. My recent Little Firsts have to do with the process of building my own websites. It’s going very slowly, very frustratingly. Reading about your long journey (no pun intended) on several fronts, though, is really inspirational.

    • Alexis Grant says:

      Oh, building websites is such a learning process! But don’t you feel smart every time you get a string of HTML to work properly?! Such a great example of Little Firsts!

  • Marianne says:

    Yay! I’m so happy for you Alexis. Being at almost exactly the same point in this process I know how hard the waiting is, how thrilling it is to discover that someone who knows what they are talking about actually likes your manuscript, and then the challenge of getting those wonderful notes back and wondering how to fit revisions into an already very packed life. I’m almost finished draft seven, and feel ready to sleep for a week. I can’t wait to read your book!

  • Congratulations on this Little First! Exciting!

    I am in a very similar place: I’ve been working on my MS, also a memoir, for about the same amount of time you have. I just sent it to my agent in November, and just got his feedback on Friday. It was excellent…but daunting. The good news is that he really liked it and believes in the project 100%. The bad news is that he’s encouraging me to take it to a whole new level, which will mean a LOT of work.

    I’ve also had new projects come up that take up most of my time, as well as a new pregnancy, and just have no idea where I’m going to find the time to do all these revisions! I’d love to hear any thought you have on time management as you get into the revision process. Keep us posted!

    • Alexis Grant says:

      Wow — Congrats on all of that! Funny, my next post is on time management… But mostly asking for YOUR advice! It’s not easy, but I think the biggest thing is figuring out our priorities, and making those come first. I’m still working on that.

  • Kim Kircher says:

    Yea! I love firsts of all kinds. Lately I’ve been having a few of my own. On my quest to promote by memoir (recently sold to Behler Publications, yea!), I was recently asked to do a weekly guest post at an adventure blog. Great exposure and a beautiful site to add to my list of clips.

  • Enid Wilson says:

    Congratulations Alex. It’s hard to find time to do edit when you are busy with other writing and work. But I’m sure you will do it well and in time.

    My exciting first is getting an overseas agent to sell the translation right of my books. The sales hasn’t come yet but at least I’m one step closer to the destination.

    Fire and Cross

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