Ask the Agent: Submitting an Improved Version

Lately I’ve received quite a few questions like this:

So, let’s say I submitted a proposal that was requested by an agent. While waiting for the agent to respond, the novel was significantly improved (not just a few spelling errors, but bigger things like tightening, deepening the POV, author affiliations/platform, etc). Would you suggest a re-submit (upfront- telling you it’s a resubmit) or just hold out and let the original proposal be reviewed?

I guess my first thought would be, why you didn’t make all those improvements before you submitted to an agent in the first place? In other words, why did you rush to get your proposal out before it was ready?

Now I know you’re thinking about how you’re never quite sure when your manuscript is “finished.” You’re constantly tweaking, and as you continue learning, you continue improving it. I get that.

However, as soon as you send it to someone else, you’re saying “it’s finished.” So the trick is to avoid sending your proposal out before you feel comfortable saying that.

How can you be sure it’s finished? Here are a couple of ideas.

l If you’ve gone through revisions and done everything you can think of to make it the best it can be, then instead of sending it off to an agent, put it away. Don’t look at your manuscript for at least a couple of months. Then pull it out for a fresh read. You’ll see more clearly if it’s ready, and if it’s not, you’ll have some ideas of what it needs.

l Go beyond your critique group. Find some other writers with whom you can trade manuscripts for honest critique. Print out your manuscript and insert a page at the end of each chapter with a checklist for your reader to give feedback. Also include a page at the end of the manuscript that asks specific questions about the story, the characters, the general interest level, etc. Solicit honest feedback from 3 to 5 people, and take their notes into consideration for your revisions.

l Consider hiring an editor to help you with the process.

Now I know I did an end-around on the original question. You want to know if, in the case that you didn’t do all the things I suggested above, you should resubmit the new version. Sure, go ahead. I don’t think there’s any harm in asking the agent if they would consider this new version. Most will be gracious and replace the old with the new. I’ve certainly never said no to such a request, and I doubt if I ever would.

Just be aware of the bigger issue here… and this is something I’m continually talking with my clients about: There is no rush to get your manuscript submitted. It’s so much more important to get it right than to get it in fast. Agents want to know that you took the appropriate amount of time to polish your manuscript before submission. If you’re asking to submit an improved version, they’ll wonder why you didn’t make it the best it could be to start with.

So, don’t rush your submissions. But if you need to make improvements and resubmit, it’s not the end of the world… just do it.

Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


  1. Kim Kasch on August 27, 2008 at 8:41 PM

    >Unfortunately, I think I’m a futzaholic.

  2. Gloria McQueen Stockstill on August 27, 2008 at 4:32 PM

    >I’m a Jekyl and Hyde type.

    Sometimes I send out things before I’ve let them simmer on the stove long enough. The persons to whom I send them gag and recommend I cook them longer.

    Other times, my perfectionism and doubt about my ability have made me pop things into a drawer. They never find their way into the burgeoning slush piles of editors or agents.

    Which one is worse? I guess the first. But, either way, I don’t get the material published.

    Dual personalities can be such a pain!

  3. Andrew on August 27, 2008 at 3:07 PM

    >Sometimes an agent’s comment in a rejection can open a door that had been overlooked – your comments on my MS, Rachelle, did just that. My critters had given it a thumbs up, but when you said the story didn’t grab you I saw what had to be done (fear not, I won’t re-submit!). The trouble was that my critters KNEW me, and read some things between the lines – you didn’t, and that was the quickest path to learning.

  4. Sheri Boeyink on August 27, 2008 at 1:40 PM

    >Sara 11:19– I’m soooo with you. It’s too bad we had to learn this way, huh? But, we’ll be better for it in the long run, I trust that. God’s time —

    Press on!

  5. Sara on August 27, 2008 at 12:19 PM

    >This is something I wish I’d known a long time ago! I got a request for a full manuscript, my first manuscript that I’d just finished proofreading. Yes, I said proofreading. (This was before I’d been introduced to Self Editing for Fiction Writers.) Anyway, as a brand new writer, I thought I had to submit it fast, and the agent I was working with at the time didn’t set me straight. He didn’t even read it. He sent it out to multiple publishers, and the rejections came pouring in. “Great concept, great idea, but the writing isn’t quite there yet.”

    I don’t blame the agent because I definitely should’ve known it needed work, but I wish he would’ve glanced at it and said, “This is not ready. Try again.” I’ve since worked with a critique group, read some helpful books on self editing, and worked with a professional freelance editor. It’s a completely different manuscript, but I’m wondering if there’s any hope for it after it has been rejected by five publishers.

  6. Courtney Walsh on August 27, 2008 at 12:12 PM

    >Oohhh, this is such good advice, even if it is hard to be patient. (I see I’m in good company with my impatient self.) Put it away for a couple of months – ack! I completely understand why, though it raises (for me) another question. Once you put it away and then read with fresh eyes, make your changes and then submit your query/proposal, etc. do you simply put the thing back in the drawer so you aren’t tempted to keep messing with it?

    I am of the belief that every time I read something I’ve written, I’ll likely want to change something. Perfectionism is a beast, I tell ya!

    Thanks for the great reminder!

    I also have another question. Do you recommend you only query if you have the proposal complete? I realize the manuscript needs to be complete, but what about the proposal?

  7. Camille Cannon (Eide) on August 27, 2008 at 11:21 AM

    >A very wise and lovely agent lady once told me that when that editor invites you to sent your full manuscript, you may be tempted to strike while the iron is hot, but nothing cools that iron quicker than sending a novel that isn’t ready.

    I suspect that if a novel is very well written, it can generate enough heat to strike again, and perhaps enough heat for more than one target.

    I’m keeping this “How To Know It’s Finished Without A Doubt” list on file and I’m going through those steps with my ms now.

    Thank you!

  8. Sheri Boeyink on August 27, 2008 at 11:05 AM

    >Thanks for addressing this question, Rachelle. And everyone’s feedback is always so helpful as well.

    I know this is usually the “kiss of death” to say this, but I’m going to anyway– I’m a newbie to the industry. And, well—I followed some advice that led to submitting before I probably should have. Since the submissions, my involvement with ACFW, crit groups, and writing courses have led to revisions that produced a much tighter novel. SO, I often wondered if I should re-submit.

  9. Katy McKenna on August 27, 2008 at 10:29 AM

    >I’m reminding of a friend of mine who tried to teach herself to bake bread, using a cookbook as a guide. (We were in high school at the time.) She added the ingredients to the bowl exactly as instructed, at the correct temperatures, etc. But then, EVERY time she looked down at the directions, her eyes fell yet again on the single line, “Keep on kneading.”

    As far as I know, my O/C friend is still kneading to this day, no closer to popping that loaf in the oven than she ever was! 🙂 🙂

    I am sure a writer can go too far in the opposite direction, too. Always kneading, but always afraid to bake, because “What if I’ve made a mistake?”

    Finding that balance can be challenging!

  10. Janny on August 27, 2008 at 10:06 AM

    >Present company excepted, of course, but some of us end up in this boat because a publisher or agent takes so frappin’ long to respond to our pitches that by the time they’re ready to read, lots of things may have happened…

    –we’ve actually become better writers and know how to solve problems that, honestly, we didn’t know how to solve six months before…
    –we’ve gotten a new improved job–hence a better platform…
    –we’ve sold some other writing, changing our perspective on potential promotion or marketing…
    –we’ve had a new round of critiques or entered the ms. in a contest where someone gave it absolutely brilliant feedback, based on an insight we may not have had about the story earlier…

    or any one of these in combination with any of the others!

    None of these is an indication that anyone “submitted too soon.” They are, however, an indication that the slowness of the submitting/response machinery itself can often work in such a way as to make an author appear to have done so.

    That being said, I’m a firm believer in “when in doubt, wait it out.” The white-hot heat of “this is ready, this is ready, this has to go out right now!!!!” has more frequently come back to bite me than anything else. So I do my best to tamp it down and look at the work with clear eyes before dropping it in the e-mail box. 🙂

    My take,

  11. Matthew C Jones on August 27, 2008 at 10:03 AM

    >Ditto, Richard. I’m the consummate impatient artist. I want whatever I’m working on to be done and in people’s hands so I can get back their glowing response to my work of genius. Problem is, the moment I drop off a manuscript or click “send” in Outlook, I wince because I just noticed a typo. Or six…

    But, thanks, Rachelle, for helping us understand that agents are nice people who understand and are (usually?) patient with those of us who have a penchant for being a little overzealous.

  12. Karen Witemeyer on August 27, 2008 at 9:59 AM

    >If you have made your manuscript the best it can be, I think it would be better to let it go without sending in a revised edition. Even with discovered inaccuracies like Anne described above, you have plenty of time to refine those during the editorial process. You can go ahead and make the changes in your manuscript without sending a revision to the agent.

    Rachelle hinted at this in her post, but I would think that asking to submit a revised proposal would leave the agent questioning your level of professionalism rather than inpressing her with your conscientiouness.

    The way I deal with this is to submit the most polished manuscript I can, then put it away and start work on the next project. It often takes months to hear back from an editor or agent, so instead of fretting over the completed novel, I focus on starting a new one. This fills the waiting time and eliminates the constant tweaking that makes me second-guess myself.

  13. Richard Mabry on August 27, 2008 at 9:38 AM

    >”Backward, turn backward, o time in thy flight.” I just thought of a great twist to shore up that sagging middle.
    Like virtually every lesson I’ve learned in life, I learned this one the hard way. I’ll admit it…I’m impatient. I want to get the work done and send it on so an editor can offer me the standard “rich and famous contract.” But you’ve been teaching me (and anyone else who will listen) the importance of getting it right before the work is sent out. Thanks for the reminder.

  14. Anne L.B. on August 27, 2008 at 9:28 AM

    >Hmmm. I confess that a struggle I have as a historical (biblical) fiction author is that although I’ve already done thorough research, I continually discover factual details (as well as tightening, POV, etc.) that can enhance the story. While I know I have to allow them to lie until the next novel (or perhaps in cooperation with a publisher’s edits), sometimes a correction is needed to avoid inaccuracy. Although I feel confident that I’ve already put together a picture that is overall accurate, I don’t want known errors to slide. Assuming the tweaks do not significantly affect the story or writing, and no official editing work has begun, are these okay?

    This post seems to be about both proposals and manuscripts, although the answer seemed to address just manuscripts. When is a new and improved proposal okay?

  15. Timothy Fish on August 27, 2008 at 7:35 AM

    >There is a tendency for writers to see some good advice and think, “I should have done that.” It is very possible to tweak a story to death. While I believe there are benefits to seeing a story with fresh eyes, I think we must be careful. When we are writing the whole story is clear in our minds, but it begins to fade there are portions that seem to hang around longer. These sections come to mind when we think back on how it could have been better. Though we may improve these sections, doing so without the clear view of the big picture we had before may cause problems in other places.