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Deal Breakers: Do You Know What Yours Are?


So, guest bloggers will continue tomorrow (haven't they been so fab?), but I thought I'd pop in today and say hi. I'm excited to report that I've finished this round of major rewrites/revisions for Agent Sara! *dances around in a circle* Now it's in her hands. Hopefully she likes the changes--if not, then back to the trenches I go. But for now, I'll hope for the best. :D


Now, what I thought I'd talk about today is this whole idea of rewrites. I know all of us understand that our work will need editing and revision once an agent or publisher takes us on. No matter how perfect we think we've gotten it, there is only so much we can do without a professional, unbiased eye.

That's good news and bad news.

The good news is that as long as your story has strong writing, a great concept, and marketability (piece of cake, right?) then an agent or publisher won't let a few things that need reworking stand in the way of taking you on.

The bad news? You're going to be faced with the issue of what you are and are not willing to change in your book. How emotionally attached are you to your words, characters, concept, etc.?

Before Sara offered me representation, she emailed me a long list of editorial notes about pretty major things she would like me to change. She did this to make sure that before she offered to rep me, that we had the same vision. I really appreciated this heads up because it put the ball in my court--were these things I was willing to change?

I read through the feedback and let it sink in overnight. My initial reaction? I was daunted by the amount of work that would be involved with those changes. It made me wonder if I was capable of changing all those things while still making the rest of the story work. So basically a little wave of maybe-I'm-not-good-enough panic.

Then, as it settled in, I realized--wow, these things will make the book so much stronger and deeper. I would love to be able to reach that level with this story. So, obviously, I agreed to the changes and then went through a whirlwind three weeks of fixing all of it (hopefully successfully.) In the end, I had to cut about 20k words, and no--that's not because I like words and had overwritten--no, I was right at my word count, so I had to cut those 20k and then replace them with completely new stuff. That writing new stuff was fun, but definitely the most difficult part because changing one thing in one part of the book has a domino effect on everything else.

But anyway, here's what it got me to thinking about (and discussing with Sierra Godfrey)--do you have deal breakers? Changes that, if asked, you wouldn't be willing to do. And if you have those things, would you be able to possibly turn down an agent/publisher because your visions didn't align?

For instance, what if Sara had asked me to nix my happy ending and go in the erotica direction instead of erotic romance?  That is something I wouldn't want to compromise because I'm at heart, a romantic. I want to write books with happy endings. It's who I am. And as you know, once you start publishing in one genre, it's not always easy to jump into something else--so you better like what you're writing from the start.

Thankfully, Sara's and my vision aligned and none of the changes she asked for changed the essence of what I wanted my story to be and in fact, made me like my story better. But it's definitely something to keep in mind when you're on the search for an agent/publisher.

Now, it's important not to have a laundry list of deal breakers. After all, this business is about collaborative effort. We aren't the be all end all as the author. However, I also think it's vital to know what you are just not willing to compromise.

So, I'm curious, do you have any deal breakers? Would you consider turning down an offer if someone asked you to change something that just didn't feel right for you or your career?

**Today's Theme Song**
"If I Can't Have You" - Kelly Clarkson
(player in sidebar, take a listen)


Reader Comments (31)

This is one of the reasons I self-published my little novella. I didn't want anyone changing anything about it. ALLMineallMINE!!! Haha. Anyway, yeah, that was for that book. For another novel I just sent to a small publisher, I'm willing to change lots of things on that if they like. :)

September 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMichelle Davidson Argyle

If I ever get to the point where an agent would consider taking me on, I wouldn't have a problem changing things. But of course if said book became Oprah's new fave things might be different the next time around. We can dream, right?

September 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterHeather Hawkinson

Ahhh. That terrifies me! Cutting out some of my precious ideas and all my hard work . . . way too scary. I'm not sure what I'll do if I ever get to that point, but, since my goal is to get to that point, I guess I'll have to deal with it. Thanks for your awesome posts.

September 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterNaTahsha Ford

Interesting subject. I'm not sure I have any deal-breakers as long as the request has a reason behind it that makes sense to me. In my revisions so far--two rounds for an editor and one for my agent on a different project--the reasoning behind the revision requests has made a lot of sense. I get so close to my story it's hard for me to see it objectively, plus their experience in the market far outpaces mine.

September 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

I can't think of many dealbreakers. One I would have to say is the theme, though. Theme is important; it's what started the story in the first place. I don't think I could sign with somebody who wanted me to change the entire tone, theme, and message. Otherwise, I'd be up for just about anything. :)

September 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKM

Nice post! I'm sure everyone encounters it when searching for an agent, but it's probably not something a person working on a their first novel might think of.

I face this situation in a novel I am trying to get published. I wrote a humorous space opera where nobody dies and nothing gruesome happens to anybody. In this genre', that is a hard sell.

I think changes from an agent should be considered a point of negotiation. It also would be a good thing to go into a deep discussion with the agent concerning the reasons for changes. What appears to be a deal breaker could just be bad communications.

September 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterD. D. Tannenbaum

Great advice! When I signed with my agent, she had a section of my book that needed to be changed and was up front with me about it. I like you appreciated the fact that she made the decision all mine.

September 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRenae

Roni, Congrats on finishing your rewriting!

Wow, it's interesting that you're asking about this, as my blog is tackling critiquing this week. Today I have a post up about how to make criticism work for you, and I think this really ties in to what you're saying here.

As you said, there are changes we agree with and changes we don't. And for those changes we don't agree with, does sleeping on it to subdue the panic help? :)

I'd say that changes that mess with the theme of the story would be deal-breakers for me (like you mentioned, changing the ending to change it from a story with love and romance as a theme). I'm fine with (and have done so) changing the emotional arcs and motivations - things that seem integral to the story - but can make the story stronger and the emotions more potent. I'm not okay with changing the big story theme. If the story is about family and love and sacrifice, I wouldn't would to change it to an erotic threesome romp (yes, I've received that suggestion).

September 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJami Gold

I can't think of any dealbreakers off the top of my head. I would carefully consider each suggestion with as open of a mind as I could have when dealing with my baby.

September 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterNicole Zoltack

I have a YA project that has gotten good feedback, but it seems like everyone and their dog wants to see it with more of a paranormal bent. I realize paranormal YA is hot right now, but that's not the book I set out to write. My vision is more Veronica Mars than Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It's one of those situations where everyone's right and no one's wrong, but it's my name on the cover, so I want to be proud of it, so there.

September 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterHello. My name is Elizabeth.

Thanks for doing this post, Roni (and for the shout out).

I do think it's really hard to know what your deal breakers are, especially when you're presented with the tantalizing promise of representation should you agree. Do your deal breakers conflict with your desire for an agent or to be published?

Will you be strong enough to say NO to the agent and kiss representation goodbye, even if you DO know what your deal breaker is?

For me, it's probably theme, like other commenters mentioned. If the agent said "Change it to paranormal or make your antagonist a vampire" then I would probably balk. But would I really? I don't know. I probably would try it first and see if it worked. I'm pretty open to what an agent thinks will work and sell.

This is such an important thing to think about BEFORE you get that call or email from an agent, I think. Thanks, Roni!

September 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSierra Godfrey

It depends on the project. Projects that I fly through, I'm less likely to want to change things. When a story comes that fast, its written the way its supposed to be.
Now, I have three projects that I plink on whenever I feel like and I'd be much more willing to do a major rewrite on one of those.

September 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJolene Perry

I love feedback, and am very willing to change things that I feel will make the book stronger.

But it does take a few days for the criticism to sink in, and at first, I'm very defensive, so I need to figure out why I'm resisting the change: Is it because I'm stubborn? Or do I really feel changing that will change my vision?

It's definitely something to put a lot of thought into, and even more thought into why you might be so resistant to change.

Great post!

September 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTere Kirkland

Great post Roni! Such a nice personal touch!

The moment I really started to think that maybe I might actually be a published author someday was when I got the long email from my editor (who wasn't mine to claim at the time) telling me everything that was wrong with my book.

I immediately said to myself, Holy crap! This dude is actually serious! Its the first step.

As far as deal breakers, I've been lucky enough to agree with nearly everything both my editor and agent have suggested. Only little things that created an obvious plot hole we discussed. But they are very open and so am I. It really is the best way to be.

September 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJulie

I think I'm pretty easy going, esp. with edits. When I was querying, however, an agent who had read my full suggested my book could only be about one topic or the another but not both.

She didn't get what I was trying to do, and I knew we wouldn't be a good fit.

September 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCaroline Starr Rose

I do have a few deal breakers but I'll cross that bridge when I come to it. Right now, I'd like to romanticize the whole process and dream that everything will work out perfectly in the end. ;)

September 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterHannah Kincade

If it was the right thing, then yes, I would go with another agent/publisher. The thought of changing a stories plot is scary, but I'd still be willing!

September 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterOddyoddyo13

I would definitely have to reconsider an agent/editor offer if it changed my vision. But if it improved the story, I would listen closely.
Nancy" rel="nofollow">N. R. Williams, fantasy author

September 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterN. R. Williams

Great post Roni! And way to go on the rewrites.
For my steampunk romance, I sort of was afraid that the pub was going to ask me to change it from first person to third. I was willing to change a lot of other things, but I swore to myself before I submitted it that that was the one thing I wasn't willing to do. I love my h's voice and I think it would have been an entirely different ms if I had to compromise there. Lucky for me, that didn't happen!

September 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterChristine Bell

Thanks for all the comments you guys! So interesting to hear everyone's perspective. :)

September 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRoni @ FictionGroupie

Congrats on finishing the revision! That's an awesome feeling--I seriously cannot wait until your book sells and comes out so I can read some hotness! And I forgot about deal breakers--there wasn't much to consider when I signed with my agent, the revisions were really minor. But I think if any suggestions are going to totally change the direction of the story--rather than deepen it or explore it in a different way--then the other person probably doesn't understand what you're trying to do and is a bad fit--better to have no agent than one who doesn't understand you. Interesting post!

September 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFrankie Diane Mallis

My #1 rule is to not rewrite history. So if an agent wanted me to do a 180 against what really happened in history, that would probably be my deal breaker.

September 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterStephanie Thornton

This is a tough question, especially as I've not been put in that position before. If I could see that the changes the editor suggested were for the better, then yes I'd do it. However, if I strongly believed that what they were asking me to do was wrong, then no I wouldn't - not even for gain publication.

September 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterEllie

When I first saw some of the changes my editor requested I panicked thinking there was no way I could make them successfully. However, when I actually sat down to work on them, they made such sense and I liked the story so much better. Therefore, I don’t think there would be a deal breaker for me – unless I attempted to make the changes and discovered I couldn’t make them work no matter how much I tried.

September 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJane Kennedy Sutton

Simple answer. Nope.
Nothing's a deal breaker for me. First and foremost, writing is a business and I write everything I can with all the emotion from my heart.


September 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAngi Morgan

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