Development

by M Dee
(Los Angeles)

Question: An agent told me my manuscript has "way too much development work" for him to represent me. Where do I begin to make improvements?


Answer It's painful to get this kind of comment, or the kind of comments I'm about to make, so take a deep breath.

Development of a manuscript can mean different things to different people. (There are lots of aspects that can be "developed.")

Also, as you probably can guess, most agents can't afford to take the time to do a well thought out, deeply considered appraisal of a manuscript before rejecting it. Rejections happen very quickly in an agent's office.

So the message you should probably take is simply that this agent feels your manuscript needs a lot of improvement before to would be good enough to publish.

Sometimes, if an agent loves a book and just feels it needs a little tweaking before showing it to an editor, they will make a conditional offer (conditional on you fixing the things that need fixing). In this case, the agent obviously felt too much needed to be fixed and didn't feel it was worth the investment of their time to work with you on the task.

Don't be too hard on the agent it's hard for agents to sell enough books to make a living.

Assuming you are committed to making this manuscript a whole lot better, you will need a much more detailed critique of your book. You want to know exactly what the weaknesses are, so you can make sure you are fixing the right things in the right way and not taking away from the aspects of the manuscript that currently work.

For that, I suggest you join some kind of writer's critique group where you can get the detailed opinions of a number of people - ideally people who are good writers themselves.

A lot of writers associations run these critique groups, either on or off line, and they often don't cost a lot (they are part of your membership in these associations). You might look for an association that specializes in your genre.
You will, of course, have to critique other people's manuscripts at the same time, but that is also a learning opportunity that will help you in your work.

You will find some people/groups who charge hefty fees for critiques (for instance, a few dollars per manuscript page). Sometimes the people doing the critiques have expertise and can really help you. Others are less helpful. Either way, you still only get one person's opinion, which is why I recommend joining a group where you get feedback from a number of knowledgeable people.

If one person says something is a problem, you have to use your own judgment whether to accept or reject the criticism. If six people say the same thing is a problem, they're probably right.

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