Chip MacGregor

May 26, 2015

Ask the Agent: How long do I have to polish my manuscript after a conference?


I’ve had a bunch of questions come in recently, as people get ready for the conference season…


I have received a request for pages and a synopsis. However, I have also just went to a conference and had my head crammed full of ideas that I want to apply to my novel.  So, how long do I have to polish before I send my work out?  I don’t want to lose momentum or attention, but I so want to make sure that I have done my absolute best work.Questions Book Cover

If you attend a conference and an agent or editor asks to see more of your proposal, you want to get a polished chunk of your work into their hands as quickly as possible – I’d say within 30 days. Longer than that, and you’re running into the problem of the agent moving on. We see dozens of proposals, and it can be hard to remember one (even one that we liked at a conference meeting) for more than a few weeks. I’ve sometimes had emails that started with the words, “You asked to see this at a conference four years ago, but I’ve been polishing and revising my work…” Um, yeah. As though I’m going to remember that project years later. Or as though the market is the same as it was when we talked four years ago. Look, things change. All of us see a lot of projects. If you want to garner the attention of an agent or editor, have your piece ready, show it to them, then follow up fairly quickly after the meeting.

Can you give me your thoughts in regard to how and when authors should use editors vs. writing coaches/mentors as they progress through their writing project?

A mentor or writing coach is normally a long-term relationship, so that person is with you as you think through your stories, write your pieces, and prepare yourself for a career as a writer. An editor is most often someone you hire to make your completed manuscript as polished as it can be.

I’m curious about something: what makes a novel have movie potential? 

Most novels won’t work as movies because they are more complex, go more in depth, and have much more to share than can be captured on film in two hours. That’s why you rarely see a movie and think, “That was as good as the book.” (And it’s why it is a VERY rare thing for an author to be happy with the movie Hollywood made from her book.) But film companies are always looking for a few things in a novel: a straightforward story that touches emotions and has a lead character everyone wants to root for. They’re generally not looking for a bunch of subplots, or ruminations on the human condition, so much as a well-told tale that can be wrapped up in 90 to 120 minutes, and will keep us watching through to the end.

Do you have a question you’ve always wanted to ask a literary agent? Here’s your chance — send me your question, and I’ll take a crack at an answer. And if you’re interested in questions and answers with agents, you might enjoy my new book — How can I find a literary agent? (and 101 other questions asked by writers)

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