I got an email in response to last Friday's mailing, where the writer asked this:
A friend of mine had contact with an agent regarding her manuscript. The agent advised her to revise it before she would consider representing her.
She redrafted three times before the agent told her the manuscript was still not right and she therefore would not represent her after all. I thought this type of scenario was typical but I have been told that the agent was highly unethical. The agent should have only asked for changes AFTER an offer of representation was made.
What would your take on this situation be? Should writers avoid agents who ask for revisions without an offer of representation?
I would NOT expect an agent to offer formal representation (ie: signed contract letter) until the agent has a saleable manuscript. If the MS is clearly saleable right away, then sign the letter right away and do any tidy-up type edits thereafter.
If the MS is not currently saleable, then I think a formal representation offer would be premature. What would that offer actually be saying? In effect: "I, the agent, have the exclusive right to market your work, but I don't think this is marketable." That doesn't help the writer at all.
So yes, I think editorial work prior to representation is fine - but it does depend on good, clear, honest comms at every stage. That means the agent needs to say something like this: "Look, I love your work. I don't think the zombies stuff really works. (And did they really have zombies in medieval Venice?). But look, if you can fix those issues, I'm definitely interested in being your agent. Just realise that I can't promise to market your work until I think your manuscript is ready to go. And though I think those changes probably will render your MS marketable, I can't be certain of anything at this stage. If you'd sooner continue your agent search elsewhere, I'd understand."
It sounds like, in your friend's case, those comms weren't working somewhere along the way ...