Test Submissions

Submit, Then Revise

At our spring conference, Jen Rofe, literary agent at Andrea Brown Literary spoke about sending out manuscripts.

The one thing that surprised me was her attitude toward submission and revision. Rofe said she usually sends out a mss to about five editors. Then, depending on the feedback, she’ll often ask the writer to revise. She considers those “test submissions.”

Re-reading some of Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook by Donald Maass, I noticed the same thing. He said that Parnall Hall had to revise a mystery:

A test round of submissions suggested that the points of view in A Clue for the Puzzle Lady were improperly weighted. Hall revised, and the second round hit the jackpot. p. 47

Interesting. If literary agents regularly use this approach of test submissions then revision, it’s something to think about.


Next time you send out your children’s picture book manuscript or your novel manuscript, target five publishers. If you get feedback, especially if it’s consistent in what it says, then revise before you send to five other editors.

Individual Critiques v. Group Critique

What if you don’t get personal letters from editors? I recently sent a picture book manuscript to about five different people and, without consultation with each other, four of the five mentioned a few items that needed work. Now, personally, I loved the fifth person’s comments! If she was an acquiring editor and bought the mss as is, no problem. But she’s not.

So, I have an overwhelmingly consistent opinion that something needs work.

Usually, I send to a critique group and everyone there sees the mss and it’s a group discussion. That always feels like a single opinion to me; here, I sent it privately and it’s five opinions. If those five had been in a group, the discussion may have progressed the same, but I would not be as likely to pay attention.

Will I always ask for separate critiques now? No. The group discussions are valuable. But I’m definitely adding this variation to my arsenal of revision strategies.

And yes, I’m working on revising the picture book manuscript, trying to do at least some of what these individuals asked for, while secretly hoping to find an editor who agreed with the other person!

2 responses to “Test Submissions”

  1. The process described by Jen Rofe is almost exactly what happened with one of my novels. My agent wound up sending it to seven editors. We evaluated the feedback and came up with a plan to address the very similar concerns of the various editors. I think it means another 20,000 words of new material, but I’m looking forward to the process. I’m able to show more of my characters interacting, and I’ve come up with a “darkest moment” that ups the personal stakes for my character considerably.

  2. It’s probably a more wide-spread practice than we know. Those without agents could use this strategy; it’s just helpful to have someone else say, “Let’s pause her and do so and so.”