It’s funny, we writers always find time to talk about
revisions but almost never talk about the revise and resubmit. I think we don’t
talk about it because there’s a lot of pressure to keep your pre publication
journey off the internet. To be clear, I understand why there is a push to keep
private parts of your pre-pub journey off the internet. The internet is forever
the way the bog of eternal stench never smells like daisies. But I also think
part of the reason we writers don’t talk about the R and R is that some of the
feels that come with it might sound ungrateful.
This is not the case. There are two warring feelings in an R&R: dissapointment that it wasn't already good enough (you know, the rejection), and hope that the writer can do enough to turn the R&R into something bigger). Often the disappointment is the part that shows more clearly to others.
The Revise and Resubmit:
When a writer first gets a revise and resubmit, the first
thing they can process is that it’s a no. The rejection part is (usually)
really clear, but then the comments go on. This means—for a typical Revise and
Resubmit—all the words that come after the part that says no, are colored with
the Rejection Glasses (you know, the glasses worn by that jerk of a voice who
says things like “you’re no good” or “you idiot, why did you send that
manuscript before it was ready” or my personal favorite "What made you think you had the talent?").
Now, I’ve gotten strangely long and personal rejections in
the past, so there is the feeling of “IT’S OVER, and “THIS AGENT/EDITOR DOESN’T
LOVE ME,” and “MAY I CRY INTO MY ICECREAM NOW???” Because, really? rejection
sucks. There’s no amount of sugar coating that helps. Rejection hurts. Sometimes,
it doesn’t phase us, sometimes it was The One (only now it clearly isn’t
because The One wouldn’t reject us, so how could our judgment be so off??), but
it hurts. There’s a sting. All rejection hurts, even the ones we’ve told
ourselves are for things we didn’t really want.
So the writer gets a rejection that goes on to talk about
the book a bit. Sometimes this is really short. Sometimes, it’s really long.
Either way, there will be something in the email that says the author is
welcome to resubmit should changes be made. (Hint: if it doesn’t contain an
invitation to resubmit, usually in those words, it isn’t a revise and
The first feels after reading this range from “Why would I
ever resubmit to the person who doesn’t even understand my novel?” to “OMG,
thank you for this opportunity, I promise not to blow it!” These are normal
But then there are these other feelings that crop up in here
that people don’t usually talk about. When a revise and resubmit comes across
the desk, sometimes we feel like “This is only a revise and resubmit because
the agent/editor feels sorry for me and doesn’t want to give me a full
rejection,” the “even if I revise and this goes somewhere it’s not a real win,
it’s not the same as the person whose novel got fifty bazillion full requests
and had agents fighting over her.” Somehow, an R&R feels like it’s not
worth as much (this is false), and sometimes it even feels like it’s a cheat or
an unearned leg up, like you couldn’t get on the horse without a mounting block
(and had got someone to hold your horse ta-boot).
These feels are normal, but they are also lies.
I don’t know what agents are thinking (ask one hundred
agents and you’ll get one hundred responses), but I know it wasn’t “I feel
sorry for this writer so I’ll give this hopeless case one more shot at it.”
Nope. An R&R comes from a different place. It comes from an agent/editor
thinking they could really get into your book, but there’s something—usually
something fixable—keeping it from happening. And so they’ve asked for a second
chance at a manuscript.
Even if you—the writer—feel pitied, this is not pity from
the agent. The revise and resubmit is “This has a lot of potential, and I see
how it could be awesome.”
So what’s the first thing you should do after receiving an
Sit on it for at LEAST 24 hours. Maybe longer. You need
enough time to get over the bellyache that comes from eating something ill
advised (margaritas and chocolate chip cookies, are my rejection dinner of
choice). Then, after 24 hours, go back and reread the comments.
This part is hard, but every writer who gets an R&R (at
every stage of the game) has to go through and make sure that they are doing it
for the right reasons. There’s no amount of pleasing someone else that will
help your writing. As a writer, you have to evaluate the revision ideas on
their own merits, coupled with YOUR vision for the book. This is hard because
being an unagented/unpublished writer sometimes feels like being a dog at the
feast of publishing, just waiting for a bone to be thrown over the edge of the
table (this isn’t the case, of course, I’m just getting my analogy groove on).
Because we feel like beggars who don’t belong, we act like we should be
profoundly grateful for every scrap tossed our way.
Trust me, no one knows your book like you do. For real. That
means that if a suggestion doesn’t ring true—and I mean light your creative
fire—then there’s a greater than zero percent chance it might not work for your
book. It might, but it might not, and the only person who knows—you—sometimes feels
like an amateur on making bookish decisions. It ain’t easy.
And now for the hard part. If you read through, and you decide
the suggestions are in line with your vision, AND you have the time and
inclination to try (Yes some books die from apathy), then you have to start the
task of putting it together. Where the words hit the paper is a desperate
struggle to maintain your vision, balance it with the revision, and hold off
that naughty little devil on your shoulder who thinks it’s good enough.
Worse, the R&R may have been really short, like “You
need to add depth to your world and your characters.” If you have a line like
that in your R&R, that’s not a call to add a couple pages in the beginning
of your manuscript and call it good. That means you have to go through the
WHOLE THING, hunting down areas where your characters could be replaced by
magical talking daisy, and change it. (Hint number 2: if you have a character
who could be replaced by a magical, talking house plant, then you should
probably get rid of the character—that’s just my opinion…or you know, talking
ficus for the win).
No one envies the task ahead, but the R&R is a major
opportunity. It’s also a little bit like an interview. As in, this is what
working with you might be like, so don’t phone it in. The R&R is the
opportunity to prove what you can do.
And the truth of the matter is, that might not be enough. I
know, it hurts. All rejection hurts. And when you get an R&R that gets
rejected it somehow hurts even more, but try to remember that every bit of
feedback helps to shape the writer you will become. If you just had an R&R
get rejected, I feel for you so hard.
Any other thoughts people have on revise and resubmits,
please, PLEASE, leave them in the comments.
Thanks go to Mason over at Muse Riding Shotgun for tagging me
in a Talk About Your Process. This is sort of my favorite topic, so watch out,
author rambling ahead.
What are you working on right now?
A blog post—Oh, you mean my novel. Right. So I’m currently
in the very final stages of polishing up STORM SINGER. And I mean final. Or
not. The problem with all works of art is that they’re never really done. Could
I rewrite it and make it better at this point? I don’t think so. Could I go
through and tweak it for another twenty years? Oh yeah. I could wax poetic, but
at some point, you have to declare them done and send them out into the great
big world, and this novel is SOOO CLOSE. Though I might run it through another
set of betas, we’ll see. I haven’t decided yet.
How does my book differ from others in its genre?
This is both a great question and a terrible question. In my
novel, people control some of the elements through music (singing
specifically). In that aspect it’s very similar to Avatar the Last Airbender
(Yes, I know it’s a TV show and not a book, so clearly, I’m going straight to
literary hell). My story has pirates, giant sea monsters, and people corrupted
by years and years of contact with dark forces. It’s different because part of
it is based on ideas from the flooding of the Black Sea. Geo-historical
evidence suggests that the Black Sea level had dropped WAY down before the Mediterranean
Sea rose up and spilled over the land bridge between them—BIG flood. In fact,
this event is suggested to be the event that the story of Noah is based off of
(before people start going on about God and the bible, please remember that I’m
not saying Noah’s story isn’t true; I’m just talking about factual evidence
that corresponds to biblical events). Anyhow, I thought it would be neat to
have something like that, a little geology based constraints. And of course
there’s the whole world that’s different, complete with different mythical
creatures (as well as a bunch of normal creatures like cats and dogs and
humans). In the end it features a sassy protag who apparently has a really
strong daredevil streak (she gets it from her mother).
Why do I write what I write?
I just can’t help myself. I couldn’t stop if I wanted to. Or
maybe that’s not really what the question is asking. Maybe the question means:
Why do I write the kinds of stories that I write? I can’t even get close to
answering that. I write the stories that keep me up at night. I have to commit
them to paper or I’d go crazy. With STORM SINGER, pirates hijacked my book and
went on a dark romp through monster infested waters. With Accidental Godmother,
the story rattled out of me like it was dictated from on high (it wasn’t and I’ve
rewritten it into a different story: Watch this space for coming attractions).
There’s a story behind every novel. There’s a different why for each one, so
this is one of those impossible questions to answer. I write what I write
because I couldn’t stop (and I’ve tried).
How does my writing process work?
I guess this is the kicker, my writing process doesn’t work.
It limps along painfully. It comes together, but for something to work it needs
to have predictable outcomes. And seriously, I don’t understand my process. I
know what I want, but it doesn’t work that way. Example: I have this novel that
I wrote. Then I rewrote it. Then, because it wasn’t enough I wrote it again.
Then I edited it forever, sent it off to betas, rewrote a bunch more of it,
then edited it again. Then I queried. Within 10 queries, I knew I had a problem
and REWROTE IT AGAIN. Edited, edited, edited, then entered some contests. And
then, because I hadn’t gotten enough pain, I did a big revision after that. Seriously,
I feel like there might be a way to make that novel even better with just one
more revision. (yeah, really, but I’d have to read through it with fresh eyes
to be sure).
If I have to go down that road every time, I might tear my
hair out (hope I look good bald!). One of the things I can’t stand is
inefficiency, which is rough. Writing and publishing is NOT about efficiency.
Which brings me back to, My Process Doesn’t Work. It’s inefficient, and
tangled, and terrible and beautiful and full of love and grit and not enough
grace. It’s late nights and early mornings, stolen moments and navel gazing
hours. Process is nothing and everything. If I had one that really worked, it
would be amazing, but that’s just it: as soon as there’s a formula that works,
it stops working. So each novel is using a tank to plow the fields and hoping
the flowers come up again (come on rain!). Because sometimes, my process feels
like begging for rain in the desert. I suspect, I’m not the only one to feel
Right, well, I’ve rambled on a bit, (and seriously, I could
go on, maybe I’ll save it for IWSG in June). So I’m going to tag ElizabethPoole (The Liz with Zombies) and Sarah Ahiers. (I don’t know if I was allowed
two, but I’m a rule breaker, so I’m tagging two!).
Let me start off by saying that I LOVE contests. I’ve met
many of my very favorite writer buddies from participating in writing contests.
Second: writing contests give pretty much zero indication of
how good your manuscript is, or how far along in your journey you are.
Last week was the big Writer’s Voice blog hop and team
picks. A very exciting time for many writers, and I joined in. I went to Every.
Single. Entry. And I made notes. I ranked them all as if I were playing agent
(by the way, this is a very excellent way to get better at writing, read 150
queries and their corresponding first pages; some writing just zings). And then
I watched—and cried!—as the Team Coaches went through and picked. (How did they
miss those beautiful gems? Oh, my pretties, I wish all my yes picks had been
picked by coaches!)
If you’ve ever wanted a lesson in subjectivity, do this. Read
all the entries in a contest, and just pick out your favorites. You’ll be
amazed. I picked out almost 20 yeses (as in, yes, I would definitely read on to
the next page to see how this one went). I had a bunch of maybes, and a bunch
And then the coaches made their picks. Out of the 32 picks,
only 8 of them were my yeses (leaving 12 of my pretty yeses—one with
exclamation points!—riding pine with me). Of the 32 team members, 16 were
maybes from me. And the remaining 8 were all Nos in my book.
As in, Nope, there was no way I’d be reading on. None.
The thing is, and this is important when it comes to writers
querying agents, it’s not enough to write a story in the genre that the agent
represents. The story also has to be something she (or he) would potentially
love. I don’t know why, but stuffy sci fi stories that spend too much time
being technical bore me (it’s the math, as soon as I’m doing derivatives in my
head to figure out if the writer has a clue what he’s talking about, I’m just
not in the story anymore). If I were an agent, and someone queried me with a
FTL explanation story, I would probably reject it even if the writing were
really spectacular—even though I really like science fiction. This is what
people mean by personal tastes and subjectivity (also, I’ve read a bazillion
FTL explanation stories, so it’d have to be super special).
When an agent is sending a rejection (or a contest host), it’s
not a remark on your person or even your writing. I know, that part is hard. We
all feel terrible when we get rejected, even when it’s something we
legitimately didn’t want. Rejection hurts, but I’m trying to say that there
might be more to being rejected than a bar you have to jump over.
The query trenches are a tough place, but it’s about so much
more than just having a story in the represented genre that’s “good enough.” I
know you guys are probably starting to wonder when I’ll pull out my crystals
and do an aura cleansing (totally valid just not my thing), but I can honestly
say, there’s no magic mark you have to make like with sports. In fencing, just
get more touches than the other guy. In hockey, put the biscuit in the basket
more often than the other team. But in writing, you have to hit that magic mark
of making someone fall in love with your work and be in a marketable category
(whatever that means today!).
So, to my fellows in the query trenches: chin up. You may be
closer than you think. You may be farther than you’d hoped, but wherever you
are, you are in it. Play the game, and know that what you learn now will be with you longer than your querying attempt. Good luck, and if you're feeling the sting of not making the cut for the Writer's Voice, just remember that 12 people are roaming around feeling sad today, but they had YES!!!! written in my book. It only takes one (from a publishing professional, I'm afraid I'm not very helpful there). Query widely!
I’m going to go out on a limb here and talk about something
that doesn’t usually plague beginners. When you first write a novel, well, it’s
hard. But when you get to the end and you make it all shiny and wonderful,
there’s this feeling that your next one is going to be even better. And the one
after that? I mean, you learned so much from the first one, surely the third
will be KNOCK-THEIR-SOCKS-OFF levels of awesome.
Maybe that’s how it works for some writers. Maybe the sky’s
the limit. Maybe the learning curve only goes up for some people. I’m just not
one of them.
When a book goes through its progression—roughdraft, edit,
beta, edit, beta again, edit, query, edit based on feedback, contest, edit
based on more feedback, query, edit again because you got used to editing—there
comes a point where the book starts to feel like it’s good. The requests are
more common than the rejections (at least until they turn into rejection). The
book begins to feel good. It’s broken, but the bandaids are all there, and you
love it, and it’s the best thing you’ve ever put together.
And then, because the advice is to write another book, you
find yourself staring down that same road again—roughdraft, edit, beta, edit,
beta again, edit, query, edit based on feedback, contest, edit based on more
feedback, query, edit again because you got used to editing.
It’s a long road, but you start plodding down it.
It doesn’t take long before you wonder: Will this book ever
be as good as the last one?
Was the book I just shelved the best work I’ll ever do?
Have I already peaked?
This could be from all the articles that keep cropping up
about how women felt most successful at 34 (umm, no, and thank you, I’d rather
not repeat my “success” of that year). I know this is hyperbole, but it makes
me wonder if everything has peaked. Have I reached the best I can make? Is
*this* as good as it gets?
I know that those are ridiculous thoughts. I’m only having
them because the road is long and painful, and no matter what I do, there are
no shortcuts. I have to hit every bump on a long and painful road. Every bump.
What my mind is really thinking, is “If this one wasn’t good
enough—and it hurt like hell to get it that far—how can I know that the next
one will be worth it?” Let’s face it, some projects break our hearts. The book
that was magic—the book that made you believe in magic the way you haven’t
since you were a child—and it gets close, achingly close, only to be told no.
No, the magic wasn’t enough to carry it all the way through to the promise
land. The book of magic will die in the trunk along with the lesser creatures
of your literature past, the fan fic from childhood, the vampire ridden
paranormal romance that was basically Anne Rice meets bodice ripper, the portal
fantasy featuring a boring girl with a boring life who is suddenly the MOST
IMPORTANT PERSON IN THE WORLD! Your book of magic, the book of your heart is
going to join Those Books.
And there’s no guarantee that the next book will get any
farther than the one cohabitating with fan fic. But this is writing. If I
wanted easy, I would have picked something easy. The only way for this book to
get better is to bump down that dusty road. Edit. Read. Beta. Edit. Edit. Read.
Beta. Edit. Rejection. Request. Feedback. Edit. Edit. Edit.
Time to dust off that broken heart and get
back on the horse. Bootstraps found.
Whew! Yeah, it takes a while to read through 159 entries and
pass judgment on them, but that’s just what I’ve done.
I know, some of you out there are saying, “But Rena, you’re
not a judge.” This is correct. I’m a writer seeking representation, but the
last time I dug through a big slush pile, a few things jumped out at me. Two
years ago the trends were first person present tense. They were everywhere.
Now? Not so much (though many first person present still do the dreaded double
verbing, more on that in a bit). (though there were a ton of aliens taking the
place that paranormal creatures used to have, so that was interesting)
This time around what struck me most was how some pages
DEMANDED my attention, and others just sort of shuffled through the line. What
was amazing about the pages that really caught my attention was that they weren’t
the usual sort for me. I’ve always called myself an explosion sort of girl, so
when something opens with action, I feel like that should grab me. Standing on
the edge of a cliff, about to fall to certain doom? That should totally be my
wheelhouse, and yet those openings just didn’t do it for me. No idea why (sweet
mother of science, I hope I’m not developing a mature palette after all of these
So onto the main event:
I ranked all of the entries: Yes, No, or Maybe. I had grades
of maybe (yes maybe, no maybe and maybe), but for this reporting there’s only
Entries by Men: 19
Entries by Women: 133
Genres of the Yes
Adult Sci Fi 2
YA MR 2
YA contemp 2
YA Thriller 2
YA Sci Fi 3
MG contemp 3
So what landed someone in the No pile:
Note: If I’m writing about it here, then there was more than
one person who did it. As in more than three. If you think I’ve picked you out
specifically in my comments here, just know that’s not the case. There were at
least three people who did it.
This time around there were two things that drop an entry
into my no pile (As in No, I wouldn’t keep reading this). The biggest reason to
land in the no pile was a concept I wasn’t that fond of, coupled with writing
bad need of an edit. This is my opinion by the way, but if your first page is
sprinkled with double verbs and words like ‘that’ and ‘just’ in your first page
(in a first page contest!) then it’s VERY likely the rest of the manuscript is
going to be like that. I know, some people don’t understand why I’m so anti
double verbing, or what it is that I have against the word that (which I use
all the time). In this case, it showed a lack of polish.
Double verbs—I was sitting, or I am running—drive me insane
because there are specific uses for this construct. In the past tense, I was
sitting, it indicates that the person narrating is in a reminiscent sort of
mood. This is the older person reliving their past (e.g. I was sitting on the
porch, waiting for the mailman, when the man of my dreams strolled down the
lane). That’s fine if you are having a character have a stroll down memory
lane, but once you do it every turn, you’re sticking the narrator between the
reader and the story not once, but twice (it’s filtered through the narrator
who is experiencing it and the older narrator who is telling it). And you’ve given
something away: the narrator lives to the end so they can tell the story like
this. No bueno. In present tense, the problem is that it’s just lazy. I am
running. Why not I run. And this next bit is personal to my tastes, but I am
running reminds me of those guys who call sporting events. “Hasek blocks the
puck and passes it up to Datsyuk. Datsyuk is carrying the puck. He’s looking to
make a pass.” This could go on, but I think you get the idea.
Other reasons for landing in the No pile: I get worried when
I read a query for something sounding like one genre and being told it’s
another. Paranormal romance was the big culprit here. There were all kinds of
genres being listed instead of the obvious one. So, if your MC is abducted by
aliens who give her werewolf like powers, but it’s scientifically explained,
this does not automatically make it science fiction. If the main plot is about
how your MC falls in love with someone despite her mutations, it’s romance. And
if your query spends more than half its time talking about the romance, I’m
assuming that romance is more than half the book, it should be listed in the
Why does this make me hit the no button? Either, the writer
knows they’ve written a paranormal romance, and they know the market for that
genre is really REALLY tight, or they don’t. If they know, then the real path
isn’t to accentuate the romance in the query letter. Develop other lines,
because the surest way to upset a reader is to tell them about how a story is
all about space ships and genetic mutations and then make it all about romance.
That’s the whole point of genre labeling. I don’t go to the romance section to
read about Rockets, and I don’t expect the romance crowd to come to the sci fi
section to find true love. Genres are your friend, even if it’s super crowded. If
the writer doesn’t know that they’ve written a paranormal romance and dressed
it up in super shiny Magic Realism clothing, then I worry about how many other
traps they’ve fallen into. This is all about confidence, but if you write, you
must read. You need to know what else is out there like yours (this is why I
read slush piles whenever they’re available, how else will we know what we’re
up against in the slush?).
What got you in the maybe pile:
Okay concept, okay writing. Nothing spectacular. Totally
competent. And yet, somehow, my time wasn’t demanded of me (I’m a working mom,
you have to demand my time). So there were lots of really good entries that
land in the maybe pile because they aren’t for me, they started in the wrong
spot (or with something that I really didn’t want to read).
Or really good concept, but very lackluster writing.
Terrible concept with really good writing.
At the end of the day, your creature feature has a ton of
competition (and I’ve read a bunch of them!), and even if your writing is
really great, I’m not that interested in reading another Interview with a
Vampire (or Twilight, or Walking Dead, or Teen Wolf, or Buffy The Vampire
Slayer—Unless Joss is writing it, that is, and then yeah, I’m totally reading
that one). So yeah, even if the writing is too good to just toss it into the
No, sometimes, it’s just not going to be enough to knock one of the Yes entries
off their thrones.
And to get a Yes:
The writing had to sing. I don’t know how many of you can
see it yet (if you read enough slush, it become apparent), but some manuscripts
just sound like the stuff you would pick up in the book store. There is a
rhythm, a cadence, to the way they read. The words are the perfect balance of
not too many to slow me down, and not so few that I’ve gotten lost along the
*Sigh* I wish there were something more to say about that,
but trust me, you’ll know it when you see it. But here’s the thing: that
perfect balance is DIFFERENT for EVERYONE. Yeah, I know. Like for real. I’ll
read something and it will just punch me in the feels. Great writing, lovely
concept, brilliant execution, and I hand it to my BFFs don’t like it. Go
The other way to get a Yes was to have a SPECTACULAR concept—one
that made me go into fits of apoplexy because I couldn’t read the post RIGHT
NOW!!!!—coupled with almost there writing. As in, just a few bits of trouble.
So that’s it from my end. I’m going to post after the 10th
to talk about subjectivity, when I compare my Yes pile to those who get picked
for the contest. The last time I did this, I was shocked to discover that an
entry that yeses with exclamation points next to it in my book, didn’t make the
final (and one where I’d written in capital letters NO) did.
I know people are probably wondering where they landed on my
scale of Yes No Maybe, but, I rarely tell the actual rank. I will if you ask
nicely, but seeing as how I am just one writer in a sea of other writers, my
opinion doesn’t really count for much. However, I do have comments on EACH and
EVERY entry (unless it’s locked up under tumblr. Cursed tumblr). If you want to
know what I thought of yours, leave me a comment with your entry number and your email (write the
word at instead of using the sign, and you can ask me to delete the comment
later if you wish). This isn’t confidential (feel free to post it somewhere
else while saying disparaging things about my parents’ marital status if you
like), but I prefer for the option of privacy to be yours (this is why I don’t
tweet my feedback; there is nothing worse than expecting someone to love your
work and hearing in a public venue that it wasn’t the case). But pretty please,
don’t come back at me with your hurt feelings. I’ll try to say constructive
things, but feedback can really sting. I know what it’s like to write a novel.
I know what it’s like to have the core of a novel completely destroyed because
it’s basically a retelling of XYZ and there are fifty billion of those on the
market right now. Please also keep in mind that I’m just one person. I’m not
even an agented writer. All I have is years of experience, and the knowledge of
what I do and do not like.