Thursday, May 29, 2014

A Post For Writers: Revise and Resubmit

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 resubmit!)

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 responses.

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 R&R?

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.


  1. I remember my R&R. It was with my second story and something along the lines of "I know more about the horse's feelings than the MC's."
    I stared at it for days wondering if they were cracked before running to my CPs. Took me a good deal of tweaking to get it all straight.

  2. I've only been here with short stories, but in those cases I have taken suggestions fully on board and made changes - I don't know if I'd feel quite so easy about it if it was a long work I'd put years into, but I guess I'd probably give it a go while I decided.

  3. I always loved to get revision ideas. They're the pros and they are sending you morsels of gold for free. And they took the time to give you ideas! I mean if a busy person takes the time to say what needs fixed, they see potential. That's excellent!!


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