Revise & Resubmit

I was going to start this blog with the usual introductory post, but to be honest, my life’s not that interesting. At least, not compared to my writing.

So instead, I’m jumping right in where I am now – revision hell.

Here’s the scenario:

You’ve slogged away for months, writing a novel that means the world to you. You’ve revised and edited it into a perfect example of the English language. Tight prose, excellent characters, gripping conflict, fascinating setting, and romance to die for. Then, heart in your throat, you send it out into the big, bad world so that other people can appreciate the wonder.

They don’t.

But then comes the glimmer of light, the spark of hope you need. Someone asks for a full manuscript. They compliment you on your style. They can’t wait to read the whole thing.

So you send it off and wait. Again. Gripping on tight to that spark of hope.

Except their response, when it comes, isn’t quite what you hoped for.

The book should be good, they say. It could be great. If only the plot was a little different. And the characters. And the conflict. And maybe the setting. Actually, they don’t know what they were thinking. The book sucks.

BUT

if you make the changes they suggest, they’ll take a look at it again.

It’s a tricky situation, and one I imagine is different for everyone. Do you spend hours more time revising the book to their specification, still with no guarentee that they’ll take it after that? Or do you remember that writing and publishing is always going to be a subjective industry, and move on to look for someone who might love your baby just the way it is?

What it comes down to, I suppose, is whether they’re right.

And by that, I mean, can you see their point? Do you read their comments and think, ‘how did I miss that?’ or ‘oh, yeah – that would be so much better?’ And I don’t mean the first time you read their letter – I’m pretty sure most of us can’t think all that rationally when we’ve just been rejected. But after you’ve had your rant, and time to calm down, and you sit down with a cup of tea to read through it again, does it make sense to you?

Can you imagine a better book, at the revision’s end?

Remember, if an editor, or an agent, has taken the time to compile a list of ways your book could be really great, they must have liked something about it in the first place. A revise and resubmit letter takes time to write, not to mention the time they’re promising to give you later, by considering it again. We all know that time is possibly the most valuable commodity in the publishing industry!

We should take courage from such letters. We should see them as signposts towards success. We should celebrate getting just one step closer to our goal.

However, that said…

Sometimes, it’s okay to say no. If the revisions they’ve suggested tear out everything you love about the book, if they make it something you could never be proud of, something you would never choose to write… then the odds are, they’re not the right agent or editor for your book in the first place. If they’re seeing a different book than you want to have written, the best thing to do is thank them for their time, politely decline, and try to find someone who sees it the way you do, fully aware that such a person may not be out there.

Even in these cases, it’s important to remember that the agent or editor in question isn’t wrong. They saw in your book something that they could sell or publish, just not the way it stood. Someone else might see it differently.

So, what about me? I mean, it’s my blog, right?

Well, I’ve had a couple of experiences with revise and resubmits.

The first was with an agent, who took me on purely on the basis of three chapters of a novel. We then spent the next nine months tearing it apart and putting it back together again. Her vision of the book was far, far different from mine, but, I thought, cooler. So I went with it, even when it was almost impossible for us to understand exactly what the other was trying to do. It was painful, it was incredibly hard work, and it was very, very frustrating for both of us. But, in the end, we had a book we both loved, and she set out to pitch it.

It didn’t sell.

It had great feedback, but no one editor felt that extra something they needed to offer on it. We both moved on.

Right now, I’m working on another revise and resubmit for another agent. This one has a very different feel: the book was completed when she first saw it, and I received a proper, written R&R letter, highlighting what didn’t work, and why. We had some dialogue about what changes might be necessary.

I went away and considered her suggestions. She was right in pretty much every case.

So now I’m slogging away on my revision, sneaking half an hour away from my desk to write this blog and share my experience. I can feel the book getting stronger, better, more in line with my original vision with every page I edit. I am truly optimistic about where this book might go.

And if the agent who requested the R&R doesn’t take it, I have the confidence in the book to keep looking until I find someone that will. It’s a good place to be.

But I don’t want this book to just be a monologue; truly, I’m not that interesting. So, what about you? What are your experiences with the Revise & Resubmit letter?

8 thoughts on “Revise & Resubmit

  1. Suzanne Johnson says:

    Interesting post! I have only had one “revise and resubmit” experience, where an editor wanted me to take a hybrid urban fantasy/paranormal romance and turn it into “pure” PNR. Not only did I get a letter, but she talked to me on the phone for a while, hashing out ideas. I thought it was an interesting idea even though I don’t consider myself a writer of almost-erotic romance, so I spent about six weeks tearing the book apart and putting it back together. The editor loved it. The committee that has to approve a contract offer was not unanimous, however, which is what it takes for the big boys these days. So they passed on it. Now I have two versions of a book and am trying to decide which one I love more. That said, I’d still do a revise and resubmit if asked.

    • Sophie Pembroke says:

      Thanks Suzanne!

      I think it is always a bit of a gamble, because there isn’t a guarentee of a sale at the end. But then, pretty much everything about writing is, as far as I can see! And as long as you end up with a book you love, I think it’s worth taking the chance. And it’s always interesting how an outsider sees your book – often in ways you can’t, because you’re too close.

      All that said, I really hope I get a yes when I resubmit!

  2. Simone Cooper says:

    Fantastic first post, Sophie!

    I’m not at the stage of rewrite requests yet; I’m still getting my first WiP polished and the second one finished. When and if that does happen, I hope I can step back like you suggested and really figure out the heart of any feedback I receive. I feel that if the editor or agent has asked to see the book again after specific changes, they must see something salable in it, and I would really think twice before rejecting their advice.

    But … we’ll see how I feel when it happens 😀

    Thanks for the thought-provoking words,

    –simone
    @simonepdx

    • Sophie Pembroke says:

      Thanks Simone! I think you’re right – if they want to see it again, in whatever form, there must be something in it. As for the stepping back and taking it calmly, I recommend a long walk in cold wind, and a hot cup of tea to follow. And maybe cake. Cake helps pretty much everything.

  3. Lynn Rush says:

    Great post. I’ve had a revise and resubmit letter from an agent before. I ended up signing with a different agent, but I took the first agents comments to heart and re-wrote. I did save my original copy, though, just in case 🙂

    A different agent ended up signing me on a different book and I felt more connected with her, so it all worked out in the end.

    Write on, my friend.

    • Sophie Pembroke says:

      Thanks Lynn!

      I have to have faith that these things do work themselves out in the end – sometimes things just aren’t a good fit, no matter how hard you work at it. But it is always fascinating to me what other people see in our writing that we don’t…

  4. Janice Seagraves says:

    I have one book published. The changes were grammar, a few scene rewrites and few (quite a few) deleted scenes that weren’t working for the editor. The while editing process was quite a learning experience. I learned a lot.

    Janice~

    • Sophie Pembroke says:

      Hi Janice!

      I think editing is always an eye opener, whether you’re doing it alone, or with input from agents or editors. I know I’ve always learned something new – about my style, about my story, about my characters – everytime I’ve edited a piece.

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