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Monday, May 14, 2012

Revise/Resubmit Requests

The forums at QueryTracker.net have recently had questions about what to do when an agent gets back to you suggesting changes and asking to see the manuscript again afterward. You haven't been rejected, but you're not being offered representation either. 

If this has happened to you, welcome to the Revise/Resubmit Request.

Receiving one of these is a positive sign: it means the agent thought your manuscript had enough promise not to reject it outright, but it still has quite a distance to go before the agent feels it's publishable. In a typical R/R, the agent will tell you exactly what problems s/he spotted, suggest a means of correcting those problems, and tell you to resubmit it after you're done revising.

If the agent only tells you the first part (the problems) that is not a R/R. It's a rejection with a reason attached. (You're still free to revise, but the agent isn't asking to see the result.)

The changes may be extensive. For example, my first R/R told me to remove two major characters, shift more scenes to the MC's job, build up the romance, and streamline the plot. This would require deleting 40,000 words, changing the timeline, and then re-writing to fill all the holes.

Let's say you receive a similar letter. What to do?

1) Think about it. Don't just scream or slam doors, but really think about what it would take to effect the suggested changes. Talk it out with someone who's familiar with your book. Think about how the changes would work with your own vision of the story.

2) Think about further changes that would be required because of that first set of changes.

3) Do not make any changes you do not fully understand.

4) Do not make any changes you do not agree with.

5) Do, on the other hand, give special attention to the places where you disagree with the agent's suggestion. If you find a better way to accomplish the same thing, use the better way.

For example, in my R/R I was told to remove two characters in order to streamline the story. Instead I removed one and downgraded the other from a major role to a minor role. This worked out because it retained this character's role in the B story, but it effectively removed him from the A story and allowed the romantic interest to do what he did best.

6) Take your time. Seriously, take as long as you need to, and then take longer. And then re-edit before you send it. Most agents would prefer you give the revision the full attention it requires than have you slap-dash some changes together. You're most likely not getting a second R/R from the same agent on the same manuscript, do get it all done right. And that leads to...

7) Carry the changes through fully. If the agent says one of your secondary characters feels stereotyped, then after you make sure that character is fully realized, double-check all the rest of your secondary characters to make sure they too are not cliched and flat. If the agent says to remove a specific info dump, then make sure all your expository lumps are broken down to a manageable size and distributed evenly through the text.

8) This is actually something that should be done between steps 1 and 2. Thank the agent. Ask any questions you have about the agent's comments, and then give a time-frame for how long you think it will take.  (Be generous with that time-frame, and don't give a date because you don't want to think of it as a deadline. The agent understands edits can take a long time.)

A revise/resubmit request can be a terrific opportunity not only to improve your story but also to show an agent how well you take criticism. It's a moment when you can demonstrate your dedication both to your craft and to your story. If you're given this chance, make the most of it, and good luck!


Jane Lebak's novel The Guardian will be re-released this September by MuseItUp Publishing! She is also the author of Seven Archangels: Annihilation (Double-Edged Publishing, 2008) and The Boys Upstairs (MuseItUp, 2010). At Seven Angels, Four Kids, One Family, she blogs about what happens when a distracted daydreamer and a gamer geek attempt to raise four children. She is represented by the riveting Roseanne Wells of the Marianne Strong Literary Agency.


Andrea Mack said...

Thanks for this very informative post! This has happened to me and I wasn't quite sure how to handle it.

Stina said...

Great post, Jane. I'm currently doing a RR. It's amazing how the agent's brilliant insights changed the story for the better (I hope).

And yes, definitely take the time to do it right. It will be worth it, even if the agent ends up passing in the end (which is what often happens).

Cynthia Leitich Smith said...

I've also heard an agent or two mention that they'll send out a R/R request to find out if the writer is able and willing to revise AKA what s/he's like to work with in a professional context.

Lara said...

Thanks for this. I just recently got one of these R/R's and was wondering how to approach it. I didn't think of the obvious, making all the trickle-down changes that will be affected by the main changes, so thanks for that reminder. I thanked the agent for her feedback and told her I'd resubmit, but didn't give a timeline, since I never considered this step. I hope that is ok too.

Baur said...

Interesting, thanks for the tips!

Jane Lebak said...

Lara, don't worry about not giving a timeline. These are suggestions, not demands. :-) It's nice to let the agent know it will take two weeks (or two months, or eight months) to get the R/R back to her. It's not mandatory. The agent knows how much work she asked you to do.

G. B. Miller said...

I had something similar to this from a publisher. After the first request, I considered what he had said and spent about a month re-working before re-submitting.

When it came back the second time with more suggestions for changes, I did a few of them and held my ground on a couple of others, and told them so.

However, three was a charm, as the third request came with contractual offer.

And thus, a novel was born.