Revise & Resubmit: What’s Up With That?

imgresSo you finally get a response for one of the gazillion queries you’ve sent to all those perfect-for-you agents that’s not a “thanks but it’s not for me” and they want you to revise and resubmit. “What?! What does that even mean?” you might ask. Or, you might huffily think, “Why would I do a revision if they’re not even offering me representation?!” Or, perhaps you’re thinking, “I’ll do anything! I’ll change the whole thing if only they’ll represent me!” Or maybe your response is more like, “WTF is that crazy person thinking? They totally didn’t get what I was going for in this manuscript.” Or something else. What I’d like to do here is explain why an agent might ask you to revise and resubmit (or at least why I do).

I get so many queries every single day that my inbox is basically always overflowing. I have my intern (Hi Kimberly!) go through the queries to kindly decline the things that she knows I don’t want (like adult fiction, memoirs, romance, etc…). When we find something that I would be interested in, she’ll read the first 20 pages of a manuscript to gauge whether the writing is up to the standards of what I’m looking for. Then I will. If I’m still interested, we’ll request the full manuscript. Then I have her read it and write a reader report. Then I decide whether I’m going to take my time to read the full manuscript, too. When I do read a full manuscript, I always go in with my fingers crossed that it’s fabulous, with my eyes and ears open for things that aren’t working. And then one of three things happens…

I decline. “Thank you for your submission. It’s really just not for me” because on further reading I realize it’s really just not for me. Or “Thank you for your submission. I’m afraid the writing isn’t where I’d need it to be to make an offer of representation,” because it’s not, and for whatever reason (and there are many) I don’t feel like I’m right for the project.

I gather more information. Because sometimes I’m interested in the manuscript but I just want more information about you as an author before making a decision about offering representation. I usually want to know things like if you have other manuscripts already written (especially with picture books);  if you’ve been agented before; if you’ve submitted your manuscripts to publishers yourself; if you’ve ever self published anything. Things like that. After gathering more information, I might then ask for a phone call if I’m still interested.

I ask for a revise/resubmit. This might happen because…

  • love your story but I think it still needs more work.
  • I want to see if you know how to revise before committing to representing you.
  • There are some major plot problems but your writing is so terrific that I don’t want to just pass.

Now, when I request a revise/resubmit I’ll usually explain what I think needs work. If it’s just a general “the writing isn’t good enough yet” that means that I really dig your plot but you need to up the ante on the writing. Easier said than done, I know.

So what should you do? Well… it kind of depends upon what your situation is. Of course first you should thank the agent and let them know that if you decide to revise you’d be happy to resubmit to them.

  • If your manuscript is out on submission to other places you might not be inclined to do a big revision until you’ve heard back from the other places. I mean, what if one of the other agents makes you an offer?
  • That being said, if what the revise/resubmit is asking for isn’t a big revision, then what do you have to lose?
  • What if the agent didn’t get what you were going for and is asking you to revise it to make it something you’re not interested in writing? I say don’t do it. (But that’s just my opinion.) I personally don’t think writers should write to get published. I think writers should write what they want and if it gets published? Bonus! I don’t think gutting something just so you can sell it is a good career move.
  • But if you’re kind of hearing the same thing from all the places you’ve submitted? I say do it! Why not? Even if it’s a major revision, if you can get what the agent is suggesting and you think it makes sense and will make your manuscript stronger, I say go for it.

Let me tell you a story… When I worked for another agent, reading queries, we received a query from a middle grade author who I’d chatted with on Twitter. She was smart and was very funny and I could see the glimmer of something really special  in her writing. I gave her a lot of feedback on her manuscript but passed for the agent I was reading for. Two years later, when I just started being a baby agent myself, she queried me with the same manuscript. She’d totally re-written it, based on the feedback I’d given her. Although I felt it still needed work, I took her on as a client. You see, what I had found out about her from the revise/resubmit was that a. she really was a great writer, b. she could revise the shit out of her work, c. she was easy to work with and took direction well.

Hope this is helpful. Feel free to post questions about revising and resubmitting in the comments below.

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9 responses to “Revise & Resubmit: What’s Up With That?

  1. This was very very helpful. Thank you!

  2. You mentioned that you want to know if a writer has self-published anything. Is it a good thing or not a good thing if they have?

  3. Great post! I’m in the middle of the query process so this really helps me understand the “language” of the responses I am receiving. Thanks for the insight into an agent’s mind! 🙂

  4. Excellent post, Linda. Thanks for your agent perspective. I was reminded of two detailed agent and editor responses I recently received. They both said some opposite as well as some of the same things, which I am taking to heart on yet another revision. The points were good. The editor said it wasn’t for her list, but was encouraging. My question is, what are the down sides of asking her for a recommendation of a colleague? The door wasn’t totally closed, or open. Any thoughts on the gray area of revise/resubmit? Self-publishing is also another option. Again, this is a great issue to contemplate.

    • Usually if an agent or editor knows someone who would like something they’ve rejected they’ll offer that name. I don’t really like when people ask me for a recommendation, personally. I mean, I just rejected it! Revise/Resubmit doesn’t usually have a gray area. Either you’re asked to or you’re not. Choosing to resubmit after being rejected is a different thing. It better be a substantial revision or it just feels like someone not accepting the agent or editor said no.

  5. Great post, Linda. Thanks for sharing the process of acquiring new authors. I always wondered what went on behind the scenes.

  6. While I have indie published my first book, I keep reading articles such as yours. There is this niggling in the back of my mind that tells me I’ll only prove my writing is worth something if I have an agent and publisher for my work. Most of the time, I appreciate the encouragement agents give in regard to rejections, requests for revisions, and so on; I feel the same about yours. Thanks for explaining the revise and resubmit issue in more detail. Maybe someday I’ll submit my YA fantasy fiction to an agent. 🙂