The Elements of a Revise and Resubmit Request from an Agent

The dreaded Revise and Resubmit request from an agent—it’s not a no. Instead, think of it as an opportunity to hone your work, because this agent sees potential in your manuscript.
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In the querying world, there exists a limbo between rejection and representation. This limbo is called the “Revise and Resubmit (R&R) request.” Here’s the simple definition: Literary agents ask you to revise your manuscript and, once done, to resubmit for another opportunity for representation. In my experience, most writers have no idea how to react to this email. Do you cry? Laugh? Do you rock back and forth in anxious confusion at the state of your novel?

This guest post is by Kaitlyn Johnson. After receiving a BA in Writing, Literature, and Publishing from Emerson College, Johnson refused to leave the concept of nightly homework behind. Centering her life around everything literary, she started her own freelance editing company, K. Johnson Editorial, as soon as her diploma came in the mail. Johnson is proud to be an apprentice agent with Corvisiero Literary Agency, as well as the Muse and the Marketplace Conference Assistant for GrubStreet, Boston. Check out her Twitter, @kaitylynne13, for #mswl listings and writerly life thoughts.

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My advice? The first thing you should do is relax. There is no downside to an R&R, except that the agent isn’t giving you an immediate yes! It doesn’t mean your work is bad. It doesn’t mean your work isn’t “good enough.” What it does mean: The agent sees potential. They see a book that can go somewhere and have an effect, but the work isn’t quite where it needs to be yet. This could be voice, characterization, pacing—any number of little tidbits that are mandatory to create cohesion. However, don’t just dive in without thinking. There are some things you need to take into account before beginning this process (and ultimately resubmitting to a literary agent).

Explanation

So, what exactly does an R&R request entail? This is when an agent reads your full manuscript and then sends you advice on how to edit the work further. It is sometimes accompanied by an invitation to resubmit the manuscript once the edits are done; as in, agents want to love your piece, but it either isn’t ready, or the edits would be too intensive and the agent just doesn’t have that kind of time to set aside.

What you need to remember is, this is not a “no”; it’s not a rejection. Agents are constantly reading manuscripts, editing current clients’ stories, crafting pitches to send to editors (we actually go through a querying process as well!), going to conferences, reading new queries to find new clients, handling PR work, managing databases, and more. There just aren’t enough hours in the day to hold an author’s hand—one you don’t represent—throughout the revision process.

An R&R request is very similar to what you might get from a freelance editor or even a dedicated critique partner, and it comes in all shapes and sizes. Some agents give you a paragraph or two of feedback and let you go from there. Others go into more detail, actually expanding on specific areas and scenes they think need to be tweaked. Either way, it means—once you’ve completed the edit—you can resubmit the story for another chance at representation.

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Opinion

This request is not mandatory! If you disagree with an agent’s notes, it doesn’t mean your novel will never be published by not acting on their advice. The publishing industry is already highly subjective. So, it makes sense the editing industry would be likewise. No matter what the R&R says, you do not have to follow it to the letter. You can even decide to take the R&R as a no rather than a maybe—that’s your decision. Email back saying you appreciate the agent’s insight and thank them for their time. If you don’t end up sending in the R&R, the agent will move on, and so will you. R&Rs are not a binding agreement, and agents understand if you continue subbing elsewhere because you believe in keeping certain aspects of the piece.

Duration

How long should you expect to be working on this revision? This, too, varies from agent to agent. Personally, I have found that one to five months is a decent amount of time to revise your novel. It makes sense that school, family, work, and life can prevent you from getting the edit done quickly. However, I have known some writers to focus on nothing but their novel and bang out a great edit within a week or two. If you get your revision done in a week, prepare for a skeptical agent. These things usually take time. If you blow through the book and just slip in things here and there, an agent will notice, and they won’t be impressed.

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Finish Line

Here’s the sad truth: An R&R request doesn’t mean you’ll have representation when you resubmit. Sometimes, the agent reads the full again, and it’s still not enough to make them fall in love with your work (which is why taking your time to make sure your revisions are thorough is important). Like I said, the industry is subjective. Just because an agent likes something, doesn’t mean they’re the right person to represent it. And those are some of the hardest emails to send. Agents don’t like saying no, especially when it’s a work they know has potential to be great.

The bright side? Your book just received great, quality editing advice from an industry professional! It’s that much closer to a finished product, meaning another agent could snatch it up the minute they see it. Again, when it comes to R&Rs, you’ve got nowhere to go but up.

Proof

I know exactly what you’re thinking. “No writer has ever found representation by completing an R&R. It’s a huge waste of time!” This, though, is untrue. My very first signed author was through an R&R. The novel had a few hiccups. It was beautiful, but it was just not at that point yet, that moment where it became spectacular. Five months later, I got the manuscript back, and immediately fell in love with it and signed her shortly thereafter.

The point in the R&R request isn’t just to save the agent’s time and give the author feedback. It’s also to see how the writer’s mind works. How do they respond to being asked to edit? Are they constructive in their interpretation of what the novel needs? Do they see eye-to-eye with the agent or have very different ideas for the novel? How fast or slow is their editing process? There are so many factors here that can determine if the agent is a good fit for this writer, and vice versa.

Next time you’re presented with the option to Revise and Resubmit, relax. You’ve got nowhere to go but up.

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If you’re an agent looking to update your information or an author interested in contributing to the GLA blog or the next edition of the book, contact Writer’s Digest Books Managing Editor Cris Freese at cris.freese@fwmedia.com.

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