Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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January 8, 2014

5 Steps for Surviving a Revise and Resubmit

By Orly Konig-Lopez

Querying authors know the feeling: Your email pings with an incoming message. It's from one of the agents who requested your manuscript. Your heart beats in your ears, you close one eye, tilt your head to a 35 degree angle and squint at the words. Maybe this is "the one."

"Thank you for sharing, blah blah. I liked blah blah. But … "

You groan. It's a rejection.

You keep reading anyway. This is where the "but" gets interesting. There are notes. Detailed notes. And a request to resubmit after you've made the revisions. Whoa!!!!!!!



Once you're done with the "it's not a no" dance (and get an ice pack for the muscle you pulled – not that I’m speaking from experience on this), you sit down to pound out those revisions.

Wait! Back away from the keyboard. Seriously. Hands up. Scootch back. This is not the time for hasty changes. I know, I know … "But the agent is waaaiiiiittttting. And if I don't do it faaaaaast, she'll forget about me."

She is waiting, but she won't forget. You want to make those revisions count.

Hey, I said back away from the keyboard!

Here's what you need to do:

1) Read the revise and resubmit notes again. Walk away. Let them bubble in your head for a day or two. Then read them again. This time highlight the ones that speak to you. You know the ones, those comments that have you smacking your forehead and muttering, "why didn't I see that?"

2) Now pull up every personalized rejection you've received on that manuscript - trust me! Make notes. Are there any similarities to the comments? Is there another agent who rejected the manuscript but sent some feedback that's consistent with the R&R agent?

3) Re-read the manuscript from start to finish. Print it out or read it on your e-reader, whatever will give you a fresh perspective. Don't edit! Just read and make notes. You might be surprised at the things you see this time around.

4) Organize your edits. Between your notes and what the agents have pointed out, you probably have a nice list of changes to make. Compare your notes with the feedback you received from the agents. Which ones are burning to be made? Which ones are changes just for the sake of changing? Highlight the ones that will have the most impact. Jot down notes to keep you focused with any major changes. Personally, if I have a big plot changer, I write it down on a sticky note and post it next to my computer. That way I never lose sight of the "big picture."

Now the fun begins. I look at revisions like a puzzle and I love puzzles. I prefer to edit on hardcopy. When I've done a first pass, I type in my changes. That gives me a second pass at tweaking the revisions.

5) Sit on it. Not literally, you're not trying to hatch novellas. Put the manuscript aside for a few days. Sweet talk a couple of your readers into giving it another look. Then read it again. If you read it last time as a print out, this time, read it on an e-reader. Ignore that little voice taunting you to send it NOW because how much longer do you expect that agent to wait. Don't give in! Patience (not a word that comes easily to me, by the way) is your friend.

Don't skim through the manuscript looking for obvious mistakes. You've made changes, maybe even significant changes. You might have missed something or introduced new problems. Once you've incorporated this last round of edits, read it again.

NOW you can hit send!

Whether that agent offers representation or not, you'll have a stronger manuscript and the best part - at least in my opinion - you just might have learned something about your writing.

Have you had success with a revise & resubmit? What do you do with personalized rejections – delete, file, or analyze?

 About Orly

Orly Konig-Lopez

Orly Konig-Lopez

After years of pushing the creativity boundary in corporate communications, Orly decided it was time for a new challenge. Three women’s fiction manuscripts later (plus a handful of picture books), it’s safe to say she’s found her creative outlet.

When she’s not talking to her imaginary friends, she’s reading or at least trying to ignore everyone around her long enough to finish “just one more paragraph.” Orly is the founding president of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association.

You can find her on Twitter at @OrlyKonigLopez or on her website, www.orlykoniglopez.com.
photo credit: KatieKrueger via photopin cc

42 comments on “5 Steps for Surviving a Revise and Resubmit”

  1. Oh Orly, you're SO right. Your first impetus is to dash something off, fixing the worst of the offenders, sweep the rest under the rug, and hit 'send.' Don't do it! I did. Insta-rejection. Not only that, but it shows the agent that you're a newbie at best, that you didn't appreciate her hard work or input on your behalf, at worst. Great advice!

  2. Great advice. I can say from experience that it will work, too. This is exactly how I got my agent (although her revise and resubmit comments came via a phone call instead of an email). The nice thing about the call was that I was able to dig a little deeper into her initial comments to clarify her points before I started to think about how to make changes.

    I don't know if it is appropriate to contact an agent via reply email to clarify revision points if necessary, but I can't imagine it would be unwelcome (since the agent is obviously somewhat interested in the story).

    In any case, I would definitely say that my MSs always get better when I listen to the advice/feedback from my agent (or other seasoned authors/editors). It's tough, sometimes, especially if you don't agree at first. But taking those days to let the advice sit really helps.

  3. Love this, Orly. I'm in the middle of a revise-a-thon year, so lots of getting up and sitting on and reconsidering and re-revising. These revisions are multi-layered, and I find myself taking far, far too many breaks to read blogs and check in on Facebook or cope with family issues--or, yes, to dig my way out of the revision morass to market my first two books. Deep breath. (Which you can tell I need at the end of all those run-on sentences.) At the same time, new ideas percolate for the stories I'm longing to tell, but I can't go after them until I complete the rewrite and send it out into the world.

    But at least we're writing! Smile, everyone! We're having fun!

      1. Trying, Orly. Trying. So far, I've plowed through ten pages, stopped for Facebook, another few pages, stopped to workout on the elliptical and then fixed a cup of tea, one page, after which my husband came upstairs, so I checked my email, where a comment from you showed up. Your blog post is keeping me busy. Okay. Back to it.

        I'm taking your good words to heart--as you said, even if it doesn't procure the dream, all the work will have taught us/me scads.

  4. Great notes, Orly. With fiction, you need to be submitting your very best work. And we always think we are! These R&R notes simply apprise us of the fact that there is more yet to be done.

    While I think #2 has merit, I'd only take the "editing by committee" so far. Not all agents are editorially inclined. Some are crack sales people but do not have the analytical bent that allows them to see "how" to fix something—they only know when it "isn't for them." They might say the characterization is weak when really it's the story structure that needs shoring up.

    This R&R agent may be the only one to have suggested such a change—but what if she's the only one who has both that editorial inclination and the predisposition to "get" the true potential of your work? This is when you need to trust your gut.

    Late in my eight-year submission process I pitched to a Berkley editor that gave me specific revision notes. Addressing the changes required some major surgery—but doing so got me my agent. The editor ultimately passed when we resubmitted, but I thank her in my acknowledgments, because my book is now published, and so much better for her input.

    We can't predict how or why certain advice will help us—but advice from an industry professional is golden and should not be set aside simply because no one else said the same thing. (I think you know that, but thought your point was worth qualifying.)

    1. You're absolutely right, Kathryn. Editing by committee is not a wise idea. It doesn't matter if the editorial suggestion comes from a critique partner, agent or editor - not everything will work for you or your story. As you point out, you can't predict how or why certain adivce resonates. Looking at all the feedback you've received gives you a chance to see if there are similarities to the comments that signal a second look or a even a comment that contradicts what a couple of others have said but flips that lightbulb.

    2. Hello, Kathryn! Fancy meeting you here! I was Googling for some advice about the revise & resubmit process, and found Orly's excellent post and your insightful comment.

      So can either of you help me with this question? I've been working on an R&R for six months now. I'm almost ready to resubmit. Should I include a document outlining the kinds of changes I've made, in response to Dream Agent's comments and the reader's report (as well as lots of changes I've made according to my own lights)? Or do I just let the New & Improved ms speak for itself? I can think of arguments for both, and I don't know what is customary.

      Any thoughts?

      1. I finally just asked the agent, and she said she would LOVE to have a summary of changes. So, that's done, the R&R is sent, and now the waiting game begins.

  5. Great article!

    I had at least three R&Rs back when I was agent hunting. And it means you are SO close to signing when this starts happening. My experience -- and mine alone -- is that the three R&Rs I submitted didn't result in an agent taking the manuscript, despite my best efforts. I even complied with an R&R I didn't agree with, the agent wanted to me to make the book more "Southern." Huh? I asked my published friends what the heck it meant and they threw up their hands. I emailed her for clarification and she referred me to another writer's website for guidance. I took a look and this writer's voice was entirely different from mine - funny and light - the opposite of my paranormal. I did my best, sent it in - only to get rejected.

    For everyone that got an agent after an R&R, plenty do not. Like you mentioned Orly, see if the changes resonate with you. If they don't, then don't spin your wheels for weeks to make that agent happy. My experience is that they either "get me" or not. Technique problems, scene alterations, etc. are fixable but if they don't buy into your "voice" it probably isn't going to work for either of you in the long run.

    Just my two cents!

    1. Exactly! I've heard from a number of writer friends (and experienced myself) that even after an R&R, the requesting agent may really like the revised ms yet still not offer representation. Even if that agent doesn't offer, that shiny new manuscript just might catch the heart of another agent.

  6. I just had the first 100 pages of my book professionally edited by a former Random House acquisition editor and, as someone else noted, I had to think hard about what changes to make that resonated with me. Almost all of her changes were "right on" but a few were not. My ms is definitely much better after her edits.

  7. Wonderful and helpful information. I was submitting last year and remember that feeling when hearing back from an agent who had requested my material - only in my case they made comments but no "resubmit to me!" comments with their suggestions of what they liked or didn't like. I'll be submitting again soon and this is good information to know as I'm hoping this time around I'll get to pull a muscle doing a happy dance! 🙂

  8. "Your heart beats in your ears, you close one eye, tilt your head to a 35 degree angle and squint at the words." <-- I so do this, lol. I definitely dislike rejections, but if they come with notes it's very exciting. You've given some great advice. My one RR I handled much in the same way you suggest. It took some time and she definitely did not forget me. Thanks!

    1. Agents don't forget!
      Interestingly enough, Sarah LaPolla with the Bradford Literary Agency posted her year end stats and she writes that more often than not, she'll request an R&R if she's interested in a submission. The one author she signed in 2013 started as someone she met in 2011 at a conference then requested an R&R in 2012.

  9. The first R & R I received led to a contract. I looked on the R & R not only as a way to make the story stronger, but a kind of test to see if I was willing to make changes and how easy I was to work with.

  10. Orly. I love this blog, one of the best yet. I've seen old crit partners who jumped to make changes like this and in the end, the agent still refused the book. I think it was because they just made changes arbitrarily without really thinking any of them through and going through your process. Your ideas are simple ones and oh so true!

  11. I agree with you, Orly, about waiting. Let those thoughts percolate. Something better always, always comes thru. If you are afraid of forgetting, the almighty sticky notes are available. Then when ready, use your notes and make the project better.

  12. I have to think that an agent who is willing to ask for a rewrite - to invest even that much in you when she could easily say "next" - is an agent with potential to be passionate about your work.

  13. My husband often wonders why I have print things off when I'm working on-line and I'll be emailing the finished copy. Sometimes he even says, "Save a tree."
    But for me, I need that different preceptive you wrote about.
    I also have trouble developing patience. And enjoy analysising all types of feedback--just sometimes I need to grow a new layer of thick skin first.
    Sharing this on Google Plus.

    1. You said the dreaded "P" word ... *shudder*! But yes, patience, especially when it comes to revisions is huge.
      As for thick skin, the only advice I have is to remember that the agents aren't rejecting YOU. If you're getting tough edits from critique partners, it's probably - hopefully - because they know you can give a wee bit more. If you're getting edits from agents, it's because they really do want you to succeed - even if they don't offer representation. It's hard to think that way when the sting is fresh but trust me that once you do, it's really freeing.

  14. Wow thanks for this! I am in the process of trying to begin to revise and edit my two novels and a short story, but find myself afraid to begin, nervous I will purge too much of the meat of the story!!! My fear is holding me back but this outline is wonderful!!!! Thanks

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