If you’re knee-deep in querying literary agents and they’ve requested any material from you (yay!), you might get an email that is equally exciting and terrifying: The revise and resubmit (or R&R for short).
This means the agent thinks your work has promise, and they want to see you implement some changes so they can re-consider it.
Getting a revise and resubmit request
The process of getting an R&R from a literary agent tends to go something like this:
- You query agents with your query letter. You might also send along a partial or a synopsis.
- The agent requests your full manuscript. Queue much screaming and excitement.
- The agent sends you what appears to be a rejection… but they’re offering to look at it again, should you make some changes.
Now, agents themselves don’t tend to use the term “revise and resubmit” or “R&R” – it’s more something that’s used in the writing community to describe what happens when agent requests revisions.
The agent might actually say something like this:
I’ve read this now, and I think this is really strong. The plot felt pacy and engaging, but I don’t think it lives up to the promising beginning. We aren’t drawn enough to the characters, so I struggled to care about the protagonist and her journey. The narrative felt sparse in terms of world-building detail and atmosphere, which needs to be more fleshed out to stand up against the genre’s competition.
If you decide to work on it some more, I’d be very happy to consider it again!
I tweaked the wording here from an R&R I actually got myself while I was querying.
If you get one of these emails, don’t despair that it’s another rejection. It’s a brilliant opportunity!
Agents offer these types of revision requests for a few reasons: a) Because they believe the manuscript needs work before it’s ready (obviously!), b) to see if you have the chops to pull off the revisions to the point that it is ready, and c) to see what you’re like to work with generally, and if you’d be a good agent-author fit.
How to handle a revise and resubmit
First: Celebrate! It’s a huge achievement to get one of these requests. The agent has seen potential in your work!
Second: Try not to get too anxious. Easier said than done, I know. But you want to look at the feedback objectively and carefully. Do you agree with it on the whole? Are you deeply against the suggested changes – and why? Sometimes it can help to take a few days to consider the feedback, rather than having a knee-jerk emotional response.
When you’ve weighed up what you want to do – and if you decide to make the changes – make a plan!
If you need clarification on anything before you start revising, ask the agent. Try to keep questions to a minimum though, particularly as you aren’t a client yet. Send an email with a few questions, and then dig in.
What if other agents have my full manuscript?
This is a tricky one. If you pull the manuscript from the other agents, there’s a risk they won’t look at it again. They might already be partway through reading it, and probably won’t want to read it all over again.
If you really want to, you can ask agents with your full if they’ve started reading, and tell them you’ve had requests for changes. But there are no guarantees they will look at the new version.
The industry is so subjective. Another agent may well feel differently and not want you to make changes. So the option is there to leave your existing fulls out while you work on your R&R.
How long should a revise and resubmit take?
How long is a piece of string? There’s no right or wrong answer. It depends on the changes they’ve asked for.
The changes probably won’t be light if you’ve had an R&R request, otherwise the agent would have just offered to represent you. So be prepared to spend some time on this.
Do not rush! This is your opportunity to make your book stronger using the agent’s feedback. Rushing doesn’t produce strong work. Take some time away from the manuscript so you can assess it with fresh eyes.
A good rule of thumb is anywhere from one to four months. It’s best not to leave it too long – you don’t want them to lose enthusiasm!
When you’ve sent the revisions back
Ah, the waiting game begins! Celebrate, reward yourself, pat yourself on the back – and wait. Publishing is slow. And when you’ve revised for an agent but you aren’t a client yet, it’ll be slower.
You can nudge after a month or two to check in, if the agent hasn’t replied. Keep it simple and to the point:
I hope you’re well! I sent you my revised manuscript on DATE and I’m just checking in to see if you’ve had time to consider it?
The “slow no”
Some writers have called the revise and resubmit the “slow no” – and yes, you may get rejected after turning in your revisions. It hurts. Possibly more than the agent ghosting you, because you were so close to landing an agent!
But – people do sign with agents after revisions! It’s how I signed with mine. It’s common! Don’t give up hope and write off an R&R as a slower way to a rejection, because that isn’t always the case. The agent might even invite you to submit any future work. Which is another opportunity for the future.
Other revise and resubmit tips
- Keep copies of each draft of your manuscript. That way, you always have access to a particular version.
- If the agent never responds/ghosts you, it’s okay to be mad (this happened to me after an R&R I spent three months on!). But don’t get mad at the agent or direct that at their inbox. Agents know each other. They talk. I know it hurts, but vent in private to your writing friends and move on.
- You don’t have to make certain changes. It’s okay to disagree with the agent. If you didn’t take on board a particular piece of feedback, you can explain why when you send your changes back.
- It’s okay to refuse the entire R&R if it doesn’t feel right for the story.
- Think carefully about whether or not to have beta readers look over the manuscript this time. If you’re doing revisions for an agent, having too many cooks might spoil the broth at this stage and make you confused. Focus on the agent’s feedback.
More querying resources
- How to get a literary agent for your book
- How to format your manuscript for submission: Includes a free template.
- Twitter pitching events
- The waiting game: How to survive querying or submission
- Writer Beware: Literary Agents: Scams and red flags to watch out for when submitting to agents.
- Manuscript Wish List: Find out what agents and editors are looking for.
- QueryShark: A literary agent critiquing query letters on her blog.
- QueryTracker: Search for agents and keep track of responses. Note: not all UK agents are listed in the database.
If you still need help querying or want to whip your manuscript or submission package into shape, my editorial services might be helpful to you.