Many months ago, when I did a post on our acquisitions process, I promised to do a more informative post on what we call revise and resubmits (aka R&Rs). Many authors may have heard the term, or they may have even received one, but just not been sure what to do with it. And I’ve heard of many authors who think of an R&R as a rejection.
So let’s talk about an R&R from the Carina Press editorial point of view. At Carina, I try to encourage the editors to think of submissions in terms of probability for acquisition first, pass to another editor second, revise and resubmit third and rejection last. We don’t reject unless we don’t believe the manuscript is a good fit for one of the other three possibilities.
It can be a variety of reasons, really, but most often, there are several factors at work 1) the editor sees a lot to like about the manuscript 2) she likes the author’s voice and potential and 3) despite all of those, the manuscript needs significant revisions in one or more areas. Sometimes, if an author is someone we know well or have worked with before, we’ll acquire a book with the understanding that we’ll be doing (really) significant revisions. But for the most part, we don’t like to acquire a book if we’re going to be asking for some major changes. Why? Because it’s not fair to the author, for one thing. You don’t want to sign a contract, thinking the basic structure of your book is fine with the editor, and then suddenly find yourself ripping out major chunks or making changes like cutting a character or subplot.
And on our side of things, we have no way of knowing if an author is either willing or able to make those changes. Some authors believe a book should be accepted “as is” with only basic editing done after that. Some authors simply haven’t yet developed the skill necessary for making the revisions we’re asking for. And some authors just aren’t interested in doing the revisions. These are things it’s better to find out before the book goes to contract, so we utilize the revise and resubmit.
The revise and resubmit letter should never (ever) be viewed as a rejection. Trust me, if the editor wanted to reject your book, it would be a lot less time consuming. The R&R letter can often take hours for the editor to craft, after they’ve made extensive notes while reading your book. We don’t just whip out an R&R letter in 15 minutes and send it out. It gets crafted by the editor and then read by me and we discuss. We want to make sure that the letter is clear, lays out the issues, but also tells you why we love the book and want to see it again.
So, in my mind, I think a revise and resubmit letter should be viewed as the highest form of praise an editor can give you, short of actually contracting the book. That they took so much time to give you feedback means they saw a lot to like in the book. Don’t ignore that letter and think your chances with that publisher are done, read through it and see if you agree with their critique.
On that note, I know that there are authors who don’t care for the revise and resubmit, because it’s not a contract, and so you’re making the changes on faith. And there is no guarantee of a contract (we’re careful to note this in our letters) so you may make changes and still not find your book acquired. So once you get the letter, you do have some decision-making to do. Read the letter, evaluate the changes, walk away from it for a day (or two) and see if time and distance gives you objectivity to the letter (sometimes it can sting to get such a thorough critique) and then come back and evaluate: do you agree with the requests (at least some, if not all)? Are you able to do them? Are you willing to do them? Will making these changes result in a book you can sell elsewhere if they don’t end up working for the requesting publisher? Or will the changes result in a book that you feel isn’t true to your vision of the book? These are all things you should ask yourself before you either A) tackle the revisions or B) decline to make the revisions.
If there is such a thing. If not, I’m making it up now! There are also times when we’re in the situation of deciding whether or not to offer an R&R and we ultimately decide not to offer the revisions, but instead pass on the work. Why? Because, as I said earlier, R&Rs take a tremendous amount of editorial time and effort, and we know not every author is going to want to do the requested revisions. So we try to balance what we know of the author, their opportunity to publish the book elsewhere, and the likelihood that they’ll be receptive to revisions and go from there. I’m not sure there’s anything that stings more for an editor who’s put hours into a manuscript than to hear “Thanks for your revision suggestions. I sold the book to another publisher before I heard from you and I know you’re going to be happy to hear that I’m going to use your suggestions to make the book even stronger!”
Okay, well, that involves a whole other world of etiquette (the one in which you TELL a publisher if you’ve sold a book, and pull it from submission but…ahem…I digress) but it’s still happened where we’ve had people take the revisions, make the changes, strengthen the manuscript and then sell the manuscript elsewhere. And, yep, that’s certainly the author’s right. But it explains why we think carefully about whether we’re going to do a revise and resubmit.
So what should you do if you receive a revise and resubmit letter from a publisher/editor/agent?
1) Don’t feel you have to respond immediately. If you want to acknowledge receipt, that’s always nice, just send an email thanking them for the feedback and asking for time to think about it.
2) Take a few days to think about it. Once you’ve decided, let the publisher know that you’re going to either tackle the requested revisions, or that you appreciate the time they put in, but don’t feel the revisions are what’s best for the book at this time. It’s okay to say no. But letting the publisher/editor/agent know either way is very courteous.
3) If you decide to do the revisions, take your time. Don’t rush. This is probably your last chance for this manuscript with this publisher. And we’re going to raise an eyebrow if we get your revisions back in a day or two (no really, we don’t think this is possible). Do a thorough read or five of your manuscript. Carefully read and re-read the editor’s suggestions. Have a critique partner or beta reader give feedback. Do Not Rush.
4) If you decide not to do the revisions and think the suggestions are worse than that orange and green plaid sweater your Great Aunt Hilda gave you for your last birthday well, go ahead and vent about it. In private. To a few close friends. Not to your entire Twitter, Facebook and blog readers. That is not very courteous.
5) Last, above all, pat yourself on the back that, no matter what happens, someone thought your book had enough potential to take the time to send you that letter. That’s pretty flattering and you should be proud of the hard work that got you there!