What does it mean when you’re asked to revise and resubmit?

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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.

Why do we do a revise and resubmit?

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.

Did I just get a rejection?

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.

The author point of view

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.

Revise and Resubmit etiquette

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!

26 thoughts on “What does it mean when you’re asked to revise and resubmit?”

  1. As someone who’s gotten an R&R from you all and is still working on implementing its requested changes, thank you VERY much for this post. :D It’s good to hear what your all’s thought processes behind it were!

  2. Jeannie says:

    I received an R&R last year from an editor and I was thrilled at what this represented for my book. Ultimately, even after months with the revision, and the strong backing of the editor, the book was not acquired. However, I built a reputation at this house as a solid writer who is easy to work with and from what I understand in this business, that’s gold.

    I will always appreciate the time the editor took with the R&R. She put in a lot of time on my behalf. I still hope this book finds a home, but it’s gratifying to know it got me very close.

  3. Very helpful post, Angela. Thank you for this.

  4. Thanks so much for this post Angela! I received an R&R from Carina recently and am currently working my way through the revs :)

  5. Valerie Norris says:

    Very good to hear! I hope to be in the position to receive an R&R letter from you someday!

  6. Wendy Soliman says:

    I received an R&R recently and today had the book accepted! Yeah!!

  7. Hi, and thanks very much for the info on R&Rs. I’d never come across them before until I entered the M&B New Voices contest and got blogging/e-mailing with other contestants: who revealed pitfalls I’d never encountered previously in all my years of writing and subbing to pubs.

    I’d always had either R letters with personal comments, or contracted revisions, but I guess R&Rs can be advantages in many ways. Revisions, though, are part and parcel of a writer’s life, either do or don’t get pubbed.

    My experience to date of subbing to HM&B has been with M&B UK – the only publisher I’ve received straight rejections from (always unsigned), which kind of gave me the impression courtesy to be a one-sided affair. So no more subs to M&B.

    I think publisher reputation is as important as that of writers, because news travels fast on the Internet, and the rise in eletronic/paperback publishers is now providing more outlets to authors where once we were faced with a tight-knit market place. I here it said time and time again, why wait ten/eleven months for a reply from M&B to a subbed ms when other publishers are turning subs around in six weeks?

    It does make one stop and think, who best then to sub to? It seems the trend is to play several publishers off one against another, a bit like playing several pin-ball machines at the same time: which one if any will come up trumps first! I don’t like this approach, but I can see why it’s becoming the norm with many authors who find themselves faced with R&Rs from one pub and minor revisions from another, especially as many of the eletronic pubs are going paperback on 60,000+ word novels. That’s all some authors desire: their name on a book cover! ;)

    best
    F

  8. Cathy in AK says:

    When I received my R&R from Carina I was thrilled and terrified. Ideas to make my story stronger and the opportunity to try again? You bet! The possibility that I’d mess up? *Gulp* But Kym’s letter was detailed enough to tell me what needed work while never saying “Do this my way.” She left it up to me to decide what changes to make and how to make them. Her insight has been greatly appreciated, I assure you.

    I knew Kym had put a lot of work into reading my manuscript and writing the letter, and I had to put my best effort forward in addressing her points. It took three months to get the revisions “completed,” out to my crit partners, retweaked and returned to Carina. That might seem like a long time (though to be fair, there was a month of travel in the middle of that where I didn’t have direct access to the ms and jotted ideas in a notebook), but it was well worth it. Like Angela said, don’t rush.

    The idea of fixing the ms and trying for a different publisher never crossed my mind. There is a sense of loyalty at work here. Had I sent in the revised ms and then been rejected, I would have tried elsewhere. Lucky for me, that wasn’t the case :)

  9. Hi,

    Congratulations Cathy on getting a bite, and three-month turn-around on revision is good. I agree loyalty is vital if one has secured interest in submitted work, even if no guarantee on publication.

    The beef about subbing that’s doing the rounds (not Harlequin or Carina)is the turn-around times on subs to M&B UK. In eleven months of waiting on a reply from the UK one author had also subbed to Wild Rose Press same day. She had a reply within days to a premise and sample chaps from WRP, revision was slight and the novel was published two months before M&B UK replied to sub sent same day. Needless to say it was an R from the UK office. That author has since had her M&B proposal published with WRP as well. So yes, loyalty is paramount if one’s work secures sufficient interest.

    I’m waiting on a sub, and don’t know what Carina’s turn-around times are so I’m in the dark on that. I could ask Liz, I suppose, she’s pubbed here. She’s the only author I know on Carina’s list.

    best
    F

  10. Cathy in AK says:

    Francine, speaking from personal experience, I resubbed in mid September and was made an offer in early November. Very quick, from what I can tell, and much sooner than I’d expected (though believe me, waiting even that short a time seemed like the longest month and a half in my life :) ). As in most things, your mileage may vary.

    BTW, good luck to those working on their R&R and congrats to Wendy on acceptance :)

  11. Mikaela says:

    Thank you for the post, Angela. It helped me make up my mind, that I will be submitting one of my novellas to you. So what if epic fantasy novellas are rare, that just means I am creating a new niche! ;)

  12. Margaret says:

    Thanks so much for this post! The information you give on your site is always helpful and encouraging.

  13. angela says:

    Thank you very much for this. It was very interesting for me to see your side of things on this.

    A question–is there a reason why some editors send you a brief paragraph ‘revise and invite to resubmit’ type reply and others actually give a detailed, bullet point revision letter? Oh, and while I’m at it–one more Q. Is it a death knell if the author revises based on the letter, but there is one facet they decide not to change after much consideration?

    Thanks in advance!

    Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

  14. Angela James says:

    @Francine our turnaround times are noted both in the autoresponse and in our submissions guidelines here on the website, if that helps.

    Also, I’m sorry you were upset by the M&B form rejection, but Carina also uses form rejections. I even wrote a post about it here: https://www.carinapress.com/blog/2010/02/personalized-rejections-why-not/

    I don’t think we can fairly compare Wild Rose Press and HM&B as apples to apples, especially in terms of submissions and response time, just as we couldn’t compare Carina to any Harlequin imprint as apples to apples. There are just too many different factors at play to do so.

    @Angela I can’t really speak for what different editors do, especially at other publishers. At Carina, every editor has their individual style, even within the Carina style, so I could ask 3 editors to write the same R&R and they’d all be wildly different!

    As for deciding not to change a facet, not the kiss of death at all. Just acknowledge that you read and gave due consideration to that feedback and explain your reasons for not changing it (no need to go in depth). Mostly the editor just wants to know, at that point, that you have a reason for it and not just because you didn’t want to do the work!

  15. Lara Kairos says:

    Angela, thank you for sharing this. The information is very important to me because it helps me understand the editors’ work. You are so right about encouraging the authors to consider the R&R carefully.

    It seems that it’s best for an author to accept R&R if she had targeted her story at a specific publisher and tailored it to their genre range and literary style. Also, as a beginner, I would be receptive to a R&R offer, since it would be a tremendous learning experience.

    On the other hand, if an experienced author wrote a book chiefly to tell her story and share certain ideas with readers, she might want to search for a publisher that her story would fit better.

  16. angela says:

    Thanks so much for your answer Angela. Very helpful. Have a great week.

    Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

  17. Hi Angela,

    Thanks ever so for your response.

    It wasn’t the form rejection that annoyed: it was the “lack of signature” on letter, which came via snail mail. With emails one can see who sent it.

    best
    F

  18. Ann Mayburn says:

    Thank you so much for posting this Angela!

    I can’t stress enough that if a publisher asks for a R&R, really consider doing it! It’s great to get an inside view as to what a R&R means, and I thank Angela and Carina for their transperancy in how they do the magic of publishing. Very refreshing to see some behind the curtain thoughts. :D

  19. Karen says:

    Sorry for my belated comment, but I did want to commend you for this practice.

    I was very impressed by my R&R letter because of the time and thought that obviously went into it, and the politeness and professionalism of the responding editor. Although I ultimately declined the invitation to revise and resubmit for three fairly significant reasons, the letter gave me a much better idea of the kind of material Carina is looking for.

  20. Bob Mayer says:

    Depends how much your time is worth. I feel either someone sees enough merit in the writing to make an offer or not. To ask for unpaid work is something I’m not a fan of. Also, one should get an idea of what kind of advance they might possibly get if the work is accepted. Divide that by the time it took to write the project and then the time spent revising. An interesting thread on the PAN loop right now regarding Carina and royalties.
    Every author has to find their own path.

  21. Alvin A. says:

    I think an R&R letter is probably the best “yes” a first time author can get right away after going through miles of rejections from other places. If anything, the author should copy and past the book in another folder and apply the revisions and suggestions and then give it a good read. If its unappealing, at least you copied and pasted it –thus giving you room to make another approach. This will probably take no less than 2 weeks. (Much more, if you seriously want to make this place a writing career point.)
    -this is all opinion though.

  22. Felicia S says:

    I love this website and all the helpful information on it. Especially, since I am in the process of writing my first novel.

  23. Maggie Bond says:

    Angela, thank you for such an informative post. This really shines a light on how editors operate and is a useful reminder of the fact getting a book to the point of publication is a long, often complicated process.

  24. Fred Waiss says:

    Angela, I only discovered Carina a couple of weeks ago. I’ve read all your submission tips, and they are really helpful. I’m going to be sending you a submission in the next day or two, and although the waiting time for a response is trying, I’ve had to wait about that long for a response on a short story, so for a full-length nove, that’s not bad at all.
    Thanks for the encouraging help.

    Fred Waiss

  25. Angela James says:

    Hi Fred, I’m glad you’ve found the tips helpful. That’s our goal! I know the wait time can be frustrating, but we do think we’re worth it if we acquire your book. Our editors and support team are pretty awesome (not that I’m biased) and can help take your book and your writing to the next level!

  26. Lisa Woods says:

    Angela,

    I have done alot of research on different publishers to send my manuscripts to, and so far, you guys seem to have so much information that help aspiring authors be the best that they can be.

    thank you for that!
    Lisa

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