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How To Revise and Resubmit

I recently was asked by the exceptional agent I’m reading for (“La Agent” hereafter) to look at a manuscript on which she had requested some revisions. She didn’t tell me what her initial thoughts were, nor what kinds of changes she’d suggested to the writer (she’s always trying to test me :P) (not really) (maybe really). So I read. There were problems and not little ones, either. I started wondering about what kind of suggestions La Agent had given but, even more so, about how much of those suggestions the writer had taken to heart.

Not until I’d sent my thoughts on the manuscript back did La Agent reveal both her notes – and the fact that the writer took three days to complete the requested changes.

It is not an impossible feat to complete revisions in three days. The line edits portion of revisions are an easy fix. It’s also not impossible to complete some revisions in three nose-to-the-grindstone day;. even larger plot-specific or character development revisions can be completed in a short period of time, though I've yet to see a successful example since I began interning.

Writers really need to get it out of their heads to do quick revisions. Maybe it's a combination of excitement that "Wow, the agent likes it!" and fear that "Oh no, if I don't do the revisions quickly the agent will forget about me!" that helps drive these fast revisions. I promise, the agent won’t forget your work. Even in a month. Even in a year. I’m not lying about this. The agent obviously saw something intriguing and that spark of interest doesn’t just peter out. If an agent takes the hours to produce insightful comments on your manuscript, there is interest on the agent's part.

After I'd read the revised manuscript, La Agent and I discussed the original vs. the revised manuscript; talked about the continued problems we were seeing; and mourned the rejection to be sent to the writer (I can’t stress enough that agents really, really want to see great work from writers, really, really want to sign writers, and really, really don’t love sending rejections). But we also aired our frustrations over writers taking a Revise and Resubmit and not doing a thorough job of it.

We know you don’t have to follow every agent suggestion. You don’t have to add everything s/he wants you to add or cut everything s/he wants you to cut. This is your story. Revisions are suggestions – but they are coming from a place of experience in reading/writing and a knowledge of what editors are seeking. So, no, you don’t have to do everything an agent asks, but please take the suggestions to heart. Here are some suggestions for completing a Revise and Resubmit.

1. Take your time. Read the suggestions. Mull them over before making actual physical changes. Mulling does not take fifteen minutes. New definition of mull: To think or ponder for a long time. Decide how the suggestions affect/change your characters, your plot, tension, motivations. Rip everything apart to the point that band-aid solutions won’t stop the bleeding. Dig deeper. Revisions are not the same as “rearranging,” nor are they the same as “slap another scene in there somewhere.”

2. Utilize beta readers. If you don’t have any, find some. Find a writer you know and trust and who likes you enough to be honest and thorough but not so much that s/he feels they have to hold something back. We all know beta comments can sting, but you will not become a better writer if you can’t take constructive criticism. Make sure your beta reader(s) understand the changes you’ve tried to implement so that they know what to look for. Give them guidelines and questions to answer.

3. Ideally, you’ve continued to mull over possible changes while your beta(s) read. If you think those changes make the manuscript better, implement them. It’s not required, but when you’re ready to send the manuscript back to the agent (in . . . a few weeks’ time? A couple months’? Those are both okay time frames), talk a little bit about the changes you made. I’d be more interested in reading a rambling e-mail from a writer detailing changes and concerns and her/his thought process than simply getting a “Here ya go!” with the new manuscript attached.

It really is okay to take your time. Beneficial, even.

At the end of this whole experience, La Agent made this comment in an e-mail to me. It’s a lightning flash/light bulb over the head kind of statement that drives home the idea that you need to take time with your R&R because, while you have "something," it isn’t there yet:

Dear Writers: If it was a simple revision, I would do it after I signed you.

(cross-post from
Kristin Halbrook

Kristin Halbrook is the author of the critically-acclaimed young adult novels Nobody But Us (HarperTeen, 2013) and Every Last Promise (HarperTeen, 2015). She likes many things.

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  1. Wow. That light bulb did just go off!!! So simple, yet brilliant and most writers ARE afraid taking too long puts them out of sight/out of mind.

  2. Nice informative post! You really drove home some key truths like really taking the time to revise fully. It's funny how it takes a good chunk of time to write the story in the first place but when it comes to revising, many people think it can be done quickly. Thanks for the great post!

  3. This is such a great post. I struggle sometimes with how long I take to do revisions without every even talking to agents - sometimes months or a year. I send it out to Beta readers 3-4 times and really chew over what everyone has to say before I hack away at it again. This post makes me really glad I take so much time doing this. I feel like in the end, it's just going to make my life easier.

    Thanks for sharing.

  4. This was such a good post for me to read. With my first novel, I just tried to fly through the revisions as quickly as possible because of the 'excitement' you mentioned, and it ended up going too far and we had to set it aside.

    Thanks so much for the tips!! I think the mulling it over part was especially fantastic lol :)

  5. I agree with giving the suggestions time to sink in, even if the revisions come from a critique group. There were some suggestions from my group that I think would have deadened the voice if I took them literally, but since I really tried to step back and see what the suggestions were supposed to accomplish, I was able to put my own spin on them and keep the story's voice intact. Or maybe even improve it.

    Good to know about avoiding the rush to resubmit; my ms. is out right now, but I have made some good revisions. I'm not going to deluge the editors with "wait, read this version instead," but I suspect that if they ask for revisions they will be in line with the problems my group spotted. If that's the case, then I'll have the new draft ready to send quickly.

  6. ...Thank you.
    A lot. A lot a lot. I got asked to revise and resubmit a while ago. It's been almost a month, and I've been terrified. What if I take too long? What if they forget me? I ripped it to pieces; I don't want to send her the chunks and bits but I've been so stressed about the time.
    Thank you. :P So much for this.

  7. Interesting post! I'm only a blogger but I LOVE reading about the meat and potatoes, behind the scenes process. Thanks for sharing that.

  8. Great post - I signed with my agent after a 'revise and resubmit' rejection. I took a week to just think about the changes, and another couple of weeks to make them, send the MS to beta readers, and tweak anything that needed it. Because a 'revise and resubmit' IS your second chance; you're not gonna get a third. So definitely take your time and make sure you get it right :)

  9. I got an R&R from a publisher and was such a newbie i didn't know what it was. Had to be explained. Finally, i got it and after much frustration realizing i simply didn't know what the comments meant i took myself back to school. Three workshops on revising, pacing and grammar later, plus one expert reader and a good proofer and i'm finally ready to try again. Yes, i now know that R&Rs are an important second chance. Wish me luck! : )

  10. Interesting post. Do you think that it is a good idea to talk to the agent about the changes you didn't choose to make, so they understand that you weren't just ignoring what they had to say? Maybe agents should also caution the authors that they want them to take at least 3 weeks (or whatever amount of time they think correct) to do the revisions.

  11. I really love this post. I've got it bookmarked and I come back to it to remind myself that it isn't a race.

    I got an R&R about two months ago and I am doing my best to work through it well and working through feedback— which has included changing the tense of the whole thing and really reconsidering a few things. I had a fear that I was taking too long but I got an email from the agent the other week so they still know I exist. It's just about learning patience I guess.


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Item Reviewed: How To Revise and Resubmit Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Kristin Halbrook