Revise and resubmit

For those who have been in this writing game for a while, you will be familiar with the “revise and resubmit” (or R&R as I call them). The horrible irony is that a R&R will give you neither rest nor relaxation, but may allow your reader to ultimately enjoy the book—like that lady in the picture, having some actual R&R.

Whether from an agent or a publisher, the R&R offers a special kind of purgatory. You haven’t been rejected, but the hope of acceptance dangles with a tempting elusiveness, like a slightly out-of-reach cookie jar.

I have lost count of how many of these blessed things I’ve received. Fortunately, after many a rejected resubmission, I was accepted. First, by my agent. Next, by my publisher. But don’t think this wasn’t after a lot of despair, “why, God, why?” moments, and general overwhelm at the Herculean task ahead of me.

How to approach a R&R? Well, it really depends on how much detail the agent or editor has given you. The first R&R I received I’m going to paste below for you, just so you can see how far-reaching it was:

We felt the manuscript had the following strengths:
• The concept was interesting. 
• The heroine and the other characters had distinct backstories.
• The hero was a likeable and believable love interest.
We felt the manuscript had the following opportunities for improvement:
• The story could use more emotion. We felt the characters’ responses did not always match the urgency of the situation, which made it difficult to invest in the story. We would have liked to see more visceral emotional responses from the characters and greater introspection to make the narrative more engaging. 
• The romance could be more developed. While we wanted the hero and heroine’s relationship to succeed, we had a hard time connecting with their romance. It would be beneficial to have them face more obstacles to create higher stakes and tension. 
• The pacing could be stronger. Events continued to happen one right after another, which didn’t give the narrative enough time to produce a lot of suspense. The story would benefit from more action scenes and drawn-out conflicts to establish greater buildup and atmosphere. 

Honestly, I had no idea what any of this meant at the time, but in hindsight it meant I wasn’t ready to submit. I did my best to rewrite, and got rejected. But I learned a lot from the experience, and became a much better writer in the process.

The more experience I got with R&Rs, the more specific feedback I’d get. Until the last one before I was accepted, which was short, but encouraging: get another beta reader or two to look over it, then resubmit it. Encouraging, because there wasn’t much wrong with it now. It required tweaking, not rewriting.

Don’t get too excited, though. When that same book got to the editor, I got yet another R&R which required a huge structural edit. When I say “huge”, I mean the entire premise of the story had to be taken out. Completely. When I saw that, my heart sank. It was like renovating the house when you have to keep everything except the timber frame. Doable, but a lot of work! For that particular edit, rather than becoming overwhelmed, I decided to go back to the basic principle of my first ever post on this blog—take it “bird by bird”. Or, in this case, scene by scene. I also returned to the Bible verse that I’d used as the foundation of the story and reflected more on the message.

So, if you want my advice about R&Rs, use them as a big, fat, juicy learning opportunity with a side of “you’re on the right track”. Doesn’t matter how wonderful you think your story is. Doesn’t matter how hard you’ve already worked on multiple (multiple!) rewrites. If an agent or an editor thinks it needs work, it’s better to do the work now and get a better book. Otherwise, two things will happen: either it won’t get published at all, or the readers will make sure you know all about it in the reviews, and no one wants that!