Revise and Resubmit Letters

After last Tuesday’s big news, I’ve had a couple of friends ask me what “revise and resubmit” means, and whether it isn’t just a “soft rejection.” The thought process is that anything that isn’t an enthusiastic yes is a no.  While this is a good guideline for sexual consent, the same guideline doesn’t apply in the world of novel submissions.

Still, it’s not a stupid misconception. I certainly didn’t know what an R&R letter was before I got serious about writing. What nonwriters seem to think (and what I thought when I was a nonwriter) was that stories are either accepted as-is, with no suggested changes, or rejected outright.

This is very far from the truth. Writing is in a sense a collaborative process, and the process involves a lot of feedback and response, from alpha/beta readers, critique partners, and hopefully some day agents and publishers. A huge amount of revision happens between a rough draft and a final product. That’s just the business of writing if you’re going the traditional (or even the indie) publishing route.

As Carly Watters, a super cool agent I met at a writing conference, has explained: agents don’t ask to see more of something that they’re not interested in.  The fact that an agent wants to see more of my work means that she could see herself representing it. If the agent had wanted to reject me, it would have been a lot easier to do that instead of asking for a revised work.

In this case, after reading the suggestions, I agree with the deficiencies the agent identified. So I let her know that I intended to do a revision. Yes, in a sense this is putting a lot more work in without any promise that it will pay off.

But I’ve been writing for years with no promise that it will pay off. The nine months that I already put into the Plague Novel? There was no guarantee that anyone would be interested in it! Even if the agent decides to represent the novel? There’s no guarantee any publisher will want to buy it! At the end of the day, there are no guarantees. Period. There are only probabilities and chances, and the R&R letter makes it a lot more probable that this story will eventually be published.

Besides, regardless of whether she ultimately decides to pick up the Plague Novel or not, this is extremely valuable feedback that will result in me having a better, more sellable work.

So the idea that an R&R is a “soft rejection” is wrong. Understandable, but wrong. This is an “almost yes” that tells me I’m on the right track. My excitement is strong and legitimate.