The Logistics of Handling a Revise and Resubmit from a Literary Agent by Tracy Gold
Querying literary agents is complicated enough when you’re handling requests, rejections, and offers of representation.
However, as I wrote in my last post, about the basics of querying, sometimes, agents give you an in-between: a revise and resubmit.
Revise and resubmits take many different forms, but they can be a great way for you to find out if you like working with the agent, and vice versa.
From working as an agent intern and watching hundreds of writers’ journeys via participating as a Pitch Wars mentee for two years, I’ve seen a lot of writers’ experiences with R&Rs. In this post, I’ll cover the different types of revise and resubmits, and the logistics of how you should handle each.
Only Revise if The Feedback Fits Your Vision
In any revise and resubmit scenario, you should only revise if you think doing so will make the book better, and if the feedback matches your vision for the book. I’m not saying you have to be excited about the revision, at least not at first, because revision can be emotional and scary. But you should feel a sense of purpose in your revisions, and sense that the agent “gets” your book.
There are no guarantees with revising and resubmitting. Just because you have done revisions for a specific agent doesn’t mean that agent is going to want to represent you when they read the new version. Besides, another agent could love a part of the book one agent wants you to remove. Loving books is subjective. Figure out what your vision is for the book and evaluate revision ideas based on that vision.
There’s also nothing wrong in letting feedback rest. You don’t have to decide whether you are going to revise right away, or even in a month. The offer to look again does not expire (though, of course, markets do change).
Don’t Be A Jerk
Sometimes writers can come off as jerks because of ignorance of how the industry works. Working with a literary agent is not like hiring a real estate agent or insurance agent. Literary agents get hundreds—even thousands—of queries a month, and some only take on a few new clients a year. Most agents have seen every variety of rude, arrogant, and sometimes downright scary author behavior under the sun, and thus have their guards up.
When you’re communicating with an agent, remember to check yourself before you wreck yourself. Put yourself in the agent’s shoes and think about how they could interpret your communication. Remember that you are not entitled to any given agent’s time or attention. Don’t freak out too much, though. Most agents love helping authors create amazing books, and will understand the difference between an honest mistake and being a jerk. Don’t freak out too much, though. Generally, as long as you are being a nice person, if you cluelessly break some unspoken rule, the worst that could happen is an agent gets a little annoyed, doesn’t respond, or turns you down. I doubt they’d hold it against you when you’re ready to reach out with your next project.
However, if you are a jerk, that agent could spread the word to other agents and essentially get you blacklisted in the industry. A screencap of your email could even be shared on Twitter, to the delight and consternation of all of the nice, reasonable authors and agents out there.
So, you know, don’t be a jerk. Unless, of course, you’re a highly entertaining jerk, in which case, I’d ask that you give me a heads up so I can get my popcorn and log on to Twitter.
The Generic Revise and Resubmit
Often, agents have different tiers of form rejections: one rejection they send to everyone, and one rejection they send for work they liked but didn’t love, for whatever reason. The “tier two” rejection often includes something like “Please query me with future work.” Some agents also include a note that they would be open to reading another draft of the same manuscript in their form rejections. This may look something like “If you choose to revise, please feel free to resend.” If this comes at the end of a fairly vague rejection—especially if that rejection is just on a query or a partial manuscript—it is likely part of a form rejection.
In that case, I would be shy about reaching back out and asking for more details before you tackle a revision, but I would feel free to write back to them again if you do indeed revise. Give them a brief overview of what you changed and send back the same materials they had originally (query, partial, full). You can either reply to the same email, or write a new one. Every agent has a different way of managing their submissions and there’s no way you can predict that system. Of course, if they use a query manager system and won’t see your email, you have no choice but to reach out with a new query via that system. Most of the time, though, “revise and resubmits” will skip the query line.
The Specific, Enthusiastic, Revise and Resubmit
Sometimes, writers will have a call with an agent, get excited that this is going to be it—the offer of representation!—and then have the heart-crushing realization that the agent wants to see a revision before offering representation.
If an agent has a phone call with you to discuss revisions, that’s a great sign. That means they loved your story enough to invest a lot of their time into it. Feel free to reach out to that agent with questions. However, I suggest doing as much of the work as possible on your end. Come up with specific ideas about what you could change in the book and run them by the agent, or even implement your revision ideas on a few chapters and ask if you can send over those chapters for feedback before you revise the entire manuscript.
Some agents almost always ask for revisions, even surface-level revisions, to test how you will work together before offering representation. This is your chance to see what it is like to work with that agent as much as it is their chance to see what it’s like to work with you.
However, even a phone call R&R is no guarantee the agent will represent your work, and you should still only revise if the feedback speaks to you.
Not all specific R&Rs come via phone calls. Sometimes, agents will write you a long email with super detailed feedback and ask to see your work again. I’ve had friends receive emails like this, and crestfallen, believe their work was rejected. I had to do the text message equivalent of shaking one friend when I told her that her now-agent had not rejected her. She had given her an R&R! This is good news, not sad news (though of course we’d all love an offer of representation right away). If you get an email like this, feel free to email back and forth with that agent just like you’d gotten a phone call. I wouldn’t, however, ask that agent for a phone call to discuss the revisions. That could come off as a little presumptive, and if the agent is like me, they might prefer email to phone calls. We are in an industry filled with book-loving introverts, after all! However, I’ve heard of agents offering a phone call along the way if they think that would be best.
For this kind of R&R, if in doubt, I would ask the agent about how they would like you to communicate. My bet is that they will ask you to reply to the original email thread with questions and keep them posted on the project. If you’re feeling shy or like you might annoy them, it can’t hurt to communicate about the best way to communicate. After all, this could turn into your agent in the long-term, and setting guidelines for the best way to communicate is a great idea for any business (or personal!) relationship.
On Exclusive R&Rs
Sometimes, when agents give you feedback, they will ask for a head start to consider your newest version. This can put you in a tricky situation. If that agent eventually offers on your manuscript, you would be expected to reach out to all of the agents who have your full manuscript (and those you’ve queried recently) and give them a chance to make counter-offers. The other agents may be miffed to find out you sent out a new version of your manuscript and they didn’t know about it.
On the other hand, the agent who gave you the R&R put in the time and effort to work with you on the manuscript. That deserves some bonus points, even if it’s only mentally. It is up to you whether you want to agree to exclusivity for an R&R. If you decide to give a head start, I would recommend giving a limited time period, like three weeks. If the agent hasn’t gotten back to you by then, feel free to reach out to the others. Just know that if you do end up getting an offer from the R&R agent, you might end up angering those who had your older version.
If you don’t have an exclusive R&R, you should let all the other agents who have your manuscript know you have a revised version. I’ll go into a little more detail about how and when to do that in the next section.
How to Manage Revising and Querying
If you find yourself in the position of revising while you still have queries and full manuscripts out with agents, this can be a tricky situation. While it’s best to revise your manuscript several times before you query agents, sometimes, you will get unexpected feedback or wisdom from conferences that you’re inspired to act on. I’ve been in this situation myself, and agents, editors, and other writers will give you conflicting advice on what to do.
Everyone will tell you to stop sending out new queries. That’s an easy one. If you get requests during this period, explain the nature of your unexpected feedback and ask the requesting agents to hold off until you have completed the revisions.
The hard part is whether to ask agents who have your full or partial manuscript to hold off on reading. Sometimes, contests like Pitch Wars will require that you reach out to agents and ask them to stop reading while you revise. If you see clear and convincing flaws with your manuscript and you’re very gung-ho about doing some major revisions, I would recommend asking agents to pause. In my observation, agents are fine with this 99% of the time. They don’t want to waste their time reading a manuscript that’s not your best.
Other times, you may dive into revisions not fully knowing how drastically your story is going to change or whether you’re even going to like the newer version of the manuscript better. You may get to the end of the revision and realize that you liked the manuscript better the old way, even though you gave the revision a fair shot. If you are unsure of the extent or promise of your revisions, I would not reach out to the agents who have your manuscript and ask them to pause. Instead, when you are done, if you are confident in the revisions and they go beyond minor edits, reach out to the agents who have the manuscript and very apologetically ask them if they will consider reading the new version. Give them an out like “I understand if you have already made your decision on the old version.” Most of the time, they will be happy to read this version. Agents have a lot on their plates and often won’t have started your book by the time you reach out. Sometimes, though, they will tell you that they have already decided to pass on your old version. Sometimes, they won’t even respond. This is par for the course.
Note: don’t reach out to agents if you find a few small things to change or typos in your manuscript. No one is going to reject you over a few typos. Now, if you have mistakes and typos on every page, that’s another story, but you shouldn’t be sending out a manuscript in that shape in the first place.
Talking Yourself into an R&R
If you have a new-and-improved manuscript, consider reaching out to agents who rejected your old version and seeing if they would consider it again. If you got “liked it, didn’t love it” rejections, or rejections that praised your talent and asked to see future work, it can’t hurt to see if those agents would read your newest version. Again, be sure to give the agent an easy out—something like “I know you’re extremely busy and totally understand if the answer is no, but would you be willing to take a look at a revised version?” Sometimes, they will say yes.
You can also sometimes turn rejections into R&Rs. If you get specific feedback in a rejection from an agent that inspires you to revise, it can be appropriate to (very cautiously) reply and ask the agent if they would be open to taking another look at a revised manuscript. Guage how to move forward based on their response. If they respond with more detailed feedback, feel free to keep the lines of communication open and treat it like a revise and resubmit. If they say something short and sweet, like “sure,” I would be a bit more cautious.
That’s my take on how to manage R&Rs! I’m sure you will find conflicting advice on how to handle these situations, but remember, as long as you approach the situation with respect for the agent’s time, and you’re trying to be nice, the worst that can happen is that you get rejected. And that’s not the end of the world.
Feel free to comment with your experiences or additional questions.
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