Navigating the Revise and Resubmit Process: A Guide for Querying Literary Agents and Submission

querying revising
Navigating the Revise and Resubmit Process: A Guide for Querying Literary Agents and Submission

If you're hoping to be traditionally published, you likely already know that you first must query literary agents. You may already be bracing yourself for rejection letters and eagerly awaiting offers of representation. However, there's a third response an agent may send you: the "revise and resubmit" request, also called an R&R.

After reading your full manuscript, the agent might email you with suggested changes, asking you to revise the manuscript and submit the new version. If the author agrees to do this, there is a chance that the agent will offer representation if the revisions meet their expectations.

What does a revise and resubmit request mean?

Essentially, an R&R means that an agent sees potential in your book and their ability to sell it, but it’s not quite where it needs to be for them to commit to being your business partner. Agents want to be head-over-heels in love with the projects they acquire so that they are willing to fight hard for them during submission to publishing houses.

An R&R, however, provides a second chance for books that agents enjoyed but didn’t fully resonate with. They believe there’s a chance that they’ll fall in love with it if certain changes are made. If you receive an R&R invitation, it should be encouraging to know that this agent didn’t merely pass, they want to see if you and they can get on the same page and potentially work together in the future, which is great!

If you receive an R&R and want to know what to do next, read on!

What to know about the revise and resubmit process

If you get an R&R request, the first thing you should do is pat yourself on the back! Whether or not you end up following their suggestions, or working with this agent after resubmitting, your book caught their eye enough that a busy publishing professional sat down to offer insights into how you might improve your book. This means they see promise in what you’ve created, and that’s awesome!

The next thing you should do is sit back and let all the agent’s notes simmer. You do not have to respond or begin revisions right away! You should take your time and consider what’s being asked of you. After all, the changes you’re considering will likely impact the entire manuscript, so you want to be sure that this is something that will improve your book while keeping your vision and voice intact.

Also, since R&Rs typically require a major revision, the requesting agent is not expecting a quick turnaround, so don’t feel as if you need to drop everything and resubmit your book in a matter of days!  The expectation is that you’ll have anywhere from 3-4 months to turn your edits in unless the agent states otherwise.

If you decide that the suggested changes are something you want to do, then be prepared to work hard on these edits. R&Rs typically require a book-wide revision; if the agent only wanted small changes, they would have offered representation and then worked on revisions with you afterward. You should also be prepared to buckle down as a way to show this agent that you are receptive to constructive criticism and that you’ll put in the hard work to make your book shine.

Remember, you’re trying to convince them that you will be an excellent business partner, so don’t shy away from doing an extensive overhaul of your book at their request if you agree with their suggestions. An R&R is an opportunity to show an agent that you’re an excellent reviser, easy to work with, and that your editing minds will mesh well together—all signs of an excellent partnership on the horizon.

Do I have to revise and resubmit?

While an R&R can be a great opportunity, and it’s important to be open to constructive criticism, if you strongly disagree with the direction that the agent is asking you to take your book, then do not feel pressured to make those changes. Turning your book into something you don’t love or believe in is not the agents’ goal. While getting an agent is what you want, it’s better to remain in the query trenches a little longer than to be partnered with someone who is not a good fit for you. You need a champion who believes in you as a writer and in your vision for the book.

After all, agents want a partnership, too. They are not expecting you to do as they say against your will or better judgment. They are merely making a suggestion, and offering you a second chance that you are welcome to take them up on. If the R&R suggestions don’t work for you, however, then a partnership with this agent likely won’t either, and it’s totally fine to walk away!

Here are some reasons you might turn down an R&R:

  • The changes would dampen or remove your voice
  • You don’t agree that the agent’s suggestions will improve your book
  • Revisions will change your book’s genre to one you don’t wish to write
  • You don’t have time to do a huge overhaul of your book
  • You would have to go against your own values, traditions, or beliefs
  • You’ve gotten enough interest from other agents that you don’t believe changing your story to get representation is necessary

Whatever your reasons, if you decide not to submit a revised manuscript, make sure you send back a polite “no” and thank the agent for their time. Do not argue with them, or get defensive. Nothing about an R&R is mandatory. Even if the suggested changes upset you, publishing is a small industry, and you don’t want to get a name for yourself as a potentially rude client who is unreceptive to feedback. You're free to simply walk away!

Will completing the revision get me an offer of representation?

It’s important to note that nothing about the querying process is guaranteed. Just as there is no guarantee that you will complete an R&R, the requesting agent is not obligated to pick you up as a client just because you resubmit as they asked. There are many reasons why an agent would ultimately pass on your book. Perhaps after reading your revisions, they realized that they still don’t resonate with it, despite expectations. Maybe while waiting for you to resubmit, they signed another client whose book is similar to yours, and they don’t want to try and sell two comparable books at once. There are many reasons why an R&R could end with disappointment, so don’t put all your hopes in this one basket! As stated earlier, the fact that you got an R&R is worth celebrating, because clearly your book has promise. Just remember that an R&R invitation is an opportunity on the table, nothing more.

Although rejection stings, it’s infinitely better than signing with an agent who fundamentally misunderstands your stories, or doesn’t champion your voice. Despite how it feels being rejected after an R&R request, your querying journey is far from doomed! Publishing is an extremely subjective industry where successes and disappointments abound. Being rejected after an R&R is just one small leg of the journey before you, so don’t let it get you down!

Ready to sign with a literary agent?

Now that you know how to navigate the revise and resubmit process, you're prepared for this part of the submission process. As you hunker down in the querying trenches, consider an R&R experience to be a positive sign that you can make your author dreams come true— with a book that you know has what it takes to truly shine.

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