The Request to Revise and Resubmit

Revision is an integral part of the writing process.

Consider this quote from a recent special edition of Time magazine entitled The 100 Most Influential People Who Never Lived:

Giacomo Puccini’s opera Madame Butterfly failed, miserably, at its debut on Feb. 17, 1904, only to be hailed as a triumph on May 28, 1904, after the Italian composer gave it a major overhaul and staged a new version. Puccini finally stopped tinkering with the piece after five versions, and it’s the final one that remains one of the most performed operas in the world.

There is no shame in revision. Even the masters have to revise.

But not all revisions are equal. Before sending out your manuscript, you likely will have put it through multiple revisions:

  • Your self-guided revisions, based on your own instincts about what your story needs.
  • A revision (or two or three) based on the advice of critique partners and/or beta readers.
  • If you have representation, there may be a revision (or two or three) based on your agent’s feedback.

Eventually, of course, the day comes when your story is in the best shape you can put it in, and you send it out. Depending on where you are in your writing life, you may be submitting it to agents if you are seeking representation, or your agent may be sending it out to editors at various publishing houses. If you write short stories, you may be sending one out to literary magazines for consideration.

Once your story is out for review, you will receive one of three responses—a pass, an offer, or…a request to revise and resubmit. It’s this type of revision—the revision by request—that I want to focus on in this post.

A revision done by request is, in my opinion, different from a revision based on your personal ideas about how to improve the manuscript, or even a revision undertaken based on feedback from friends or even your agent. When you are asked to revise and resubmit, you will almost certainly feel that the stakes are higher. You will feel a new sense of pressure. It may feel like the best thing—or perhaps the worst thing—that has ever happened to you, (or perhaps both at the same time.) Yet requests to revise and resubmit are common enough that I thought they deserved their own list of Dos and Don’ts. These are my personal thoughts. Feel free to add to them (or argue with them) in the comments.

  • Ask yourself if the revision is one you definitely want to take on. This may seem like crazy advice when the request comes from your dream agent or editor, but you want to make sure that the people you work with on your story get your story. A request to revise and resubmit will most likely ask for specific changes. If the request asks for changes that seem to conflict with the core of your story, you may find the best plan of action is to respectfully decline.
  • If you decide to take on the revision request, decide what you are willing to change and what you feel you cannot compromise. For example, you may be willing to enlarge the role of a particular character, but you may not be willing to age your protagonist by two years. This is your story, and ultimately, it has to remain your story.
  • Once you agree to revise and resubmit, get as much information as possible. If the request came by email, ask for a phone call. Take as many notes as possible. Ask questions. You don’t want to throw hours of hard work into a revision and end up missing the mark because you didn’t truly understand what you were being asked to do in the first place.
  • Focus on clarifying, rather than changing. If the request asks you to add dimension to a secondary character the reader feels is flat, find ways to reveal more about that character, rather than rewriting the character from top to bottom. By clarifying rather than changing aspects of the story, you ensure the story stays true to your vision.

In the end, remember that a request to revise and resubmit doesn’t guarantee that you will receive an offer, and it doesn’t guarantee you will receive a pass. It shouldn’t be approached as a test. Instead, try to approach it as an opportunity to learn more about your story and how well your working style meshes with the style of the person who requested the revision.

How do you feel about revising by request? Do you agree with the above advice, or do you have your own approach? Please share your thoughts in the comments!


20 Responses to The Request to Revise and Resubmit

  1. JoSVolpe Oct 7 2013 at 6:22 am #

    Spot on advice!

    • Julie Eshbaugh Oct 7 2013 at 6:48 am #

      Hi Jo! I have to admit, once this was written, I wondered if maybe I should have you – as the agent among us PubCrawlers – read it and add your comments. Unfortunately, I ran out of time and had to go with my personal thoughts only, so I’m very glad you agree with the post! (Of course, I’m sure my own agent’s opinions on this topic have influenced mine and are woven throughout. :))

      • JoSVolpe Oct 7 2013 at 7:30 am #

        I would have happily taken a look for you, Julie, but clearly there was no need! I give my clients very similar advice as you’re giving here. The revision still has to be for the author, not the editor–needs to fit their vision. And I love what you say about getting as much info as possible: GOOD CALL.

        Smart, smart all around.

  2. thejordache Oct 7 2013 at 11:50 am #

    Such a great post, Julie. One of my first acquisitions was a revise and resubmit. Awesome advice!

    • Julie Eshbaugh Oct 7 2013 at 11:57 am #

      Hey Jordan! Thanks for your input here! I’m happy to know that you’ve acquired through the revise and resubmit process. 🙂

  3. Natalie Aguirre Oct 7 2013 at 1:34 pm #

    Great tips on what to consider if you get a request for revisions. Thanks so much for the advice.

    • Julie Eshbaugh Oct 7 2013 at 3:03 pm #

      Hi Natalie – I’m glad you liked the post! I hope these tips come in handy if you should find yourself faced with a request for a revision. 🙂

  4. Sooz Oct 9 2013 at 10:51 am #

    Love this post, Julie. LOVE it. I think you’re so right that one must stay true to the original heart of the story and remember that it’s *not* a test. Thanks for this. I needed it. <3

  5. Alexa Y. Nov 6 2013 at 3:14 am #

    I quite like this post! I think it’s extremely helpful, especially for someone like me who aspires to be a writer someday. Plus, I think the fact that you stressed the importance of making sure it stays your story is incredibly great!

  6. Teena Raffa-Mulligan Dec 20 2013 at 6:43 pm #

    This is excellent advice, Julie. We can be so focused on having our work published that there’s a danger of us losing our creative vision in the eagerness to please a potential publisher or agent. While we do need to be open to suggestions on how to improve our ms, what we write should always remain our story.

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  11. danimariexo Feb 6 2018 at 9:17 pm #

    I just received my first R&R, from my dream agent, and I do think the edits she has suggested fit my vision and will strengthen my story. I was hoping it was appropriate to respond with enthusiasm for the advice she provided and request a short phone conversation. Should I mention how strongly I want to work with her? Of course we don’t query agents we wouldn’t want to work with, but some are higher priority than others. I do not, however, want to come off as desperate.

    • Julie Eshbaugh Feb 7 2018 at 10:43 am #

      Hi! I think you have a good plan, and certainly you should show your enthusiasm. This R&R is actually a great opportunity for you to see if you two are a good fit. Not ever writer gets that chance. Best of luck to you!! 🙂

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