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When and When Isn't a Revise and Resubmit Request a Good Thing?

I've gotten more than one. My clients have gotten more than one. And most published writers I know have gotten more than one: a revise and resubmit request (otherwise known as an R&R).

R&R: When a publisher asks for revisions PRIOR to giving a contract, with no contract guaranteed.

How publishing used to operate was a publisher would work one-on-one with an author to get their book into tip-top shape. But now, with publishers swamped with submissions and having too full a publication schedule, many have asked authors to revise until their manuscript requires as little editing as possible, to save on editing costs.

In this post, we'll dive into why publishers do this, when it's a good thing, and when you should turn an R&R down from a publisher.

Why Do Publishers Issue Revise and Resubmit Requests?

I should add a caveat that although I have run into this a lot in publishing, this mostly happens with small and mid-sized publishers. If a bigger publisher wants to take you on, but knows you need revisions, they will often work with you to get the book into the shape they want, especially for nonfiction.

So why would small and mid-sized publishers ask for a revision?

Firstly, they want to pay less for editing.

Editing costs a lot. If they feel that a book needs expensive edits, they'll ask the author to pay for that by using a freelance editor. Or the author can take the longer route of doing multiple revisions with critique groups or beta readers.

Secondly, you may be "almost there" but "not quite."

A publisher may absolutely love your idea, but you have some honing to do. This is usually the most ideal situation. They believe in the concept, but they need you to bring your A-game execution to the manuscript.

Thirdly, they don't have the heart to tell you they don't have room.

Many publishers have a limited number of books they publish, especially smaller houses. I know some presses that publish as few as 2-4 titles a year. Now, they get thousands of submissions, so they can afford to be a little picky. They may like your idea but also don't have room for you, so they'll push off the inevitable rejection for later.

Fourthly, you need to work on platform.

Many times a publisher will pass until you've increased your social media and newsletter numbers. Keep working at it and get those numbers in tip top shape.

So now we know some of the reasons why a publisher will request a revision. How do we discern if we should put the (literal) hundreds of hours of edits, or whether we should pass and try someone else.

When Is a Revise and Resubmit Request a Bad Thing?

Every publisher operates differently, so I can't cover in depth every reason you should exercise caution when it comes to the R&R. But I can tell you some major red flags you should keep an eye out for.

Red Flag One: They keep sending back more revisions.

In other words, they keep stringing you along until you give up. I had a client experience this. He was a go-getter and wanted to do anything to please the publisher. They kept sending revision after revision. Eventually, he and I both got frustrated, and I emailed the publisher asking, "Are you interested in this manuscript?" (I.e. will you please take it on after all the edits you made my poor client do?). They gave a noncommittal response along the lines of "Eh, we like the idea, but the manuscript isn't where we like it." I told my client to pass on them and that we'd take his book elsewhere.

Red Flag Two: They make you sacrifice the integrity of the manuscript.

R&R requests do often ask you to make some big edits. I've seen editors ask an author to switch POV, increase the pacing, add a subplot, etc. But they should never make you sacrifice the integrity of the story. I had one client who got an R&R that basically asked her to undo all the tropes she was subverting. The editor clearly didn't understand what my client was going for and tried to get her to write a book that the editor liked rather than what the story intended. We passed.

Red Flag Three: After a few revisions, they won't hint if they want to contract your book or pass.

No one likes to be strung along. If a publisher never intends to publish you in the first place, they probably shouldn't ask for an R&R. To save yourself a lot of heartbreak, after the second request, ask them if they intend to publish. If not, shake the dust off your feet.

When Is a Revise and Resubmit Request a Good Thing?

Nevertheless, I have also had clients experience some good R&R requests, most that ended in a contract. Let's explore some ways we know if we've found a good publisher who simply wants some more revisions.

Good Sign One: They mention wanting to contract it after edits.

Maybe your book is 95 percent there, and a publishers wants to see you get to the full 100 before they commit. If they mention wanting to contract your book once you make changes, you can probably pursue the R&R edits with fervor.

Good Sign Two: They point out changes that align with the integrity of your story.

Everyone wants to team up with a publisher that "gets" their book. Nothing hurts more than an editor who doesn't understand what you went for in the plot and who marked up the page with a lot of comments that are going to hurt the story. But if you meet an editor who "understands," you'll want to provide the revisions.

Good Sign Three: Combined with the first two good signs, they've given you feedback others have given.

I know a writer whose agent makes him revise a manuscript any time they get the slightest feedback from an editor. Here's why this is a bad thing.

For my recently contracted time travel series, I had the following feedback:

  • Your main character is too snarky

  • You didn't take your main character far enough

  • You didn't have enough subplots

  • You had way too many moving parts

Now imagine if I tried to edit the manuscript based on this feedback. I couldn't. Too much of the feedback contradicts, showing me some editors either skimmed or missed the point of the story. But if you get the consistent point that you should dial back the main character's snark, and a publisher seems eager to contract after revisions, do the edits.

Not many articles cover what to do when you get an R&R request.

Most writers say, "Just do the edits. Say yes." But I've also seen R&R requests completely destroy writers to the point where they gave up and walked away from the industry--especially when a publisher strung them along with no intention of printing their book.

Know it's OK to say "no" to some edits, even if that means turning down a publisher. You shouldn't die on every hill, but you should also preserve your mental health, your story's integrity, and your time.


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