The Mythical R&R
I recently had the privilege (??? The misfortune? idk, the jury is still out) of completing a revise and resubmit on my #FoxWIP and I wanted to share my thoughts on the R&R along with my process. There are vague mentions of R&Rs happening in the writing world and you can find lots of posts about the basics of what to do if you catch one of these magical beasts. But I wanted to dig into the less talked about, grungier, and more personal side of things.
First off, R&Rs are maybe not as rare as people say? They aren’t common, but they aren’t quiet the elusive unicorns that I had been led to believe they were either. I feel like I see fellow writers posting about them fairly often (which may be dependent on the writing crowd I follow?) and I personally know several people who have had them from both agents and publishers. And, I, personally, have had 1.5 for the 3 manuscripts I've queried.
1.5 you say? How does that work? Because the .5 didn’t explicitly invite me to query again with the revised manuscript, BUT a few months later, during a Pitmad pitch, that agent reached out to me inviting me to query again if had taken the suggestions they gave and revised the same manuscript they had previously passed on. (I chose to NOT take advantage of this as I had already moved on very solidly to my #FoxWIP)
But the second R&R was 100% a ‘please send this again if you make revisions.”
First off, let’s acknowledge the truth. I was gutted. I had been super hopeful about this full and when I got this email, even with its ember of revision hope sparking between the lines, I spiraled. Mostly I remember drowning in a combination of tears and alcohol for the weekend. (Thankfully it was summer break and a weekend and in quarantine, so really my only problem was WOULD I HAVE ENOUGH LIQUOR TO GET THROUGH THIS??) (I did, btw, thank you for your concern)
I had to process my devastation. I went through the why bother diatribe because no one was going to want it. What was the point in doing revisions? If they’d liked it enough, they would have offered rep--because I know that once you get an agent you usually do a HUGE REVISION on your manuscript before going out on sub. So like, isn’t that the process anyway? If it weren’t for bad luck, I would have no luck at all, and publishing is, at its heart of hearts, all about luck (Or timing. The right person at the right time with the right manuscript. Tomato/tomato.) and has no correlation to all the hours writers spend toiling over their work.
So basically a revision was pointless.
And then I started digging into the specifics of the R&R and arguing them. Because I had clearly already done all the things they wanted me to do. The groundwork was there. It wasn’t my fault they didn’t read carefully enough to see all the work I’d done. Look. This isn’t pretty, but it’s an honest processing of feedback--especially feedback attached to a NO. Part of it was me being so emotionally tied to this project. Part of it was my backstory of always being the family disappointment who tries hard, but never quite actually does anything significant. And this particular cocktail of events (in the middle of a pandemic no less) were not good.
But the truth was, the feedback wasn’t bad. It wasn’t what I wanted to hear, but it was all actionable things I could do that would make my manuscript better and stronger nonetheless. For the record, I recovered from my devastation in record time--the R&R arrived in my inbox on a Friday afternoon, by Monday I was making charts and tables and bullet lists of how to fix this mess and somehow manage to win them over and get that offer of rep. In the past, this would have taken me at least a month? Maybe more? (Look I had *kind* feedback that destroyed me a two years ago and that person’s words totally crushed my writing vibe for MONTHS and still haunt me to this day, so 3 days to go from devastation to on task is like PHENOMENAL).
I also have really good CPs--remember my heist crew? I shared the feedback with them. They kept pointing out the good things in the pass and then listened patiently as I threw 5 pages of outlined notes of possible revisions at them. They were the best and I could not have recovered as quickly as I did without them.
And then I walked away. Which killed me. But it was the best choice I could have made. I had a plan but it wasn’t fully formed and despite my diving off the deep end into how to do this revision, I was still emotionally wallowing. I was also waiting on editorial feedback from a professional critique. So I knew my best chance at nailing this revision was to wait and see what the professional editor said as well.
I did a minor revision of SAMM (my bi-Bellamy-from-the-100-needs-new-boots-story). And then I started Harpy Girl Revisions and then it was a month later and my professional critique popped into my inbox. I read it, processed it, discussed with my heist crew and adapted my plan, coming up with more concrete ideas and making clear actionable choices of where and how I was going to work this into my manuscript. And I still didn’t start revisions. I waited another week and let things settle. I did a read through of the manuscript as it was, handwriting notes as I went to indicate what needed adjusted and where.
Interestingly enough, the agent feedback and editor feedback had only a few places where they merged. Overall, they focused on different aspects. I felt the agent feedback was more true to my vision of the story and so I took the things from the editor feedback and framed it around the agent feedback which led me to the version of #FoxWip that I have now.
Throughout this entire process, I also read. There was a specific element of the revision this agent was looking for and it was one I struggled with the most because I didn't entirely see it and of all the feedback, I felt it was the most opinion based. But I could see the value in tweaking this component, so I started analyzing the books I was reading for this element and I did a reread of a book that definitely managed to do this (it had to do with mood and tone!), I highlighted, I took notes, I studied craft.
In the end, the biggest changes were at the front of the novel. I added in several scenes and one entirely new chapter. Then two more scenes that came later in the book were also completely brand new. But the rest was small stuff, word choice or adding a line of emotions or internalization, shifting the focus minutely to highlight one thing or another. And then I sent my revised manuscript out to my new betas mid august.
I had one beta who’d read it before and two who were brand new to the story and didn’t have any prior knowledge to sully them or confuse them (anyone who has ever read more than one version of a manuscript knows what I’m talking about. Every time you read it, regardless of the depth and types of changes, you come away being more familiar with it and making more connections). So I was really focused on the feedback of my two new betas, one of which was a secret reader--she didn’t know me and I have no idea who she is (a mutual beta partnered us up) and I only mention this because I really like this concept because it’s no strings attached and she had the freedom of saying anything she felt she needed to without having to feel like there was a person/face behind the words.
Fast forward to when I finally got all my beta feedback and I sent out my new query with the revised manuscript and waited to find out if I managed to nail it or not.
In the end, I had a stronger manuscript. This wasn’t an exclusive R&R, which meant I could query this new version widely. I appreciated this because to me, it speaks to the agent’s methods--they wants what's best for me and my manuscript, even if it means they aren't the one repping me.
If you've stuck with me throughout this long convoluted story, you deserve to know the end. And while it's not happy, it does totally fit my aesthetic. The agent passed. Again. *weeps*
Their reason was valid and I absolutely don't begrudge them for it. Most R&Rs end with happy stories of the agent or editor saying yes. I however, managed to fail this test of writing and publishing prowess. I had a second chance and I still couldn't manage to get it right.
No one wants to see a story that ends in failure, but in publishing we usually only hear the success stories (even if said author queried diligently and earnestly for a long time--their story still ends in success despite the setbacks). So I think seeing stories of it *not* working out are just as important.
My story isn't over yet. I have a new manuscript to query this fall. I continue to be aware that I am a badass motherfucker. An excellent writer and I know that I'm worth the risk. Whether or not traditional publishing will ever feel the same is another matter.
*R&Rs are not as rare as you would think, but they still aren't common--it's a mini investment in you as a writer and a fostering of potential
*You're allowed to be devastated, frustrated, and angry--process those things
*But then, make a plan
*WALK AWAY. srsly, give it a month (or two--whatever you need), then come back and reassess and do your revisions
*Test those revisions out on new people
*Requery said agent, knowing that you have a stronger manuscript, but with 10X more anxiety bECaUsE wHaT iF iT wAsN't EnOuGh????
*Drink alcohols/eat chocolates
Happy writing folx!