Interpreting a Revise and Resubmit by a Literary Agent

  • By: Jessica Faust | Date: Jun 25 2020

Commonly called an R&R, a revise and resubmit request from a literary agent is both thrilling and terrifying. It can also be a whole lot of confusing.

Typically an R&R is either an email or a phone call from an agent asking you to make specific changes before an offer of representation is made. These changes can be small or expansive, depending on what an agent feels they need to see.

The confusing part is not just about what an agent wants, but usually, it’s in how an author interprets the agent’s requests and then goes on to make the changes.

Reasons for an R&R

There are many reasons an agent might request an R&R, but the biggest is that they feel the changes necessary are large in scope and they want to see how an author can handle revisions. If we learn anything as agents we’ve learned that it’s one thing to write a book, it’s another to revise, and I don’t mean emotionally.

World-building, for example, isn’t an easy thing to do. I have great admiration for authors who master the art of world-building. If I struggle with the world-building in a novel but love everything else, I will likely ask for an R&R. I need to see that the author is capable of world-building, or fixing a world before I can offer rep.

A slightly unlikeable character or one or two plot point changes are not something that would likely hold me back from offering representation. Those are simple changes.

An ending that goes off the rails. That’s something I might need to see an R&R on. Endings, especially in suspense or thrillers can be tough to nail and not always an easy fix.

Ultimately, an R&R is a request to see if you are able to make the changes (or close to) that the agent needs to be able to pitch the book. It’s also a test of whether your vision aligns with the agent where this book is concerned. I mean, it could be as big as changing your adult to YA or your YA to MG. That would be something the agent would likely want an R&R on and a test of your vision (and the agent’s).

The Best Advice for Doing an R&R

Tackling an R&R is overwhelming. For obvious reasons, you want to get it right. My advice for getting it right is do what you do best. You can’t know exactly what the agent is looking for, so don’t try to guess.

If the agent only makes comments on part of the manuscript, like the first chapter, assume any chages you make will need to carry throughout the book, and carry them through. This is not the time to skimp.

If you disagree with some of what the agent says, or can’t envision it, don’t make the changes. Mostly because if you can’t see it, you can’t make it.

No matter the outcome this is your book and an R&R can be just as much of a test for the agent as it is for you. If you can’t see what the agent sees, or you don’t want to, it’s as simple as they might not be the right agent for you. A good author-agent relationship means having a similar vision.

9 responses to “Interpreting a Revise and Resubmit by a Literary Agent”

  1. Avatar Susan setteducato says:

    Hearing this from you put R and R’s in perspective, Jessica, especially our last sentence. Thanks!

  2. Thanks so much for this! I was invited to do an R & R by an agent and I AM SO EXCITED because the changes she suggested made the book what I wanted it to be in the first place. Yes it was a lot of hard work but it was totally worth it (I hope!) She is hoping our visions align and I know they do– I made all the changes she suggested so now I’m just waiting!

  3. Avatar Mirka Breen says:

    Beautifully said. It was an R & R that convinced me to sign with my second agent. What the agent suggested felt spot-on to me. No matter if it led to a business relationship, these suggestions were ones I saw the point of making.
    What I often hear from writing friends who get a R & R is the bafflement at what they understand as minor tweaks. They wonder why an agent wouldn’t offer representation and also mention these tiny changes at the same time. My take is that if it seems minor, it likely isn’t. Stop, take a breath, and see if the real scope of the changes becomes clearer.

  4. Ditto! I love the last paragraph. It forces the writer to ask him/herself, “Am I so desperate to get representation that I will change *my* book?” and “Or am I just being stubborn, clinging to an idea that ultimately won’t sell?”

  5. Avatar Jessie says:

    With R&R is it appropriate for the author to ask the agent clarifying questions if they don’t understand all the suggestions? Or is it assumed the author should be able to navigate that on their own? I’ve always wondered this.

  6. Avatar Wendy Belle Wilson says:

    Whenever an editor or beta reader suggests a change I’ve found it’s something I wasn’t sure about either. And the end result is usually a stronger manuscript.
    We may write by ourselves but we need the input to out the finish on the writing. Writers want to put the best book out. Editors do as well.

  7. Avatar Donald Prime says:

    Thank you for your succinct explanation of what an R&R is and the reasons an agent may request it. I especially liked your advice that if we (as the author) disagree with what the agent suggests, we shouldn’t make the changes. Your comment puts in perspective the inherent tension between an artistic endeavor (in this case, the novel) and the expectations that drive the business aspects of publishing. That is something I find myself struggling with.

  8. Avatar Annette Murray says:

    I value your insight and advise for R&R work. It’s important to be on the same page as we progress but not give up our ‘stories’. This is exactly where I am in one of my WIP. Thanks, Jessica!