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The Highs and Lows of Getting A Rewrite and Resubmit Request

Back in December, I told you all about the highs and lows of querying my novel. At the time, I really didn’t want to crack it open in order to figure it out. I had no idea what was wrong with it, and none of the agents who rejected it previously felt quite comfortable telling me what was wrong with the third act. My biggest hope was that the next rejection would come with some guidance. But hey, I ended up getting a rewrite and resubmit request immediately after publishing that post, which is even better.

The View From the Basement, which got the dreaded(?) rewrite and resubmit request from an agent.

DECEMBER: The Request

I dropped my daughter off at school on December 8th of 2020. I pulled my son out of the stroller, then turned on the espresso machine to make a second cup of coffee. It was my day off and I planned on doing a whole lot of nothing. Relaxing. The Christmas season was in full-force, which can take a lot out of a retail worker. So I was gonna enjoy my coffee and rest. But then I checked my email. I was stoked to see that one of the literary agents with my full manuscript had responded. I opened it expecting another rejection.

CHRISTMAS COMES EARLY: The Rush of Victory

Instead, I got this:

Hi Rebecca,

Are you free sometime this week or next to hop on the phone? I finished my read and there is so much I LOVE / am terrified by in this, but also I have some thoughts. I’d love to chat to discuss!

My heart started pounding halfway through reading. I smiled. My whole body warmed with adrenaline.

I read the email over again and doubled over, thinking of Matt Dunstone’s celebration when he made this game-saving curling shot. That fist pump. “FUCK YES!” I screamed. My toddler stared at me with concern as I jumped in the kitchen. I was exited and I made every effort to remember that feeling because it passes so fast.

But then, of course, once the adrenaline died down, I read the email again and rationalized that uh, there was the big ole BUT included in the email. This BUT kept me reading over and over about something called an R&R, or rather, a rewrite and resubmit, which was something that I’d only just recently (and shamefully) learnt about on Query Tracker.

The concept seemed simple enough. An agent sees potential in the manuscript but thinks a few (or sometimes many) changes need to be made before they can officially take on the client. At the time, though, that concept seemed like the most painful and agonizing thing ever. Sure, I celebrated that foot in the door moment, but the fear of rewriting my book was what I slept on the night before the phone call.

The Call

The next day I made the call with a series of questions. Honestly, I wasn’t really ready to ask any of these questions, knowing about the whole R&R thing already, but I managed to pick a handful out of the myriad of questions that all the YouTube videos I watched told me to ask. At heart, I’m really not much of a planner. I like to get a feel for things and figure them out as I go.

Anyway, I got myself nice and caffeinated, took some deep breaths and made the call. Of course, the call started with simple introductions, and chill small talk about the weather and what parent life was like, which led nicely into the novel, which is about postpartum depression and millennial motherhood. The agent asked me what my writing process was like, how often I wrote, how long I’d been writing.

We didn’t delve into too much before getting into the novel itself. I sat back and tried to savour it because the agent basically said everything about my novel that I wanted to hear. I recall them saying that my book was “super fucked-up and dark” and it contained so many “gothic elements”. In the heart of the moment, I thought, OMG THIS IS THE MOST VALIDATING MOMENT OF MY ENTIRE LIFE!

They said that my book could “totally be the next Gone Girl”, which was kind of all I ever wanted to hear ever since I read Gone Girl. My dreams are really dumb and I’ve thrived on that dream of writing that next big thriller. But the comments made it pretty obvious just how much the agent loved the book and wanted to rep it.

Now the Bad News

Then came the rewrite and resubmit part. This also takes us back to the problems that I already KNEW my novel had in the first place. I expected rejection, but what I got instead was a phone call full of an agent’s perspective. Thankfully, in my case, the rewrite part came in the form of some subtle modifications to the third act. They were very rational about their suggestions, telling me what they thought was wrong without telling me out to change the plot in order to make it better.

I really appreciated their editorial approach because it allowed me to brainstorm new ideas, which immediately came to fruition during the conversation. I really felt the magic in our conversation. The agent clearly understood the tone of the book. They understood that it said something. Their only other suggestion was to commercialize the writing style just a touch. Of course, they knew that my background was in minimalist short fiction. They understood that, but also urged me to give it a slight bit more broad appeal.

Which, honestly, was exactly what I wanted to hear.

JANUARY: Rewrite and Resubmit Time!

Well, I went to work and boasted to all my coworkers about this news. I eagerly dug into the first chapters of my rewrite and diligently worked night after night through the first half through Christmas. Then January came, and with that, came the meat of the book that I had to fix.

My pace slowed. Doubt wore in. The agent sent me a quick message in the new year, which was promising and kept me going for a little while longer. But, as the months wore into true SADS time, I really stalled and grew exhausted juggling parenthood with work and writing. Most nights I barely even had the time to address a chapter. It became difficult remembering what I’d changed from one night to the next.

But I finished the edit and I bought myself a new binder from Staples, printed it out took it everywhere I went, marking up the pages with secondary edits that I planned on changing before sending it to the agent.

THE DEAD OF WINTER: Depression Sinks In

Then, in February, in I got another painful rejection from another agent who had the full:

I felt the plot moved along too slowly; it wasn’t until about halfway through that the setup started to really come to fruition, and after that, I didn’t always fully understand why the characters were making the choices they did.

I was gutted. I don’t know why, because if it came down to a choice, I still would have gone with the first agent. Truthfully, I had been stalking this agent for a while on Twitter, hoping they would love the book to death because they’d originally devoured through the sample chapters months before.

This rejection addressed all the parts of the novel that I’d already changed. I quickly became a horrible mess of paranoid anxiety. And lemme tell you, I KNOW that I’m a good writer. I KNOW this book is good, but that rejection just stung so hard in the moment. I literally just laid on the floor of the living room, buried under a blanket while my kids climbed all over me.

It took a few days for me to even want to touch my novel again.

MARCH: A Full Day Alone

My husband and I quickly got in the habit of watching Superstore every night instead of doing anything productive. I didn’t give a shit. Of course, every time I’d stumble across another writer’s happy publishing news on Twitter, the angst would settle in. I felt like I wasn’t doing enough and that I’d never get anywhere by being sad.

Deep inside, though, I still wanted to write.

Instead of working on the novel, I started writing a new story story. And then, I had a story accepted in a pretty big deal anthology, which just amped me up beyond my expectations. The acceptance hyped me up. The new story kept me excited about a new project, and then, of course, the novel came back into play. Then my daughter got sick, and it being Covid and all, my parents offered to take her and my son for the week, leaving me alone. At home. With no kids. And a story and novel that demanded to be addressed.

So I literally took my days off work to write. I worked on over half the novel in one day. I worked on the new short story at night. Then, because spring break came, my parents took the kids again and I managed to edit my way through the rest of the novel in one fucking day. I fixed every plot point. I cut out every redundant scene.

It really shocked me how productive I could be with one single day. I hadn’t had that in uh, quite a long time, and in the future, I’d love to try to schedule proper revision days for myself. It just made it so much easier to remain grounded in the story, as opposed to taking one or two hours at the end of every night.

My Rewriting and Resubmitting Takeaways

From what I’ve researched, some R&R requests can be pretty intensive, and it’s up to the writer to decide if they really want to do all that work. Sometimes it can be changing settings or major plot points. Sometimes it can be changing the targeted demographic, such as making an adult thriller into a YA thriller.

Shortly after receiving the rewrite and resubmit request from the agent, I actually got a second rewrite and resubmit request from a different agent. This other agent, however, wanted me to hire a fucking copywriter to help me fix it, which was kind of a major red flag. One would assume that a literary agent would have some notes to give or suggestions to make, instead of asking me to pay money out of my rather thin pocket to fix the book myself. I only mention this part of the story because there are “schmagents” out there who only see dollar signs in a manuscript and likely won’t do the work into turning that manuscript into something they can market themselves.

Fortunately for me, my R&R suggestions were pretty minimal. The first agent actually considered themselves an “editorial” agent, which is exactly what I want in one. Some agents also expect R&R requests within a certain time frame, but this one gave me an unlimited time span.

I finished my rewrite and resubmit request in about 3 months and eagerly sent it back in March with good prospects.

APRIL: The Worst Low of my Entire Life

I got my response a month later, on April 15th. It uh, it was not good. This happened on Monday and my feelings are still VERY raw and hard to talk about. I really and honestly thought that my book was better and that I had representation in the bag, so yeah, that talented perfectionist in me really took a fucking pillowcase full of oranges beating on Monday night.

I did, however, post about it a bit on Instagram. At the time I thought I was over-reacting and having too much of a pity party, but honestly, the response was welcome and I honestly appreciate when people appreciate honesty:

Getting a “Rewrite and Resubit” request is difficult. Working on one is painstaking.. Not much is really said of them, so I do plan on speaking to this more. I also failed to find any stories from authors who did a “Rewrite and Resubmit”, only got rejected after, so if you have questions, feel free to ask them here or on the above Insta post.

Eventually, I’ll be an open book.

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Rebecca

Rebecca is a neo-noir author from Kamloops, British Columbia. Her first collection of gritty short fiction, Vile Men was published by Dark House Press in 2015. She also writes about her writer lifestyle on her blog at rebeccajoneshowe.com.

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1 Comment

  • Emily Slaney April 18, 2021 at 1:54 pm

    Thank you for sharing this and I feel for you. I didn’t know about R&Rs. It sounds so hard. When you’re feeling up to it, you’ve got to take that hurt and sadness and turn it into something powerful – I know you can do it. Also that is one beautiful raw photo.

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