Revise and Resubmit
There is a middle ground, when it comes to letters from a publisher regarding your latest manuscript. (If you are an old writing hand, skip on down to the *** bit.)
One end of the spectrum is “hello, we would like to buy your story.” That doesn’t mean you’re done. That means you’ve got a couple rounds of edits, cover consultations, and six months minimum before you have a book in your hands or in your digital reader.
The other end of the spectrum is “thank you for sending us your manuscript but it doesn’t meet our needs at this time.” It might not be that exact phrase, but it’s polite, short, and unambiguous. That’s a rejection.
One step up from there is the rejection letter, along with a line of personal feedback. This is a great sign. You can write well enough that someone working a fifteen hour day took some time to say something you can use.
Two steps up from there is the rejection letter with a ton of specific feedback. The editor does not want to see this story again, but you could use that feedback to rewrite and possibly sell that story somewhere else. And this editor really liked you/your voice/your story. Send her your next manuscript with a nice note thanking her for all that great feedback last time.
Three steps up (or more cheerfully phrased, one step down from acceptance) is the revise and resubmit letter. Tons of specific feedback, along with a disclaimer that reads “making these changes doesn’t means we’re going to buy it, but we’d like to see this story again if you decide to try.”
I got one of those last week. It’s funny, but at first I was more bummed by it than I’d been by a flat rejection. It was like missing a potential home run by an inch, or missing the qualifying time by a millisecond. So close, and yet so far. I’m rational enough to know it’s a good sign (and that I have friends who would kill for this, and kill me for whining), so I just put the email down, thanked the editor, and noodled for a couple days.
Three of the suggested changes were cosmetic, trifling things. The other items were all deeper, and it is my private belief that I’ve spotted the difference between “acceptance, now here are your developmental edits” and “revise and resubmit.” My first novella is almost through her editing process, and all the suggested changes were things that tightened the story. The suggested changes on my R&R are things that will change the story. There are ripple effects from these suggestions that run through the entire manuscript. It’s a lot more of a challenge than throwing in a few lines of description or giving the lead a bit of interior monologue. I don’t have a track record as a fiction writer yet, and no one knows if I can pull off this kind of challenge.
*I* wasn’t sure I could pull off this kind of challenge.
Something broke loose like a boulder in a flooded river. Yesterday I sat down and poured 4K new words into the manuscript. Seriously, I could have written all night. I DID write all night, I kept waking up and writing notes for more stuff on the pad I keep by the bed. I couldn’t turn on the light without waking my mate, so let me tell you how thrilled I am that I can read my own notes this morning. See, yesterday, while I was cleaning up dog poop, I thought of a single solution that will solve all of the plot and motivation problems at once. It means changing about a third of the manuscript and adding at least two more chapters, but it works, I really think it works.
It’s a little scary because one of the things I get most often about my work is that my stories are well-paced. Adding so much material can be risky, but I think this is going to be so worth it. Someday, I hope to write a blog entry on what I did wrong, and how I saved it. But first I’ve got to save it!