Notes from the Armchair : On R+Rs*

By Laura Zats

I am an editor.

Since 2011, I have (officially, for money) been taking other people’s writing, restructuring it, and making it better. More clear, concise, and lyrical.

I am also a literary agent.

Since 2013, I have been reading pitches/semi-desperate pleas known as queries, requesting the first three chapters of a novel, and then turning 99% of them down for writing faux pas such as not enough world building, telling instead of showing, and shallow POV. I even have form letters for each of these errors so that I can tell the author why, specifically, I turned them down.

As someone who has spent a large chunk of their career workshopping with writers, to turn down a book on the basis of fixable problems (though not every issue with a book is fixable) is strange. Yet, it is not my job to be an editor for a book I represent. If I was, I’d never have time to sell anything. I’ll brainstorm, beta, and fluff up what you have, but I love it if you have other people on your team who help you spruce your book up. After all, the more feedback there is, the better your book is.

There is one notable exception to this whole “I’m an agent, not an editor” thing: R+Rs. Also known as a Revise and Resubmit.

An R+R is when an agent or editor will give a writer specific, actionable feedback (in prose form—not in track changes) to change something big (or small) about the story, and then invites them to re-send when they’re finished.

I play the R+R card very seldom. As my authors will tell you, I make them make changes all the time, but for an author I haven’t signed, a R+R from me communicates a very specific thing: I want to sign you, but the book isn’t quite in a position for me to take the leap.* It means I can see something really special in your book that stands above the rest—at least in my mind—and I want to see it get there and realize its potential. It also means that I want to test how you take critique and direction.

An R+R isn’t a promise of an offer, but it is a good indication that if your vision for the book and my vision for the book align and together we work well together, there’s a conversation coming along down the pipeline.

If you get one, take it seriously. It means your book has touched something deep and made a connection. If you feel like you can see where the agent or editor is coming from, do your best to make the changes and open yourself up to the possibility of new ideas and input.

And the most important thing? Don’t rush it. Take as long as you need. Get a beta reader or three to read it. Show it to your editor. Do your best to make sure that that R+R becomes a call which becomes and offer which becomes an agented author (you) and their fairy godmother (me) living happily ever after.


*: This is how I use R+Rs. Not all agents treat them the same way, so please take this statement with a grain of salt. We agents are special snowflakes and we all have our own favorite way of doing something.