In publishing, (I suppose I should clarify that to be in traditional publishing and not self-publishing), there are three answers one can receive when one submits one’s book for publication: Yes, No, and Maybe. Here’s my thoughts on each of them, based on questions folks have asked me over the years.
Ask yourself if you really want to work with this house, though you probably should have already decided that before you submitted to them. But if you’ve got simultaneous submissions out, is this your preferred house?
Read the contract! For Heaven’s sake, don’t just swoon, say something equivalent to, “They want me! They really want me!” and sign away your project. Chances are, this novel, novella, or other book-length manuscript took a large chunk of your life energy to write – some folks labor for a year or more on theirs, especially in the beginning.
The contract is in legal language, since it’s a legal contract. While it’s not required, it’s recommended that you have an attorney or your agent review the contract with you. Failing that, you should talk to others who are familiar with contracts and get their input. Keep in mind, you’re signing a binding legal agreement to which you will be subject for a period of time. You want to make sure that you don’t regret it down the line, to the best of your current ability.
Don’t just delete the email! The “No’s” can be instructive. If it’s a form letter, then perhaps not, but if it’s a letter from a real, live, human being you may be able to find out why they rejected it. Remember: they’re rejecting the BOOK, not YOU. If you’re very lucky, their letter will say why they rejected it: they just published something similar, or it’s not a good fit for their house, or the plot isn’t tight enough. Whatever the reason, digest it and think hard about it. Do you agree with the criticism? Is there something you can do to improve the manuscript?
In the publishing world, a “Maybe” is known by its letters, “R&R,” and doesn’t mean “rest and relaxation.” It stands for “Revise and Resubmit.” This is not the end of the road, not at all, and can work out in your favor if you are careful.
In an R&R, what the editor is telling you is, they like the project. Pay attention to what they say they like. It might be the voice, or the plot, or something else that caught their eye and made them want to spend their valuable time offering you the chance to fix it.
They will also tell you what they want you to revise before they see it again.
Stop and think for a second here. You don’t want to just blindly rush off and do the equivalent of “Yes, sir, No sir.” Do you agree with their changes? Will the changes make the project stronger?
I know it’s tough to contemplate changing your project. You’ve labored long and hard and it’s how you like it. Here’s the thing, though: publishers are in the business of selling books. They know their market, and they know what their market wants. If you agree with their changes, it will mean a book that will appeal to their market, readers whom you, presumably, want to reach.
That said, if you don’t like the suggestions, then you don’t have to take them. You can always take your project and submit somewhere else. Maybe the changes will make it weaker, in your mind, or you just don’t want to take the project in that direction. Be very careful here that you’re letting your Best Self and not your Ego drive here – with humility, you might find yourself with a fantastic editor at the house of your dreams.
If you do like the suggestions, then by all means make the changes. Many times, the editor will clarify things for you as you work so that you can hit the bullseye.
Note – if you decide not to accept the R&R, by all means thank the editor for their time. This person clearly saw something in you, enough to take time and offer suggestions to improve your project so that they could work with you. Respect that professionally. Editors talk to each other. Snubbing someone because your ego got its feelings hurt is rarely a smart move for your writing career.