The Red Pen: When to revise your manuscript and when to keep submitting

MarkupsWhen you submit your manuscript to agents you get a lot of form rejections amidst your feedback–that’s the way it goes. But, when you finally get personalized criticism that might suggest a revision do you jump at the chance to edit your work to make that agent or editor happy?

My rules of revision guidelines:

Wait a few days before grabbing the red pen.

You need time to digest the feedback, gather your thoughts about it, and decide how to proceed. Never pick up the red pen in haste. Once you’ve decided how you feel about it you can start to put a plan together.

Wait until you have a batch of comments so you can see if there are consistencies.

A list of feedback from different sources can be overwhelming. If you have conflicting advice, how do you decide which road to go down? It takes moments of clarity to be able to sift through feedback and come out with a solution. If the feedback isn’t pointing you in the right direction, then don’t start them half-heartedly. Revisions only work when you get on board with them and get passionate about seeing them executed.

Wait until you receive revision notes that connect with you and will take your book to the next level.

You’ll know when you get notes from an agent or an editor and it feels like the sky opens. That’s the moment of clarity you need to wait for. It will help focus your vision and suggests that you’ve found someone that ‘gets it.’ When you can surround yourself with people that want your book to be the best it can be you can take it to the level it needs to be for publication.

If you don’t have feedback that you’re able to connect with, keep submitting

There are no hard and fast rules about what’s right for any author in this process. But most of all you need perseverance and belief in your skill. If you don’t connect with the feedback you’re getting then keep on submitting. Because the offer might be around the corner and you’ll never know unless you keep pushing.

The main message is don’t jump to conclusions and always wait until you have notes that open your mind and eyes to what you’ve been missing. Great editorial notes can help you connect the dots in your work and help you know who might be the right fit for you as an agent or editor. Have belief in yourself that you’ll know great feedback when you get it, and have belief that your work can achieve what it’s meant to.

“Over the years, I have calculated that feedback on any given piece of writing always falls into one of three categories, and breaks down into the following percentages: 14 percent of feedback is dead-on; 18 percent is from another planet; and 68 percent falls somewhere in-between.” Toxic Feedback, by Joni B. Cole

Related Posts:

Wait Before You  Hit Send. Are Those Revisions Ready?

When Do I Know To Revise?

Published by Carly Watters

Carly Watters is a SVP, senior literary agent and director of literary branding with the P.S. Literary Agency. She is a hands-on agent that develops proposals and manuscripts with attention to detail and the relevant markets. PSLA’s mission is to manage authors’ literary brands for their entire career. Never without a book on hand she reads across categories which is reflected in the genres she represents and is actively seeking new authors in including women’s fiction, commercial and upmarket fiction, select literary fiction, platform-driven non fiction and select memoir. She occasionally represents children's book projects. Carly is drawn to emotional, well-paced narratives, with a great voice and characters that readers can get invested in.

13 thoughts on “The Red Pen: When to revise your manuscript and when to keep submitting

  1. A very topical issue. I’ve had some great feedback from agents. Because their comments hit a chord with me, I rewrote/revised part of my ms and I think it is a better book because of it.


  2. RE: The Red Pen: When to revise…

    Such great advice Ms. Watters.

    The pent up need for recognition… any recognition, while in the process of submitting to an agent, definitely creates the perfect environment to jump to action to please. The agent on my first novel made some significant suggestions for modifications, all of which I would have executed minutes after receiving them, if it were not for my wife who said “Wait and visit them in total a week after he is finished”.

    As a result I made about 60% of his suggested revisions, the most memorable of which was to cut back on the descriptions of every meal in a scene in which there was dining included. His exact words were “For a guy who is skinny and eating is not an important part of your life what’s with the food obsession?”

    It, as well as several of his suggestions have been incorporated into my writing ever since. Although he is no longer my agent he reads and comments on each of my novels and I consider each of his suggestions.

    By waiting and analyzing, the revision effort became a joint one of the two of us and one that was and is appreciated.

    Thanks for reinforcing a practice that can be cast aside when even minor writing success can ease us into the arrogance of rejecting constructive advice.

    G. Hugh Bodell


  3. It’s reassuring to hear that I should wait until my instincts say “go for it” and I can revise with sincere enthusiasm knowing changes are for the better. Feedback from editors and “Loop Dee Doo” beta readers is forthcoming – thanks to your blog I feel better equipped to process the accumulated info.


  4. Thank you for the timely blog, Ms. Watters. I’m at the stage of having honest-to-the-point-of-hurting friends read my novel. I’m fortunate to have avid readers in my life who are also my champions. They’ve been brutal with helpful suggestions because they want my novel to be as good as it can be before it goes to an agent. I always think of “So You Think You Can Dance,” when I’m at this stage. I choose people to read for me who would absolutely boo me out of the competition if that’s what I needed.

    As you advise, I digested everyone’s comments before I began adjusting the book. Then I sent the first chapter to a writer-friend because I knew something was not right. She hit it dead on for me. The red-ink is flowing and I feel ready to have an agent (or two or three or…) take a look to see what they think.

    Thank you!


  5. If an agent sends personalised comments and asks for revisions, how soon should I send the revised MS back at them? How long will they wait? Will they remember? What’s a good way to remind to the agent who I am and that they liked the original MS enough to ask for revisions?


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