What should I do when an editor asks for revisions to my short story without accepting it for publication?
Published: May 24, 2011
Q: An editor sent me extensive notes on a short story I submitted and asked to see a revision but she hasn’t actually accepted the story for publication. Do I bother with all these revisions in the hope she will accept it or just try my luck elsewhere?
A: Although you haven’t received an acceptance yet, this is a good situation. Look at it this way: The vast majority of stories submitted to any given publication result in a form rejection. A select few elicit a brief personal response with the rejection and perhaps an invitation to submit again. Even fewer garner acceptance. The response you received is more in-depth than the typical personal response but still shy of an acceptance. This editor has invested time and energy into your manuscript. She sees something promising in this story and she’s excited enough about it that she wants to help you achieve it. However, she’s not yet so confident about the outcome that she’s willing to accept the story without seeing where it ends up. The revision process is a complex and murky one. It makes sense that she’d like to see another draft before making the final decision.
So, that puts you in a position to assess this story and her suggestions. Do you agree with the general thrust of her commentary? Do you think the direction she’s urging you is the right one? If so, investing the time and energy in revisions is only going to improve your story. That will benefit you no matter how her decision settles. If she chooses to pass, you’ll be submitting a stronger story to the next publications. If you’re unsure about the suggestions, experiment with them. Be open to the possibilities and see what comes of it.
If the editor’s suggestions seem to wrench the story away from your intentions or don’t sit right with what you envisioned, you might skip the revisions and submit the story elsewhere. Editors have valuable experience and knowledge and that makes these suggestions worth considering. Still, you are the expert on your own work. In the end, you have to make the decisions that you feel best serve your story. Don’t be afraid to walk away. You lose the publication, but you keep the vision you have for this story.
Regardless of your choice, keep communication open with the editor. If you’re going to revise, respond promptly with an estimate of when you will resubmit the manuscript. Ask follow up questions. Make sure you know how the editor prefers you resubmit the revision. She may want it to land directly in her email inbox instead of going through the regular channels. If you choose not to do these revisions, follow up with a note of appreciation for her insights—and another submission. Her suggestions should give you better idea of her taste, which can help you decide what to send.
Brandi Reissenweber teaches fiction writing and reading fiction at Gotham Writers' Workshop and authored the chapter on characterization in Gotham's Writing Fiction: The Practical Guide. Her work has been published in numerous journals, including Phoebe, North Dakota Quarterly and Rattapallax. She
was a James C. McCreight Fiction Fellow at the Wisconsin Institute for
Creative Writing and has taught fiction at New York University,
University of Wisconsin and University of Chicago. Currently, she is a
visiting professor at Illinois Wesleyan University.
Send your questions on the craft of creative writing to email@example.com. All of Brandi's other Ask The Writer columns are available to registered users.