I've seen writers refer to this process as "The Slow No," but that couldn't be further from the truth. Agents want to sign talented writers with amazing manuscripts. When they see something that could be great, but needs a little more work, they want to try to bring it over the line to where they love it. Also, some agents make a habit of always requesting an R&R before signing someone, just so they can see if the author is open to feedback and making changes. (If you do your research before querying, you might have a good idea who those agents are, but either way, don't reject an R&R out of hand without at least thinking about the changes and whether you're willing to make them.)
So, here are some of the primary mistakes I've seen in resubmitted manuscripts.
- Rushing. Don't blow your chance. Take your time. Do the revision right. The agent will still be there when it's done. An R&R doesn't need to be returned in a few days. In fact, it shouldn't be. Some agents get nervous when an R&R is done in less than a few weeks.
- Ignoring the feedback. Now, if you disagree with a suggested revision, that's fine. You don't have to do it. But if you're going to ignore the very reasons the agent is asking for the revision, why take up the agent's time by sending it back? Let them use those hours to read other manuscripts. I'm not saying that you need to take EVERY change, because it's your manuscript, but if an agent says "There's too much passive voice and a lot of comma errors," make sure you fix those things.
- ONLY making the changes the agent suggested. This is an important distinction. An R&R frequently requires a full rewrite. When there are plot issues, fixing them usually isn't as easy as throwing in a new scene or two. Everything has to flow organically. You need to weave threads that tie the new scenes to old. Plant hints. I understand the inclination to try to just fix with some minor tweaks, but it shows. And don't assume that an agent who didn't mention passive voice in an R&R is OK with it. Really polish the revised manuscript as much as the original.
- Not having someone else read it. Granted, I'm only guessing when this happens, but if another writer says "Here's what Agent X said and here's my manuscript," a good reader is going to tell you where the manuscript fixes those problems and what other issues might exist that the agent will notice. So when something comes back with the same problems it had before, it tends to suggest the writer didn't get a much-needed second set of eyes on the revisions.
- Don't assume you'll get another R&R. Some agents will give an author a second chance if the revisions bring the manuscript closer, but there's still something missing. My understanding is that most won't. So don't spend a couple of hours playing around and then decide it's close enough. Make sure you're happy with the finished product, whether the agent ultimately accepts it or not.
- Making changes you don't agree with. If you hate the idea for the revision, it's OK not to do it. R&Rs take a lot of time, and if you're miserable and don't want to do it, consider whether your efforts are best spent making other changes or writing something new.