25 October 2022

Second Chances, Revisited

In “Second Chances,” his October 15 SleuthSayers post, John Floyd asked the question “Do editors often ask you to revise and resubmit a story?”

His post and the comments from readers address the issue from a writer’s point of view. What about from the editor’s point of view: “Do you often ask writers to revise and resubmit a story?”

The answer depends on how loosely or tightly we define “revise” because it’s a continuum that includes simple spelling, punctuation, and grammar corrections at one end and a complete rewrite at the other end.

Ima Writer’s manuscript just
needs a little work.

Few writers ever deliver a perfect manuscript that can go directly into production without an editor spilling some metaphorical red ink over the pages. Even with the cleanest manuscripts, I correct errors that have slipped past the writers, and I may also make changes based on style preferences, which may be mine or may be the publisher’s. For example, my preference is for the serial comma when I edit fiction, and one publisher I work with prefers “okay” rather than “OK.”

I have no qualms about requesting these corrections and changes, and I expect the writers I work with to address them with minimal complaint. At the same time, if in my editing I’ve introduced an error, or if I’ve made a change that doesn’t ring true, I expect the writers to let me know. This is especially true when dealing with regionalisms (spelling or grammatical choices that may be appropriate in one part of the country but not another). Recently, I’ve had two New York-based writers take me to task for insertion of a comma after a particular word when it starts a sentence because it interferes with New York speech patterns.


The territory between correction and rewrite is quite wide, and may involve redrafting sentences, rearranging a paragraph or two, or addressing logic flaws, mathematical errors, and factual errors.

Recent examples of revisions I’ve requested involve:

A story set between the two world wars referring to the first one as World War I. World War I wasn’t referred to in this way until there was a World War II, and was most often referred to as the Great War or, occasionally, the first world war.

A story in which a bullet shatters the glass of a car that was earlier described as being glassless.

A story in which a character fires one of two bullets but later in the story someone has collected two shells, implying that both bullets had been fired when they hadn’t. The numerical problem needed to be resolved.

A story in which a character under the influence of drugs acts as if the drugs have suddenly ceased to have an impact. The character either needed a slower transition from drugged to not drugged or there needed to be a clear explanation of the sudden change.

A story in which a driver speeding down the highway at night recognizes someone standing by a car at the side of the road and pulls in behind the other car. Given the speed of the vehicle, the distance one can see in the light of one’s headlights, and the time it takes to recognize someone in the dark while speeding, it is far more likely the driver would pull to the side of the road ahead of the parked car.

If a story is otherwise acceptable, and if these things can be easily fixed, I will request revision.


How many things have to change to call a revision a rewrite? Either something significant or enough smaller things that there are multiple changes on every page, some of which may be the type indicated above.

Recent examples of rewrites I’ve requested:

A story that started near the end of page two, so I asked that the first two pages be cut significantly.

A story that ended several pages before the author stopped writing, so I asked that those extra pages be deleted.

A story that was overwritten, using too many words to tell the story, so I asked that everything be tightened.

How often do I suggest or request rewrites? Not often.

I consider two things before I suggest or request a rewrite: Do I like the underlying story? Have I worked with the writer before?

If I have never or rarely worked with the writer, I may describe the desired changes and tell the writer that I would be happy to reconsider the story after a rewrite. Some writers will rewrite, some won’t. Some improve the story through rewrite and receive an acceptance, some don’t.

If I have previously worked with the writer and those previous encounters have been positive—and especially if the story was written by invitation—then I will ask for a rewrite.


Most writers I’ve worked with are open to correction, revision, or rewrite, especially if I explain why I’m asking. Some, once they understand what I’m asking for, will find a solution that’s better than anything I suggest.

And when that happens, everyone benefits.


  1. Enjoyed this post, Michael. What a great behind-the-scenes look at the editing process.

    The only thing that surprised me was your statement that some writers will rewrite when you request it, but that some won't. I can't imagine NOT rewriting if an editor asks me to. As for your editing/correcting errors in logic or style, you have often steered me back onto the path, there, and I'll be forever grateful.

  2. I'm always happy to correct, revise, and rewrite. If an editor asks for something, I'll try to make the editor happy.

  3. I agree with John. I can't imagine a writer refusing to rewrite at an editor's request if the alternative is rejection. A possible exception might be if the writer has no idea how to accomplish the stated goal of the rewrite. This has never happened to me in the prose world, but was somewhat common when I was writing for television.

  4. I'm with N. M. Cedeno - if an editor asks for something, I'll give it a try.

  5. I agree with everyone above: Whyever would one NOT rewrite. I mean, sure, one might try and fail at finding a satisfactory solution within a sensible time-frame, but not to try at all? That sounds like walking a long way to your destination and then not going in because you can't be bothered to push the door open.


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