I'm still operating on the high I got yesterday from finishing my first novel. When I read it today, I actually kind of enjoyed it. Oh, I'm sure I'll find it dire in a few months, but for now I am just reveling in the bliss of having a complete novel done. I also promise this will be the last time I mention it.
Instead, let's discuss rejection/resubmission ettiquetee. In most cases a rejection is a firm and complete rejection. The house has decided not to pursue your manuscript for some reason, and it is unlikely to change its mind. This is especially true of vague, impersonal rejection letters that may or may not be a form letter. And form letters while regrettable and (I'll be honest) sucky are a neccesity in this business. The GLA blog actually has a nice little article on these kinds of rejections. You have to scroll down to the second post, but you will find a quote from The Boss (my boss, not Springsteen) and a link to one of the bestest small presses on earth.
No, the issue of resubmitting becomes stickier when the editor or agent writes a personal rejection letter. In these types of letters the editor often offers words of encouragement or advice. It's tempting to think that since the editor went to the time and effort to create this dialog with you, they would would want to see the new version of your work. But the truth of the matter is that this isn't always the case. I've written personal rejection letters with advice for authors on how to make the story stronger, but the story itself is inappropriate for our press or not the type of story I'm personally interested. Even if the author takes every comment I made to heart and ends up writing a dynamic new story out of it, the truth is that I still don't want to see it again. I could tell that story had potential, hence the comments in my letter; however, the story isn't a good fit for me.
So in a situation like this, how does an author know whether or not the editor wants them to resubmit? Simple, the editor or agent asks. They will say something similiar to the following phrase: I would be interested in looking at this work again. If that kind of sentence does not appear somewhere in the letter, then assume the editor is not interested in a resubmission. Consider the editor's advice, and then move on to the next potential target.
Now, on a rare occassion you'll come across a time when you are unsure if the editor wants you to resubmit or not. Perhaps they've been unclear in the letter, or one paragraph flatly contradicts another. In this case, be sure to ask before resubmitting. Write or email (but only email if and only if your previous communications with the editor have been through email) the editor thanking them for their advice, and then ask them if you can resubmit. The worst that will happen is they will say no. And if that turns out to be the case, you've saved both yourself and them time. You can move onto the next house. They won't sit down to a manuscript and think, "Haven't I seen this before?"
All of this resubmitting stuff popped into my mind because this morning I emailed a woman some comments on her submission. Since I knew The Boss had already told her she could resubmit, I didn't think to put anything about looking at a resubmission in the email. The author then sent me the nicest email basically thanking me for my suggestions and then asking if she could resubmit to me. I wish I could show it to you since it is an excellent example of how to professionally communicate while still showing enthusiasm. And it's this kind of professionalism that I encourage all of you to aim for. When an editor or agent is unclear, ask questions. And I'll keep trying to post advice here.