Next to a simple acceptance, "You are invited to resubmit this piece," are the words every new writer would like to hear. Rightly so. An invitation to resubmit provides new writers with a rare opportunity to revise a piece based on professional input. Unfortunately, most writers blow this opportunity in their eagerness to "strike while the iron is hot."
What does it mean?
Invitations to resubmit the same piece are extremely rare. Editors will do this when 1) there is one clear flaw marring an otherwise strong piece, and 2) they have some sense that the writer will be able to grasp the editor's point and make revisions that will improve the piece.
The few times I've invited writers to resubmit it was most often due to a weak beginning. Maybe the beginning was sluggish and didn't grab the reader, or maybe the actual beginning was in a different place. Another reason might be that the author's style is too "wordy," and I might ask them to read it through and cut unnecessary words like replacing "we would always go to the seashore in the summer" with "every summer we went to the seashore."
Why are invitations to resubmit so rare?
As you may notice in the above examples, the criticisms are rather broad. It isn't like a line edit with extra paragraphs and words lined through. The writer knows what the editors don't want, but not exactly what they do want. Also, the editor and the writer may interpret the editor's words in different ways. Experienced writers may know just what an editor means by "tightening up" or "weak ending" but less experienced writers may not quite know where to go with it, and since no editor likes rejecting a piece after raising the writer's hopes, we usually avoid this except in very rare circumstance.
What should you do when invited to resubmit?
The first thing you should do is decide whether or not you agree with the editor's comments. There is no one way to write a story. Just as one publication may reject a story that another will nominate for a Pushcart, some editors may love certain aspects of your story that others will hate. Maybe the publication you submitted to prefers all stories to start in medias res, but you feel your story requires more of an introduction or build-up. You should always consider editor comments seriously, but you don't have to accept them. Of course, you also don't have to tell the editor what to do with her comments. You can simply thank her for her time and agree to consider her remarks.
If you do agree with the editor's comments, fight the urge to resubmit immediately. Unlike line edits, these require major revisions, usually to the entire piece. I always wonder at the professionalism of a writer who resubmits too quickly. Experienced writers know that such revisions require time and effort to get right.
Don't you risk the editor forgetting you?
In a word, no. Editors rarely forget––entirely at least––pieces they like. All you need do is send a reminder. If the piece was submitted via e-mail, reply to the original. If it's print, mention the name and the comment you received. That will be enough to jar any editor's memory.
Finally, don't expect too much
Sadly, as I mentioned above, the process often doesn't work. In my experience most resubmissions end up being rejected simply because the editor and the writer have a different vision. This is painful, I know, but believe it or not, it's equally painful for the editor. Still, writers should not take it the same way as a simple rejection. It means your writing shows promise.