Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Resubmissions and ReQueries

Regularly I am asked about the etiquette of resubmitting work to an agent, but lately, with my query critiques, I am also being asked about the etiquette of requerying the same book (now that you have a better idea of how to pitch).

I’ve told you stories of clients who were rejected by me at one time and later, with another work, offered representation. But what about resubmitting the same work? Off the top of my head I can only think of one client who resubmitted work and became a client based on that resubmission, and that particular client did extensive revisions based on my rejection letter. The truth is that even with a bad pitch it’s probably pretty likely that I am able to see something in your query that would make me ask for more. I’m not a complete dolt, you know. But if your pitch seems boring, typical, or just doesn’t inspire me and the writing in your query doesn’t grab me, then it’s unlikely I will ask to see more.

If you have truly done extensive, and I mean massive, revisions to both your query and your work, go ahead and resubmit. However, take note that in this case I’m not going to tell you that you have nothing to lose, because in fact that’s not the case. When you make the decision to query an agent, I expect that you’ve put that book to bed. In other words, Book #1 is now sitting safely on a shelf next to your computer waiting for Wise Agent to call and request the full. It’s shiny, it’s bright, and it looks beautiful. In the meantime you’re whiling away your time, in between query letters and agent research, of course, writing Book #2. In fact, you’re so busy on Book #2 you haven’t even had time to think about Book #1. If you keep sending me Book #1, I worry that you’ve got nothing else in you, and that’s not a client I want either.

I know how difficult it can be when the rejections start rolling in. Hey, I get them too, remember. But the truth is you really do have one shot. I have one shot, and that’s why it can take me all day to write a pitch letter or query letter to editors, and I do this all the time. So the best thing you can do is make your work, including your pitch and your letter, the best it can be the first time around. And then, and here’s the really hard part, put it out of your head. Work on the second book and the second pitch and query. Make them even stronger.

Jessica

25 comments:

Anonymous said...

I don't understand why rejection should be so painful. People who write crap should expect to be rejected before they waste a stamp.

Rejection is an unbiased, professional assessment of talent or the lack thereof. Most authors are not children. If you don't want to be rejected, don't write it in the first place. If you write, read your rejection slips and grin and like it.

Aimless Writer said...

With the volume of queries you receive do you recognize a repeat query when it comes in?
I have one book that I submitted a while ago, since then I've hooked up with a truly great critique group (run by published authors)and learned a lot. I like my story and am in the process of a rewrite. So, when I resubmit do I tell you its a rewrite? Or would that shadow your view? Would you even read it if you saw the word "rewrite"?
I don't see rejection as painful-its just another notch in my writer's belt. I put it in the can and move on.

Anonymous said...

What if you requested based on a query and rejected based on the partial and the manuscript changed significantly? Does that make a difference?

Kimber An said...

Assuming the book has been put to bed is accurate for the 2nd and later books an author polishes up for submission. But, in my experience and from my observation, the first one gets polished a bazillion times while submitting because the author is still learning all about the process of submitting. In fact, because of the nature of the process, a lot of it must be learned while going through it. In that case, it's wonderful if an agent will give the author a second chance.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, this is most helpful. I've just started reading your blogs, and there are a lot of important points you offer to new authors that I'm taking into account.

-Rachel Glass

Keri Ford said...

Hmm, curious about something. If you sign a client on the second work submitted to you, what happens to that first manuscript you rejected them on? Is it destined for the dust bunnies to enjoy or do you work with the author to clean what you thought the story lacked?

Heidi the Hick said...

Hard advice to take, but very good advice. It makes sense.

Sindee Sexton said...

I personally see rejection as one step closer to publication. Thanks for the insight on resubmitting.

Sindee

Tiffany Kenzie said...

I have a question, and I hope it can be answered here. I was rejected by maybe thirty agents for book one. I have since written book two, it needs edits before I do anything with it.

30 rejects really isn't anything there are a lot of agents out there. But with book one (which has seen a complete rewrite for the beginning--it suffered serious overediting) it's the first in a series (four book set I have planned) how can I pitch book two, when book one needs to be told first? I'm going to try my darndest to make book two and subsequent stories stand alone, but I want to requery book one--or should I move on to book two and if I spark interest try and get book one in front of the agent's eyes?

I assume anyone rejected on partial or full shouldn't send another query. Is that right?

honey said...

hI agree with kimber an.

I did a round of queries, got several requests for partials, and got two comments back that my first page needed work. I totally rewrote it, which also entailed rewriting a later section with the same character. But for the partials still out there, it's too late to make a good first impression.

It's just part of the learning process, where you kick yourself and then have to move on. I suppose every newbie goes through it.

Will Entrekin said...

There is, however, something to be said for the draft process. Of course book 1 is shiny and polished and finished and set aside, but while writing book 2, style changes and, if you're doing it right, improves. Craft improves.

Which means that, after you finish book 2, you look back at book one, that got queried around and rejected, and you suddenly realize places where it went wrong and how it could be better. Because you're a better writer. And you still love that story, so you revisit it, sometimes revising but sometimes also rewriting it.

There's a cycle here, and it's the basis for the idea that great work is never finished, merely abandoned, and that great novels are not written, but rewritten.

Of course, many writers' problem is that their writing improves but their business sense does not.

Leona said...

I think its very crass, not too much incompassionate to tell people that because someone's work was rejected, it was crap. There are a million things that affect rejection, including agent's preference. I agree that as adults we need to be able to handle rejection, but that does not make it any less painful. Learning from it and doing better on your next pitch would be the ultimate goal. No writer WANTS to be rejected. They want the gratification that someone else loved their story.

BookEnds, LLC said...

Hello all! I'll answer some of your questions....

I'm often amazed at how often I can recognize a query, title or author name. However, I can't always remember where know it from and there's no guarantee that I will remember it. So to answer your question Aimless, I guess it sort of depends. If the book is completely different from what you sent before I think it's fair to simply submit without mentioning a rewrite--especially if you simply sending a query. However, if the agent had previously read pages I would recommend mentioning it. Better safe then leaving the agent believe you tried to trick her.

And to all of you. Feel free to resubmit as often as you want. However, my recommendation is that twice is enough--whether it's a query, partial, or full. And of course please be working on something else.

Keri:
Good question. It depends. Usually though, if a client is signed on the second work it's because the second work is ready to be published and the first was not. There have been times however when we've talked about resurrecting the first one. Usually though I like to move forward and not backward.

Tiffany:
You're in a tight place. My suggestion is to try to make book #2 the first in the series.

--jhf

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 6:44, ouch! The thing is, people don't think they are writing crap, they think they are the next Hemingway or Jude Deveraux or JK Rowling. And I don't think rejection necessarily means the rejectee isn't talented. Agents say all the time that it could be a million reasons, including that they just sold an equally well-written book just like the one they are passing on.

I agree, we need to accept rejection and it's part of the business, but you don't have to like it, you just have to believe it and learn from it if you can. But I don't think that getting a no--or fifty no's--necessarily means the no-getter is a no-talent.

Anonymous said...

And it IS biased, absolutely. This business is propelled by personal taste (which is what if not bias?) at every stage--from the writer writing it to suit his or her tastes, to the agent accepting or rejecting based on "falling in love," and the same romance with the editor, and on the the Border's shelves, where it is 100% reader bias. Yup, rejection is professional, definitely, but it's far from unbiased.

Tiffany Kenzie said...

Thanks Jessica. It's unfortunate for me that that just isn't possible...

This will be an interesting problem to solve.

Anonymous said...

Tiffany,
You might want to consider setting up the first book as a prequel. Sell the second as if it's the first in the series, then inform the agent that a prequel exists. That might be the middle ground you're looking for.

Anonymous said...

I’ll start with Tiffany because hers is somewhat of a separate issue. Prequels sell, and that was (in my opinion) excellent advice. It is less a matter of rewriting the first or the second, but instead finding an open doorway in book #2 to insert the possibility. Flashbacks, intriguing loose ends, or twist endings that beg for deeper understanding of the characters your readers grew to love—or hate—might offer such a reverse entrance.

Next up:

Genius is not the same as talent, especially in fiction. Talent breathes; it pumps diligence like blood through the soul. Talent gets back up to fight because it knows no other way to survive. It cannot be silenced in the heart. If you have talent, you will keep going; this is inevitable. Having said that, should you have unsuccessfully exhaust the market then the story requires severe medical attention, so don’t throw it back into the ring for another black eye and bruised ego.

Trickery and repairs aside, an agent should only be approached a second time—be it one book or twenty—when the reason to do so is specific, detailed, and justified by thorough market research of said agent. Typically, agents reject via form letter; a generic no thank-you used neither to persuade nor dissuade the writer from continuing the endeavor. The form letter represents decision, not opinion.

Steven King’s advice is that if ten people critique your work and recommend ten different opinions, discard or utilize based on your own opinion. If ten people offer identical criticism, listen and revise. But what does the writer do with ten form letters? A hundred? Do we give up writing to take up origami using our stack of form rejections? Hardly.

Failure is like Braille; you learn to read the bumps along the way. It is the path toward success—not a different path—filled with shadowy mystery, friends and foes, not to mention every emotion known to humanity.

(Okay, I’m gearing down now…whew.)

Submit only what you believe strongly in. Sometimes this means putting to rest the story that taught us how to write. That’s okay. If you find it hard to let go, glean the story, rescue you most love about it, not its entirety, and take it with your on the journey. If a character is truly alive, he/she will find a good home in a new setting.

Lastly… Anne of Green Gables collected 20 years of attic dust before becoming a classic.

Sometimes, your only error is timing.

Tiffany Kenzie said...

Thanks anon one and two... now why didn't I think of that before... that's a very good idea.

EJ McKenna said...

You have some very good advice here:

"If you keep sending me Book #1, I worry that you’ve got nothing else in you, and that’s not a client I want either."

This is so true. Writers have to keep writing books. Lots of them. Write a book, try and sell it, then move on to the next one. If the first one doesn't sell, that's just the way it is. I've started my eighth book and landed an agent with book seven. I like to think I'm getting better at it as I go along, but other times I feel like I'm just getting started.

Good luck everyone

BCNeal said...

Thanks for the info- as always :) I am definitely going to move on to my second book (which taps me on the shoulder all day anyway) while I wait to hear back from agents regarding my query.

I was tentative to move on to a new book because I didn't want to let my first go.

I guess I have to embrace the evolution.

Jane said...

Harper Lee was warned that her book might not sell well. It went on to be a smash success. To Kill a Mockingbird also was the only book that Harper Lee ever wrote.

Now I am not saying that we are or I am a Harper Lee. But it is too quick and too easy to tell a writer that just because one agent, or even ten agents, have rejected a book, that the writer should forget it and move on to book number 2.

I agree with many above who write that it may be that the agent has recently published a book on a similar topic and doesn't want to revisit that topic; it may be that the writer is struggling with the "query" process which, I have to say, is very specific form of writing and a specialty in and of itself; it may be that the writer simply is sending the query letters to the wrong publisher; it may be that, in the publishing world of political correctness, the agent is not "ready" for the book. This type of thinking just encourages writers to write for the market, not for creativity, rather than believing in their work, and being patient that in time there will be an acknowledgment of it.

Here's another way of looking at it: Agents often, June, by your own words, think there is potential in a book simply from the query letter. And then the agent discovers that the book will not work out, there are too many weaknesses in the writing, etc. It may work in reverse too: An agent may not see potential in a book where there is potential for a huge marketing success.

Lindsay said...

No disrespect intended, but I just don't see things this way- as for revisions. When I queried my book, it was 100 percent finished (and wonderful, IMHO!). However, two agents requested the same reorganization of the material and, while waiting to hear back from a few others, I revised. Now I'm thinking about re-querying a few of my favorite agents who rejected it in its last incarnation. It troubles me to think they may think I don't have anything else in me simply because I haven't give up on what happens to be a publishable book. (Incidentally, I'm almost finished with the book after this one I mention- but still!) ;)

Gabriela Lessa said...

Hi Jessica.
I was wondering about situations in which the query was good, the work wasn't done. I know, it's wrong and you shouldn't be querying if your work isn't done. But what if you did everything wrong? Is there a second chance?
I did what I wasn't supposed to. A professor encouraged me, I didn't know better back then, so I queried a manuscript that was still in its really early stages. Of course I got tons of rejections.
The rejections discouraged me so much I dropped that manuscript, then came back to it a year later. I've changed a lot in it (title, some significant parts of the plot, a few characters, most of the structure). By the time I finish it, revise it, polish it to its best and revise it again, it will be two years since I sent out those first queries.
What should I do? Should I just query as if I'm doing it for the first time? Should I mention I've queried before and changed it? And, most importantly, if I do mention it or if agents do recognize it, will my query be treated as a new one, or will it be received with suspition or even ignored?
In other words: should I be giving this the proper chance I think it deserves? Or have I burned my chances?

Anonymous said...

Hi Jessica,

Just a couple of questions about reQueries;

First what if you are pitching the second book....part #2 and when you pitched book #1, your query sucked. Being new at it and all. The question is, do you pitch both books at the same time? Do you re-pitch book one and offer book 2? In my case, book #1 ended in an inconclusive ending and book #2 picks up where that ends up. Also, I am getting on in years and have no formal writing credentials. I have read over and over again to not add anything to your bio that is not of importance. So do I just not ad a bio rather than saying I have no published experience?

Thank-you for your time
Cindy