Friday, June 19, 2009

Ready to Query?

I have a novel I finished last year, and have been holding off submitting queries to agents because I have been procrastinating editing the book. Should I just buckle down and edit the novel, or start submitting queries for the novel with the unedited draft. Should I focus more on writing the pitch instead of editing the novel? Do both? Just get off my butt and edit the dang novel already?

Oh dear, oh dear. I think it’s time to get off your butt and decide if you really want to be published or just write. A year? Well, the smartest thing you did here was hold off on querying. Never, ever, ever think of querying, don’t even think of it, until your novel is written, edited, revised, polished and as perfect as you’re ever going to get it. The top priority in every author’s writing life is always the work; pitching, publicity, marketing, blogging, twittering, facebooking, quoting all come secondary.

What you need to do is sit down and edit that novel to death. And then, you need to put it aside for two weeks or maybe even a month while you sit down and start writing that second novel. Why? Well, I’m making an assumption here, but I’m thinking that you haven’t been doing any novel writing in a year. If that’s the case you’re not ready for publication. Agents and especially publishers want career novelists, authors who will write book after book after book. If you’re the kind of author who feels she’s only got one book in her, then unless you’re Harper Lee it’s going to be difficult to find a home. Many debut contracts are for more than one book.

Editing is not always the best part of the job and it’s certainly not the prettiest, but I think editing that book is more important than writing it. It’s what makes the book really sing and it’s absolutely necessary. So get editing, keep writing, and then think of querying.

Jessica

42 comments:

Alan Orloff said...

How can you query a book that hasn't been edited yet? How do you know what it's about? That takes a few revisions, at least!

Sara J. Henry said...

I'll have to say I didn't truly become a fiction writer until I learned to rewrite - doing the really hard work of rewriting and revising. It's a hard skill to learn but essential.

Anonymous said...

When I got to the point where I thought I was ready to query, I sent my manuscript to a professional critique service (major name publisher) just to get reliable feedback. I also submitted the first 25 pages to three different contests with editors/agents I'm interested in. I also wanted the extra feedback. Since then, I've heard back from the critique and one contest. The feedback has been invaluable...great writer, strong voice...but a lot of plot revisions to make it stronger. I've been tackling those revisions and fully agree that they're making the story stronger. The question is - what happens if I hear back from a contest/editor and get a request, but the synopsis I turned in then is extremely different than what it is now, post-revisions? I practiced writing a query and synopsis on the pre-critique version but those will have to change now too. Anyone ever face a situation like this before?

Rick Daley said...

After I finished my first novel I did a revision and then started querying. I had a partial request, but then didn't make it to the full. The agent helped me to realized that my revisions were precursory, and a re-write was needed next.

You are a different writer when you finish your first novel than you were when you started it. Your voice matures, and your story-telling becomes more succinct.

Chances are a mere edit to the opening will not show your best work. You may need to hit the keyboard from scratch and re-tell your tale.

It's a daunting task, and it's easy to deny the necessity by thinking "I can fix the weak parts." Any maybe you can...but for me, fixing the week parts ended up being like a Groundhog Day of revising.

Once I started to re-write, I found an opening that had true voice and captured the essence of the story better than the first draft.

It's a lot of work, but there is no doubting the fact that it's a better book because of it.

Anonymous said...

I've seen this before and it usually has to do with the author's anxiety about pursuing publication at all.

Definitely, edit first!

The danger for the anxious author at the editng stage, then, is to edit forever and ever. As long as you're editing you don't have to submit for publicaiton which means you don't have to deal with rejection.

This seems to be all natural stuff for the writer making the transitionj from hobby to career. It's scary. Just don't get stuck. Make the transition. Once you're here, you'll get used to everything else.
;)

Anonymous said...

I agree with you entirely Rick. The manuscript I'm revising is my first and I guess that's why I went all out to get second opinions. I'm pretty much rewriting much of the plot, but that's fine. I'm a perfectionist and I don't want to be embarrassed by anything I put out in the public eye. I've learned a lot in the process. It's hard work and, sometimes it's easy to doubt yourself...especially when you're unpublished and everyone around you thinks you're just pursuing a hobby rather than a career. I can't wait for them to take me seriously! Until then, I'm focusing on putting my best writing out there. That'll show 'em!

Anon 8:16

Anonymous said...

Anon 8:16 asked..."what happens if I hear back from a contest/editor and get a request, but the synopsis I turned in then is extremely different than what it is now, post-revisions?"

You are stressed out over nothing. What do you do? Give them the "good, updated" version of your ms. I imagine a contest director would want good writing over a ms that followed the synopsis to the letter, right?

The OP writer isn't ready to start querying yet if they have to ask IF they should edit their book first before querying. Buck up, pal, you've got to WANT this. Wanting means taking it seriously even when it gets hard. There are virtually thousands of people with polished, finished, ms waiting for a place at the table.

Jim King said...

Writing is rewriting... and rewriting... and probably rewriting again.

Anonymous said...

I understand the edit/rewrite process (necessity) completely. My question is this: If you edit and rewrite and edit until you have "perfection", then assuming a contract, how difficult is to accept changes by an editor? Which, I understand from previous posts, are as certain as death and taxes.

Aimless Writer said...

Great advice. I think i was guilty of that years ago and now with the help of some great already published friends I've learned my lesson and the proper way to do this stuff.
I think one problem is the old Nora Roberts story of how she sent a query for her first book before she even finished it. Then when she got a request she wrote like crazy over a long weekend and successfully submitted.
You hear that story and think...maybe....
But then reality hits and you learn its not that easy.

Andrew said...

I've proved myself a boni fide author then as I've started 3 new novels since finishing my first....have I finished editting the first? alas no.

My problem is I find it exhausting. I've zero confidence and so I end up changing words around for the sake of it, convinced there must be *something* wrong. So it takes me around an hour to edit a page...835 page MS...you do the math!

That's one of the reasons I think I'll never achieve publication, simply cos I don't have the faith or confidence to really *believe* everything's perfect, simply because perfection is a pretty damn strong word.

Won't stop me trying though!!!! "Per adua ad astra" and all that jazz

word verification:
witions - Small parts of wishes

Cowgirl in the City said...

Great advice once again!

This is exactly where I'm at. Writing is all about the rewriting, the editing, the changing. One thing I always tell my students in Freshman Composition is to stand back from the manuscript. To remove yourself from it to create enough distance to actually look at your writing objectively. I teach that, but it is often so hard to take my own advice! I have a 4th draft finished of a novel, but have been resistant to actually being ruthlessly objective and revising it instead of line edits to polish it up. I need to really get in there and rewrite massive parts of it.

Which is my goal for the summer. Revise that bad boy.

Mira said...

I totally agree with this - thanks. Using querying as a way to get feedback on the work doesn't really make sense. Once an agent says 'no' that's it. You can't query them again. So sending agents a project that is fully sparkling and completely ready seems like the way to go.

I also like your suggestion of editing and putting the work aside, and then coming back to it.

I think 99% of writing a book is editing. For me - I actually love to edit. It's the inital sitting down and writing that I find daunting; that's the warzone - when my voices of doubt come up. But editing, I could do that forever.

It's interesting what you said about the industry looking for career novelists. I hadn't thought of it that way, but that's interesting.

Mira said...

Andrew - is it okay to give suggestions here?

Have you thought of finding a critique group or a professional editor to look at your work? If knowing when it's finished is hanging you up, maybe an outside pair of eyes can be helpful.

I have a critique group, and I am constanting amazed at how helpful they are. They see things I miss; including when something is ready to go.

Anonymous said...

I'm posting anon because I don't want anyone to club me. But you also mentioned facebooking and tweeting and promotion. I don't know about anyone else, but I've had just about enough of facebook author promos and tweets about new books. Join this group; come to this facebook event; become a fan.

I've done a certain amount of it myself...I'm guilty too. But I seriously think people are getting tired of it. I'm starting to block and de-friend certain authors. I hate doing it, but it's really getting annoying, and I don't think writers want people to get annoyed with them.

Maybe I'm the only one who feels this way, but I'm backing off and ignoring from now on.

Robena Grant said...

I'm doing serious edits on a ms. written at the end of last year (I've written a second one since) and yesterday finally found the courage to kill of half of the first chapter and prune up to chapter four.
I'm fairly conservative about getting advice on a rough draft but had received a couple of rejections, some feedback from two contests and all seemed to agree. The pacing had to change.
It only took six months to come to that decision and stop resisting. : ) The ms. feels lighter now, like it had a good haircut.

Liana Brooks said...

Ah, see, that's New Writer Myth #1. Everyone starts out thinking writing is the HARD part.

Editing is the hard part (for me). I don't think I'll ever be done editing. I can always find something I want to tweak. Although, eventually, I'll close my eyes and query. Just not anytime soon!

I find my critique group absolutely invaluable for keeping me sane during editing. Feedback is essential in the later stages, just to make sure other humans can translate your ideas.

wonderer said...

Distance is essential. I'm currently reading an older manuscript of mine and debating whether to bother revising it. While I was working on it the first time around, I knew it had problems, but I couldn't figure out what they were or how to fix them. Now it's clear: the plot lacks direction and coherence, some elements are unnecessary, and the whole thing needs to be re-imagined. To come to that realization, I had to set it aside and write and even edit another novel. I know a lot more than I did then.

That doesn't mean I like editing, though. Those who do - what's your secret?

Anonymous said...

I like editing, except for searching and removing over used words. I can only do that for so long. Two to three hours a day is my limit.

One thing I found invaluable was writing the synopsis early on instead of waiting to do the dreaded thing until after the edit. My synopsis became my blue print allowing me to see what was missing or could be improved.

Most importantly, while editing I try to keep an ‘open mind.’ I always look for opportunities to be creative and ways to make my story more engaging. I guess this adds fun to the technical aspect of it for me.

jbstanley said...

Anon 8:47.

I can answer your question about what will happen to your perfect manscript once an edit gets hold of it...

You'll edit again. First, you'll do line-by-line edits. Here, the editor emails you a series of questions, comments, and concerns about certain passages. They must all be addressed. Your could go through 1-5 rounds of these.

Next, you'll get the page proofs. Here, you're on the lookout for type-os, repetivitve langauge, or smaller grammatial errors.

Then, your book comes out. Readers will know if a single step has been skipped and in the end, you'll lose readers without paying more attention to the editing than you did to the original manuscript.

It is a labor, so make sure it's a labor of love before you commit to a writing career. Good luck!

jbstanley said...

Anon 10:14

I really appreciate your honesty regarding "in-your-face" promos. Authors are constantly trying to get our name into cyberspace and it's a thin line between becoming known and becoming annoying!

Marsha Sigman said...

My first ms I edited until I could not stand to look at it any longer! Then I put it up for a few weeks and didn't think about it. Or at least tried not to. After that I pulled it back out and began the second round of rewrites and edits.
I think it really helps to move forward and work on another manuscript during this time, that way you are not so consumed with the first one. Its working out for me.

Amethyst Greye Alexander said...

Ms. Jessica,

This post is perfectly-timed, as I'm putting the absolute last-touches on my first novel to ready it for submission and have just begun to seriously work on my second novel, a sequel. Bit of an affirmation for me today, so thanks for it!

--Amethyst

Kristin Laughtin said...

Definitely edit first! You'll be shooting yourself in the foot if you craft a perfect query and get requests quickly, and have to send in either a (perhaps hastily revised) first draft or tell the agent you've wasted her time by not being ready. It might also be a good idea to have another novel ready or close to ready, so that if the first doesn't get picked up, you'll be ready to go with the second.

Word verification: stopligh. Seems appropriate somehow.

Suzan Harden said...

Marsha is sooo right-edit until you can't stand your own book!

I'm on my fifteenth go around for a ms. Yep, fifteenth. Sometimes you whack out whole chapters. Sometimes you prune a few words here and there. Sometimes you stand back and think, "Damn, I'm good!" (*grin* Most likely, those parts will be the first ones the agent/editor will want to fix if this book is sold.)

But during my editing breaks, I've finished two other novels, I'm halfway through a third, and I've drafted rough outlines for two more ideas. If you want a career in writing, you have to keep plugging away.

Regardless of which part of the process is most difficult for you, what's most useful to a writer is having a critique/cheering team to get you through the rough patches. (Or in my case, a s.o. who has no problem kicking me in the ass and saying "Get the damn edits finished!")

Anonymous said...

"If you edit and rewrite and edit until you have "perfection", then assuming a contract, how difficult is to accept changes by an editor?"

That all depends. Do you want the rest of your advance? Then accept the edits! Refuse to accept the edits? Then get to love your dayjob.

Anonymous said...

I make a distinction between "editing" and "re-writing." Re-writing involves higher level changes that affect the story and character arcs. Major changes. Edits can be anything from simple line or copy edits to removing or modifying individual scenes.

In some cases the editor will askyou to rewrite before you edit, although the entire process is sometimes called "editing."

The best part is waiting to hear back from your editor after you already submitted the last round of requested edits! They've got more books than yours, you know! So waht to do while you wait? Write new books, outline new books!

Patrick Rodgers said...

I love this, lately I have been feeling the desire to start querying even though I am not done editing. I did two edits already and I wanted an impartial edit so I gave my wife the red pen but she hasn't really done anything yet.

I had always planned on taking a break from the novel because after five months spent on it writing and editing it is hard to not become too close to the work and fail to see the forest because of the trees.

In the meantime I have been writing my second novel, it has been a slower process as the summer heat and my walks to brainstorms chapters have made it harder and harder. I still try to get a 1000 words a day but when I was writing the first novel I got 2000-2500 words a day output.

But you should always be writing or editing one of the two in my opinion if you want to be a writer.

I will go back to editing in another month or so if my wife hasn't made any progress but for the time being I am enjoying writing again.

Anonymous said...

I wrote my first novel, and to avoid revising it, I wrote a second novel. That one needs revision now, so guess what I just started? A third novel. Maybe I'm just one of those people who wants to write but doesn't want to be published? The whole submission process seems too daunting, and it's easier to just keep writing new novels.

Anonymous said...

"Maybe I'm just one of those people who wants to write but doesn't want to be published?"

If you only write 1st drafts and never revise, then you will never be published. here's what I'd recommend you do:

After you finish #3, take a a month off and don't write anything. Just chill out. Then, after that month, evaluate your 3 completed first drafts and identify which is the strongest candidate for commercial representation. In other words, which 1 is not necessarily the "best," but which has the greatest potential to be the most commercially competitive.

When you have made that selection, set aside a period of time to revise that manuscript. I reccommend 6 months. Whatever your writing times are that allowed you to write the draft, give yourself 6 more months of the same routine to revise the ms. Rewrite it, edit it, format it, whip it into shape.

Then, when the revisions are complete, give yourself 3 months to prepare it for representation by writing 1) the query letter, 2) the synopsis and then 3) identify 50 agents and or small houses to send the queries to, and divide them into 5 waves. When you a re ready, query wave 1, then, as the rejections come in (or, if met with no response, treat no reply after 4 weeks as a reject), and replace with wave 2 candidates. Create a spreadsheet to track the responses.

And here's the fun part: as soon as you have sent of wave 1 and are in the WAITING PERIOD that you will get to know so well should you become a pro writer, then pick 1 of your other 2 1st drafts to go through the revision process.

If the first one hasn't landed representaiton or sale by the time #2 is ready to query, then send out #2 and start revising #3 while you wait.

This type of process will turn you into a pro, if you can keep at it and if you mostly enjoy it.

Good luck.

Eric said...

"There is no thinking except in the writing. There is no writing except in the rewriting."

One of my professors once told me that. Could be the most important thing I ever heard in college.


Word verification: crocu (cro•cu)

1. crocu (n). 5/6 of a crocus.

Anonymous said...

I have an idea that will be even more of a time saver for lazy agents. Why not wait until the book is published before you send out the query letter?

Mira said...

Eric - I love that.

That's just mean Anon. Why do you need to be mean? Why not make a more productive comment.

Cameron said...

Novel writing/publishing = Love/loving/maintaining a lasting relationship:
The first draft is like the "lust" stage of a new relationship.
The second draft is the first year of the relastionship (but hopefully doesn't take a year to write.
The third draft is the "are we in this forever together?" stage.
The fourth draft (where I am now on my YA historical sci-fi) is the "holy cr*p, this relationship is hard work to maintain, but it means so much to me that I need to keep working on it. But first, let me take a week off and drink a few mai tais in Maui."

Both art and love aren't the results only of passion, they're the results of HARD work and persistence.
Keep going, writers. Now, enough blogging. Time to get back to the 4th draft.

Anonymous said...

"That's just mean Anon. Why do you need to be mean? Why not make a more productive comment."

More productive? How about this... what I have seen over the last year is Agents turned from casual bloggers into celebrities whose blogs are more popular than the books of the authors that they represent and seen many of those same Agents turn on writers and deride and ridicule them because they didn't EXACTLY follow the query guidelines -- and those guidelines differ so much from agent to agent as to make it almost impossible to ever get them 100% correct.

What happened? Authors got smart and started reading these blogs to determine the query guidelines, learning from these blogs and honing the craft of query writing until these same celebrity agents can't tell the query for a good novel from the query from a bad novel because the Query Letter was so well written that it passed the 'Auto Delete With No Reply' checklist.

After teaching everyone to write great query letters -- now here is an agent complaining that your novel 'just isn't ready' to be queried until after you have written your second or your third or your 100th novel. What she is really saying is that she can't tell any more if the novel is good until *gasp* she reads the novel.

Tough luck, Chumpette. Suck it up. You helped create an environment full of great query letters -- you don't get to complain if the quality of the manuscripts doesn't stack up to the quality of the query.

Mira said...

Well, okay then, Anon. That was a very interesting comment, and now we can have a discussion!

I agree with some of what you said, especially about the query letter.

I do wish there wasn't such an emphasis on the query letter; in fact, I'm in total favor of dropping it altogether. I think it's a distraction and wastes time. That's my view.

Your point about the celebrity thing that happening with agents - I know!! Isn't it fascinating? I suspect it surprised the agents as well. I think some of them are grappling with how to handle it well - I know I would. Personally, I find the whole thing fascinating to watch and participate in.

From my perspective, agent blogs are wonderful, wonderful things. For the first time in history, agents are accessible to the average writer. We can see how they think; we can talk to them; we can hammer out important issues with them.

And the agents are overall nice, intelligent people. Yes, I know about twitterfail, but even that was not intended to be harsh, no matter what it evolved into. I think by ignoring the good intentions and dialogue, you may be overlooking some opportunities here.

But that's my opinion.

Patrick Rodgers said...

I don't see how you could do away with the query letter though Mira. How many queries a week does an agent get even if it was something low like 50 that would be impossible to sift through to find an author worth publishing if all they were sending in was sample chapters or whole manuscripts.

Say you ask for five sample pages you just increased the number of pages that you have to read by five and if you are getting hundreds of queries on a weekly basis increasing what you have by five would be daunting and likely impossible.

The readers of blogs benefit from learning how to query and get pass the autodelete stage. At this point now the agent is asking to see your work and honestly if you can't wow them with five pages or a couple sample chapters you were never going to wow them. It's the work that is the most important and learing to querying right just gets you pass the autodelete phase you still have to sell them the work.

Mira said...

Oh well, Patrick, the people here are going to get tired of reading my opinion about this, but I guess one more time is okay....?

I think you could replace the query with an easy fill-in form. Then attach pages.

Really, an agent can tell after about 2 paragraphs if they want to keep reading. And then at least they are evaluating the actual work. Why not go directly to the work itself? What a time saver, and it's so much more accurate. Get the query out of the way.

Anonymous said...

The query willnever be gotten rid of, because the ability to write a good Q is actually more important than the ability to write a "good" novel. Agents are seeking to sign great query writers because it's these short catchy cescripptions that do the selling--not the work itself. Readers in bookstores make their buy decisions on the jacket copy. Agents make their rep. decisions on the Q. Publishers make their buy decisions on the agent's summary. Famous authors blurb new authors.

So the reason fabulous Q writers are in demand is because it represents an ability to sell. The actual product is, and always will be, secondary.

The query is not just part of the game--it IS the game. How do you think multi-book deals are made--they wait for the author to write a trilogy?! Hell no. Just an outline of each book.

Patrick Rodgers said...

Yea Mira I saw your idea of a fill in form on Nathan's blog but what I don't get is why writers find writing something so difficult.

You are being asked to write a query letter not to rebuild a transmission or build a kitchen table. This should be in your area of expertise and as a writer all you have to do is sell your idea a little bit with a great synopsis.

MzzLily said...

I am so glad I stumbled on your blog! I am deep into my first book and curious about where to go next in the process. This blog is a perfect place for me to spend a little free time. I've learned so much already!

I can't wait to leave a comment that my novel is finished! Thanks for the valuable information. The links in the sidebar are wonderful.

Lily a.k.a. future best-seller

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