Tuesday, September 29, 2009

When to Query

There’s no doubt that I’ve discussed queries at great length in this blog, and yet there’s also no doubt that the entire process can be confusing and daunting to even those who have been loyal blog readers for quite some time. When discussing when it’s time to query, I’ve done multiple posts on when to know your work is ready, taking a leap of faith, and waiting until you’re well into your second book and have decided to move away from the one you’re ready to query. Still, I know, many writers go into querying with trepidation and I don’t blame them. What if it’s too early? What if you’re not ready? What if you find out later you should have waited? What if you wait too long and someone snaps up a book similar to the one you’ve been sitting on?

There are no easy answers and really, there are no answers. All of the advice I give on this blog as well as the advice other agents give are what we hope to be words of wisdom from our own experiences. In the end, though, what you do has to be what works best for you.

A regular reader of this and other agent blogs recently wrote in to ask when she should query. I think in reading all of the blogs she’s become overwhelmed and a little frozen, worried about doing the right thing. In her letter she said, “What about if I feel that what I’ve written is great? It flows, it’s descriptive and I’ve had at least 3 people of different backgrounds read it and they found little things I corrected but no snags in plot or underdeveloped characters.”

My answer to that question is that you should get it out. If you feel that what you’ve written is great rather than “good enough,” as we’ve discussed before, then it’s ready to go. Sure, you’re always going to be able to look back on an earlier work and see that it’s not quite as strong as the one you’re writing now, that you have better quality and greater maturity, but even bestselling authors can look back at earlier published works and say that. That doesn’t mean you’re not ready to go out, it just means that you’re doing what you should do as a writer, and that’s grow.

I think the writer said it best when she said, “I am prepared for rejection and criticism that helps me improve because unless you’re dead, there’s always room for improvement.” And there is. The only way to know if you’re ready to be published is to get that book out there. If it doesn’t work, if you’re not picked up, well, then you’ve always got that next book and you already know it’s even better.



Andrew said...

I always thought it was about 10:04am....that way the agents have got through the initial dismay of the immense size of the inbox, cleared out some of the clutter, and the caffine has just kicked in.

I had a friend who swore by 2:42pm...Mug!

Word verification - Caedness: An inherent Monastic look when fighting crime

GhostFolk.com said...

Terrific post, Jessica. Thank you.

All this internet focus on the query letter often overlooks the fact that what's important is that the book is best ready to strongly compete in the market place. Most agents with any experience at all can see through the flaws of a query and focus on the book behind it.

My time, I believe, is best spent working on the book rather than micro-designing the perfectly polished query letter.

Karen said...

Thank you so much for answering that question with your encouraging wisdom to let the newbies know they have to be willing to grow.

Kimber An said...

I think there's a reason why most writers don't publish until after they've queried the third or more novel. There are some things you just can't learn but through experience.

For example, you should always include a note about research in the query letter. It can be quite flabberghasting to spend months researching the historical background of a story only to have it rejected because the publishing professional was so unfamiliar with the time period she thought you made the whole thing up.

Rick Daley said...

I think a lot of aspiring writers get caught in the query quagmire when they really need to focus on the manuscript, especially for their first novel. I know I've done that before.

Alan B. Steeks said...

I hate writing.

Cindy said...

Timely post. I have definitely (and recently) felt the trepidation of querying. To the point where I kept waiting. One novel finished. Then another...And when I finally got up the courage to send those queries, I think my finger hovered over the send button for at least fifteen seconds on each one. We'll see how it turns out!

Anonymous said...

Loving you today, Jessica! I got my query to work for me, but now the fears and doubts about whether or not the MS is good enough have increased 100% (now it's in the hands of an agent; is it *really* ready to be there? I thought so, but, critique group thought so, BUT . . .). I'm sure not all writers experience this kind of self-doubt and anxiety, but I do.

What helped was your last paragraph and your earlier post about getting going on that next work. I know my new WIP is a lot better than the book out there. I can feel it, and I have that if this first book doesn't cut it. Thanks!

Kim Kasch said...

I love the saying, "...unless you’re dead, there’s always room for improvement.”

Christina Adams said...

Thanks for this post Jessica. It can be difficult to trust that you know when your writing is ready. It's nice to know that you don't have to wait until you have reached the height of writing maturity, since you are supposed to continue to grow and mature even after you have several books published. This really helps me. Thanks again.

Sierra Godfrey said...

Another way to look at when to query is to treat the query like a cover letter for your resume. Do you send out cover letters and resumes to prospective employers without being sure of your skills or your resume? I wouldn't.

Lydia Sharp said...

This was just what I needed to read today. Thank you so much!

Mira said...

I like what you said about: if you think it's great, go for it.

There are times to hold back and be sure, and then there are times to leap and take the risk....and evaluate as time goes on, of course.

JEM said...

It's really encouraging to see agents who are willing to respond to the individual fears (even if they represent a widespread one) a writer might have. Thanks, Jessica!

Steph Damore said...

Thanks for the post Jessica. Lately I've been burnt out from the whole querying and re-editing process. Your encouraging post is just what I needed.

Nichole Giles said...

Just wanted to speak up and say thank you for all the wonderful advice and encouragement you give on this blog.

I read regularly, and only comment sometimes, but always take in your advice and process it.

It is much appreciated.


Reesha said...

Good to know.
Awhile ago my fiance made me promise I would complete two books before seeking publication. He had other reasons at the time but now I'm glad he suggested it.
It will take me awhile longer than I might like, but my writing will have matured quite a lot by the end of the second book. (I hope!)

Sarah Burrows Winch said...

Thanks for the good advice. http://atruecivilwarstoryofcourage.blogspot.com/

Anonymous said...

C'mon! Everyone aboard the famed Query-Go-Round! Oh, goodie!!!

C'mon, people; do we REALLY need agents?? No, we don't.

I'm sorry, but it's not for me...(sarcasm). There isn't anything that agents can do that we can't already do ourselves! What are we, helpless babies?

Sometimes our self-esteems demand that we get off the Query-Go-Round, in order to preserve it; no?

I think it's easier to get a publisher than it is to get an agent, which makes the entire insane process (to get an agent) laughable! Esp. when we know our work is substantially better than the drivel they usually accept!


Published Author in the midst of establishing an awesome fan base
(without agent; once rejected by agents!) WOOT!!