Saturday, January 15, 2011

My Big Fat Querying Mistake

Perhaps you and your manuscript have already buckled in and are currently being tossed about on the roller coaster of agent querying. Or maybe you are setting your sights on the long line of that scary, exciting ride this very moment. At some point, each of us writers who dream of publication will end up pushing and shoving our ways to the front of that line with the hope that our fanciful screams will catch an agent's attention.

I was in a terrible hurry to get in that line, and it was not a pretty sight. In my gut I knew my book wasn't ready, but I forged ahead. The truth is, many of us should hang back in the line just a bit longer because our wee babe manuscripts are simply not meeting ride requirements. We can have it wear tall shoes and a fake mustache, but agents can spot an unqualified rider when they see it. And all that rushing gets us is a pile of rejection letters on our counters and inboxes.

Why are we in such a rush? Do we really think that someone else out there has the same exact idea, and they're going to steal our spot? Yes. Yes, we do.

Let's face it. We writers are neurotic, impulsive, impatient, emotional creatures. If not, we'd rationally know that there are no designated number of slots, and that each story is unique.

We also rush because we believe in the beautifully raw potential of our manuscripts. Unfortunately for us, having "promise" is not enough. We need to prove that they can live up to their promise. Agents and editors are there to help polish our projects, but only we can craft them to meet their potentials.

The truth is, everyone suffers when we rush our manuscripts to the querying process. We cheat ourselves out of opportunities. Many agents will not accept a resubmission unless they specifically ask for a rewrite. And who do we query first? Our top choices, who then suffer by having their time wasted. It's a lose-lose for all.

So how do you know when your precious baby is all grown up? I suggest having at least two trusted betas/critique partners (preferably not family members) read your entire manuscript, as well as your query. After they have reviewed and you have revised and reread, take a step back and force yourself to wait a week or two. It will seem like forever, but you can do it. A brief hiatus will help you look at the story with fresh eyes. At that point, if you can honestly say that your manuscript is as good as it can be, not just "good enough", then by all means, jump in line and enjoy the ride! It's a doozy.


  1. Very sound advice. I'll be sure to take it to heart when I'm beginning to eye that roller coaster.

  2. Thanks, Vicki! I wish someone had made me think about this before I sent out my non-critiqued first draft. *Cringe*

  3. Writer/rider----haha! You are so brilliant, Wendy!!! Such a clever post!

    And honestly? Taking a break and stepping back has been the BEST thing for my MS, (although granted, I wouldn't recommend a nine month break unless you're getting something else out of the hiatus, lol)

    Obviously I'm not where every author dreams to be yet, but I've already seen the benefits of stepping back & making sure my story is where it's supposed to be. And I'd like to say surround yourself with good people. Being around you ladies (& DJ, hi DJ!) helps inspire and motivate me. A little peer pressure will do the trick when you're not sure you should go on the 'ride' or not. :D

  4. Absolutely, Morgan! I didn't have this group or any crit partners when I started querying (those were in my pre-inkpop days).

  5. Love this post. So true :).

  6. Boy, did I need to hear this! I'm cooling my heels, but I feel like everyone else is rushing ahead and passing me by. It's a good thing to wait, and I really appreciate your message!

  7. Awesome advice. I didn't listen to it TWICE. Yep, TWICE. I am not known for my patience. LOL. And one of them, is still a story so close to my heart. I love it and want it out there so bad and feel I was unfair to it and the characters. I WILL be rewriting it one day though.

  8. Oh yes Wendy, I did exactly the same as you. I think all writers do in the beginning. It's a lesson that needs learning. Hopefully you can save some of the new generation of writer hopefuls the intense embarrasment that we faced. *cringe*
    Great Post.
    Oh and in true writer style I'm starting to freak out over what I'm going to blog about on Tuesday. But I'm a pantser, I can't plan. I'll just have to wait and see what nonsense I'll come up with on the day! Just as well we have someone who can dish out the good advice. LOL.

  9. I'm sure you'll come up with something brilliant, Leigh. :)
    I know rejections are an author's right-of-passage, but it's still such a waste when we're spending our time obsessing over email/snail mail instead of obsessing over strengthening our project.

  10. I did read/get told all this back in my early days, but I didn't listen. Partly because I thought my book was as good as it could possibly be (it wasn't) and partly because I had read all the response times and got a case of the clevers.

    I thought about the fact that the agent needs time to read and respond to the query (like 4 weeks) and then there's a little time before you send in requested material (another week or more)--so that means I could send out my query right away, and still have 5+ weeks to revise!

    The big flaw in that plan is that if your book and your writing are not up to snuff, it's usually reflected in the query. And then when I did come up with a query that got me requests, the "finished" book didn't stand up to scrutiny.

    It was a mess, until I found a good critique group and some reliable betas. So I learned my lesson, and am still learning. I actually did a guest post on this subject for the WOW! blog yesterday

  11. Thank you for sharing that post, Angelica. It's funny how similar our stories are!
    It's disappointing to realize that our story might not be ready yet, but every step of the journey is so important to help us grow as writers, isn't it? :)

  12. Show me a writer who hasn't queried too early and next to them will be the toothfairy. Great post.

  13. I haven't officially queried yet and I'm really nervous too! I need to start getting into the practice of letting people read my work in order to receive feedback. Thankfully I have a crit partner, so that helps. :-) Thanks for the great post, Wendy!

  14. I hope to be at the point of making a big fat querying mistake very soon lol

    I'm not there yet - I need to finish.

    Great down-to-earth article Wendy!

  15. That was SO my first project!! It's now in re-write 12,345 but I'm querying something else. Something a little more polished than my first...