Saturday, May 14, 2011

Wait! Don't Query Too Soon

Querying too soon can break your heart
By Janice Hardy, @Janie_Hardy

Let's talk about things we know are coming, eagerly anticipate, but still catch us completely by surprise.

Page requests.

We spend years writing our novels, so it's only natural that when we're done (or think we're done) we hurry to write our queries and send them out as fast as we can. Sometimes we even justify this by saying, "Publishing moves so slowly, by the time anyone asks for pages I'll be able to tweak those last few things in my manuscript."

Resist this urge.

Yes, publishing often moves at a glacial pace, but sometimes it's an avalanche. You want to be ready if it all comes racing at you. It probably will be months before you hear anything, but what if that query you slaved over hits the right ear at the right time and the day your query lands, the agent asks for pages? Or worse (or is that better?) the full manuscript.

Sheer fantasy you say? Not really. From the day I sent out my first query to the day I signed with my agent took six weeks. Queries turned into partial requests within days. Partials turned into fulls within two weeks. My queries were spaced out a bit, so the agent I ended up signing with took ten days from when I pitched her to when she signed me. That's right -- ten days. Had I not been ready, I would have wasted that opportunity and I might not have an agent now, or have gotten a three-book deal with a major publisher.

Trust me, I know how hard it is to have an almost-finished manuscript and all you want is to start querying. But use this time as an opportunity to polish everything you can to a brilliant shine. Work on your query for a few weeks while your manuscript sits, so when you do that final read, you'll see it with fresh eyes and catch the things you glossed over before. And let your query sit while read your novel, because when you go back to it after, you'll see ways to make it even better.

Waiting an extra month or two can seem like a huge delay, but sending out a manuscript that isn't quite ready will put you even further behind. And break your heart doing it.

Have you ever queried too soon and paid the price?


  1. Don't I know it. :( You're so right. Everyone should take this advice.

  2. Yes. Yes. And yes! I had about six requests. Great concept but complicated to pull off. I got so excited, off it went, but I didn't know then you could actually ask people for help, get critiques before sending it off. I had no idea of the community of writers that exists and the incredible amount of sharing and giving. I'm so glad I do now!

  3. Ever since I've been fully invested in my book I've also been reading all the advice I can find and this is one that crops up frequently. As a result, I've held back from querying or even thinking about querying while I polish my draft (why yes, I do have an anal sense of self control, why do you ask?)

    I haven't even drafted my letter yet which I know will go through it's own set of revisions. I've bookmarked Queryshark!

  4. My husband is a musician and he says the same thing about music. Years playing for tips suddenly turns into an opportunity, but that opportunity is only available to those who are prepared (he argues strongly for artists to have a professional CD available asap for just this reason).
    I agree Janice! :)

  5. Ha! The same thing happened to me. I sent out queries, thinking Oh, I'll have weeks at a minimum to keep tweaking the manuscript - and got requests almost immediately. I spent about two days nonstop reading and polishing so I could send it out. Fortunately it worked out, and I signed with an insanely wonderful agent, but it made for a nerve-wracking several days.

  6. I love this advice! I love mostly that I'm already following it. :) I'm polishing my query (version 8.0 and counting) while editing, have another round of betas and more editing planned, and won't send out my query until the whole thing is ready to go.

    Because, of course, agents will love my query so much, they'll immediately want the full, right? (Why would I assume otherwise?)

  7. I used to do this with short stories before I found -- I'd edit it to the best of my ability, get a reject, edit I send every story through Critters, and when that round of revision is done, I can confidently say that the story's the best I can make it and turn it around as soon as a rejection comes in. That confidence -- that the story's getting its best possible chance -- is great.

  8. This is very timely for me. I am *this* close to being ready to start querying, but every day I have to remind myself to not press "send." Yet. :)

  9. Yes, I sent my whole manuscript to Little Brown after a SCBWI conference. They seriously considered it but said no. It has given me lots of hope but I don't want to make the same mistake again. Thanks for reminding us.

  10. Escape Artist: Oh boy! That happens to a lot of writers :) I had no clue what I was doing when I sent off my first queries for my first novel. Back then I didn't have all these wonderful online resources. People were just starting to accept email queries!

    Tami: Good for you! That's awesome that you're taking the time to do it right. Query Shark is awesome.

    Sara: He's so right. Good luck is often just being prepared for opportunity.

    Sara J: I bet! That's great that it worked out for you. :) More proof how fast this process can go.

    Robin: Exactly :) You really should assume that, even if you prepare for the opposite. What a weird business this is, huh?

  11. Megan: Critters is wonderful. I got some great feedback from them years ago. Confidence does make the waiting easier, doesn't it?

    Amanda: Hang in there! It's hard. I've queried too soon myself (heck, I bet almost everyone does) Best of luck when you do hit send!

    Natalie: Anytime. That's cool that you were under consideration like that :)

  12. Such great advice. I wish I had read that before I sent some queries. :) But I have always been a school of hard knocks learner :)

  13. Mary Kate: And I bet you remember all the lessons that much more because of it :)

  14. I wish I'd seen this post last year! I made the mistake of querying way too soon (you wrote a lot of my thoughts, there!) with my first novel--I think I had some sort of imaginary deadline in my head. After numerous rejections (even after requests), I finally got a reject & resubmit from a really kind agent. I, AGAIN (!), turned the ms around too quickly (I was afraid she'd forget about me), and she rejected it again, of course--but also gave me 7 pages of edits, saying that if I wanted to rework it, she'd look at it again. That was last spring, and I'm till plugging away (even though I'm pregnant with my 3rd child and would really like to beat this "deadline"!). I messed up, but thanks to this agent, I still have an iota of a chance. But you're right--I'm working slowly, will get betas, will reread and rework until I'm certain it's up to standard.

    It's a hard road, at the beginning. Some of us are so afraid of failing it's like we set ourselves up for it! Thanks for this, though. You'll help a lot of people.

  15. Bluesky210, and thanks for sharing your story. The pressure to race to the end is so strong, but we need to fight that urge sometimes. Best of luck with your novel! I hope it all works out for you.