Friday, September 21, 2018

I cut 70K, can I requery

Is it okay to query the same agents who rejected you if you make significant changes to the novel (though the title is the same)? If so, should I mention that I've queried them before but that now the novel has been restructured?

In more detail, I queried with a science fiction novel that was 195,000 words and got form rejections. I've since edited it and restructured it to 125,000 and am unsure how to go about sending queries to the same agents with the assumption that the word count was what led to the rejections.

You should start with the agents you haven't queried before.

While I think you're right to guess that word count was an instant pass, you don't know for sure.

If you do requery, mention this is a slimmed down version of an earlier query. You don't need to use "that you passed on" in this query, cause if you're querying now I can figure that out.

What you haven't realized yet though is if the ONLY problem was word count, a savvy agent would likely have said that. "This is a terrific concept, and good if wordy first pages but you need to chop 50K" kind of thing. Of course, some less-savvy agents (ahem) might reject without actually looking at the writing or thinking about the plot.  I've requested and READ novels of 150K in the past. But I've also sent a lot of writers packing when they told me the word count was 200K+.

Most recently I ran into a nice fellow at #WDC18 who had north of 200K, and would not be persuaded it was too much, because "an editor" told him the novel was great.  I did ask if the editor accompanied that assessment with an offer of publication (no, she did not) but I don't think he got that message.

Back to you though: Before you query, make sure your query is polished up. The QueryShark archives will help you avoid some very common stumbling blocks.


Kitty said...

I'm kinda surprised that anyone who reads this blog would submit a novel with 195,000 words. That said, I hope you get requests, OP.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

The word count thing was a hobgoblin for me last time out in the trenches. It comes with fantasy/historical fiction genres trying to navigate between world-building, debut novel, pace, and all that jazz. There is an art to this, learning not to waste words. Writing flash fiction helps. Then taking honest criticism for what works and what does not.

Great job cutting the 70K words, OP. I hope your next round goes better.

Colin Smith said...

Okay, so I'm raising an eyebrow here and saying, "Really?":

...a savvy agent would likely have said that. "This is terrific, but you need to chop 50K" kind of thing.

If I believe what I read from other agents, for a debut novel they would have passed as soon as they saw the word count. We're talking query here, not requested pages.

Maybe I'm reading them wrong...?

Janet Reid said...

When Colin raises his eyebrows, I know I need to revise.

I was thinking "terrific concept" and "good first few pages".
I'm going to revise to make that clear.

I'm really glad Carkoon evicted Colin after the particularly odiferous Kale in Jail conflagration.

Colin Smith said...

I like the revision. I don't know about anyone else, but that reflects more what I read. I'd like to think all agents would at least give sample pages a shot before form rejecting. But the more agents I see asking for "housekeeping" first, the more inclined I am to think they will use that as a filter. Not that they auto-reject if they don't like the word count, the comps, or the category. But if the word count is high, or the comps are off, or the category is confusing, that casts a shadow over the query. It sets the query up for a rejection, even if the query itself is good.

This is why I will stubbornly refuse to put my query housekeeping first. Because I KNOW my title will suck. And I KNOW I'll probably mis-categorize (or I'll take a chance that the agent might like the work even though they don't have any of this category in their stable right now). I want them to get this after being wowed by the query. I want them to say, "Well, this isn't really my category, and I wouldn't use that as a title, and the word count's a bit high, but I love this premise. We can work on the details. I want to see more!"

There's my 2 cents. :)

Colin Smith said...

Oh, and thanks Janet for not gnawing my eyebrows. :D

Colin Smith said...

... and about the Kale in Jail thing. Yeah, well, how was I to know it was Kremelees Kombustible Kale? It all looked like regular Kontraband Kale to me when the prison guard slipped it to me...

Okay, I've kommented way too much. Your turn! :)

Steve Stubbs said...

It makes more sense to tighten the prose tban to "restructure" the story.

Tighter prose is more compelling prose.

I could cut the word count in your your question by 1/2 without losing ANYTHING.

I also believe without seeing the pages that I could tighten your story down to 85K without "restructuring" or losing ANYTHING. That would put it well within the range of acceptable SF. Yes, I know, someone is going to say debut SF should be >299K and probably find a quote from Isaac Asimov to support that statement.

I don't own a gun but I'm standing my ground.

If the agent sees the query language is bloated and then sees the word count is bloated, rotsa ruck getting pages gimlet eyeballed.

The good news is, this is easy to fix.

A LOT easier than "restructuring."

I could tighten your whole novel in less than a day.

Rotsa ruck, OP. We're cheering for you.

PS: If you don't understand the above and need a demo, send me the first ten pages and I will make them tighter than a gun enthusiast's a-hole.

Kitty said...

I'm really glad Carkoon evicted Colin after the particularly odiferous Kale in Jail conflagration.

HA HA HA !!!

Liz Penney said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Brigid said...

I check in every now and again, and each time it's like coming home. Colin says something insightful, Janet provides a candle in the dark, Julie finished Rain Crow!, so much support to OPs and in the comments. Love to all of you.

I rarely comment these days, but I'm still writing. A sentence or two at a time.

John Davis Frain said...

So Colin sends out a request for an R&R and Janet delivers.

I think I just spotted Jeff Somers wearing pants in Hoboken.

Guess I might as well see if I can finally fix this first chapter. Crazier things have happened.

Oh, and OP. Good luck to you, but why are you keeping the same title? They'll change it anyway if it gets that far. More important though, is that you've learned a LOT from trimming those 70K words. You're gonna be so prepared to tackle the next one. Says here you'll only trim 35,000 words next time. And then you'll be ready to edit!

Colin Smith said...

John: Colin says something insightful... (Brigid)

Add that one to the list... yes, today may be good day for fixing that chapter! :)

Julie Weathers said...

For those in the editing discussion mood:

We're discussing this very thing on the Litforum. I hope Janet doesn't mind me linking to the discussion. Lori Benton describes the process of editing down her latest book, which went from 200,000 words to 122,000 on the second page of discussion. It originally started out with me asking a question about how to handle a scene and evolved into editing.

There's also a herediscussion about Dialogue tags that goes into editing dross.

Then there's a discussion about editing weasel words. I won't link it, but it's in Research and Craft, also.

Joanna Bourne has several blog posts about writing that are well worth your time.

Rain Crow came in at 188,000 words. I'm closing in on 180,000 now just by eliminating one scene and some weasel words. It's still far too high, but these are painless cuts.

If someone suggested they could cut it in half without losing anything, I'd be very skeptical.

I pitched this to an agent who wants it. It was 140,000 words then and he said he'd like to get it around 130,000, but 140,000 wasn't a deal breaker. I'm shooting for 130,000 and some agents will balk at that.

Good job on getting down to 125,000. That's a sweet spot for sci fi if you have good worldbuilding. I'd query new agents. There are a lot out there unless you covered the waterfront before. As Janet says, query widely. Unless someone specifically says no sci fi, try them. If they love the story and writing, they'll look at it.

I'd be interested to see what happens on your journey. Just finishing, querying, and editing down to 125,000 is a tremendous accomplishment.

Brigid Thanks so much. It's been a fun ride.

Colin Colin, I regret that Colin did not survive Manassas, but he was glorious. salute

Unknown said...

Thanks for the reply Janet, and thank you to the posters for the comments, kind words, and encouragement. I've read the Shark's posts from beginning to end, which is one reason I submitted query letters with a high word count. I believed other agents would be like Janet and get past the word count, but I have a feeling that many see 200K and first-time novelist in the same letter and auto reject. However, I am sure I'm doing other things wrong with the query letter, but wanted to get the word count down before trying again.

The novel was originally 240k, by the way, and I edited it 7 times to 195,000 (by following Janet's advice on her site). Having restructured, rewritten, and edited it now to 125,000, I'm sure there is some tightening up still possible and I'm happy to take the opportunity Steve has offered to send him or anyone else the first ten pages for feedback/editing. Just reply with an email address to this comment and I'll send it on.

Kitty said...

Unknown, I usually have just the opposite challenge of trying to flesh out a story. I work at that as hard as others work at pruning words. I can relate to this Dogbert cartoon: "I'm dreading writing the jacket flap."

Good luck!

Julie Weathers said...


I had someone helpfully offer to edit my work once. Yes, it was leaner, but when my beta readers saw it again they both said the magic was gone. There was no personality left, just very lean prose.

Now, if you're trying to be another Hemingway, that's great, but how much of a market is there for a 60,000 word sci fi? None.

Be careful about editing to the point you have no personality and voice left, let alone world building.

Oddly enough, one of the suggestions I got from the last editor on Far Rider was he wanted me to flesh out some of the characters more and do more world building and magic system building. FR was at 135,000 words.

Colin Smith said...

Julie: Awwww. :( As long as he went out in a blaze of kale... ;)

KDJames said...

OP/Unknown, I think it's absolutely heroic to have pared down a ms from 195K to 125K (never mind from 240K!). You don't say whether this is the first ms you've written, but it reminds me of hearing several writers say that a first novel tends to be a "kitchen sink" novel -- that is, in their initial enthusiasm, new-ish writers tend to throw in everything but the kitchen sink. Or maybe including the sink.

I hope you get a few agents willing to look at the entire thing and perhaps give you some knowledgeable feedback. Just keep in mind that there does come a time when you've got to move on and write something new. There's a good reason why first novels rarely get published. Oh, and I share Julie's caution about letting just anyone edit your work. Sure, it can be done. But an experienced, professional editor can point out problems and make suggestions without ruining either voice or story. Best of luck to you!

Brigid, I've missed hearing from you. Hope all is well.

Colin, Kale in Jail sounds like a Tale of Fail. Was it served in a vessel with a pestle, with the brew that is true? [ ]

PAH said...

Obligatory comment about The Historian and yada yada yada. :D

JD Horn said...

You (OP) also have the option of splitting the manuscript into more than one book. Is there any way to restructure your story so that you could have a satisfying shorter novel (that could then be followed by a sequel or sequels created from the remaining material)? Make this much shorter, debut novel shine so that it catches an editor's eye? Maybe aim for 90K to 100K of really tight writing that still carries your voice and keeps the magic alive?

Craig F said...

Unknown: make sure you put that word number at the end of your query. Then write a query that makes it so they won't even notice the 125k word count.

I know that you can edit the magic out of a book, don't. Let it ride for a while and cut if someone says they would take it on if it was shorter. Sci-fi agents are used to thick books.

Intermission is over, I'll let you get back to your regularly scheduled programming again. Y'all have a good weekend, which I hope extends to those still under Florence's influence.