Monday, March 10, 2014

QueryTip: Wait! Wait!

I'm working steadily through my inventory of requested full manuscripts and proposals.  I was very smugly pleased with myself that I had read and replied to almost everyone by the end of 2013.  There were three leftovers, two of which were revised after the initial request.

Revised after the initial request means I requested the manuscript, got it and then the author sent me a new and improved version.

That happens more than you think, and I'm actually ok with that up to a point.

Here's what that point is: when I've read the manuscript.

Sometimes authors have major revision epiphanies while I've got their manuscript here in the reading stack. If they want to revise, I'm very glad to read the very best work the author has to offer.  I simply replace the new manuscript with the old, and that's that.

But each manuscript has a number (which is how I keep track of order received, not by date.)

When I read and reply with a "sorry, not for me" sometimes authors revise and want to send the revision  back.  I usually give it one more shot.  One more shot means I read about the same number of pages I read the first time.  If it doesn't knock my sox clean off on that second read, well, that's the ball game.

At that point that's two turns on the dance floor, and I want to remind you there are at a minimum ten people waiting in line behind you. (Today there are 27 but that's a bit higher than normal.)  People who are just as eager to trip the light fantastic with me.  People who've been waiting almost as long as you have.

Time to move on.

What does that mean for you?  Querying too soon is a very real problem.  It's worse for the writers who have a concept I love and who can string sentences together. Those novels get requests. If the novel isn't ready, oops.

How do you know if your novel is ready?  This is where beta readers and crit partners are worth their weight in gold.  You need to start connecting with people long before YOUR ms is ready.  You don't start by asking someone to crit your work. You start by helping someone else with theirs.

There are a lot of agents out there but the good ones have very very limited reading time.  Make sure you're ready for the Big Dance when the music starts to play.

This music of course


Kitty said...

I wondered what the music could -- until I clicked on the link. Of COURSE! HA HA HA !!!

AJ Blythe said...

So I just snorted my brew everywhere when I heard the music. Love it.

Although I think it is the perfect music for when my trembling finger hits 'send'.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Hahahaha...the music.
Now I have to wipe Keurig's Green Mountain Breakfast Blend off my screen. Thanks a lot.
And it's snowing again.
Happy Monday.

Anonymous said...

Carolynnwith2Ns - dare I tell you it's sunny and hitting the lower 70's here today? Tomorrow is 75 but, before you travel here to whack me upside the head - it will be raining and 45 on Wed.

That music...eek. For the longest time, I couldn't go into the ocean without hearing it. I had a real live encounter with a shark once in the Florida Keys. And a barracuda. I haven't been snorkeling since.

I have the beta readers, and also acquired a crit partner about 9 months ago - worth her weight in gold.

Shawn Oueinsteen said...

Question: What good is being ready for the big dance?

A. The query may be tremendously compelling and polished after reading the entire QS archive.

B. The novel may be well-critiqued, well-written, wasting very few words, and be powerful and hard to put down.


1. The novel is 135,000 words (needed because it has multiple POVs, with each POV character someone readers come to know well and love)

2. The novel has a prologue (necessary because it contains compelling years-prior events that drive the novel)

From what you've said in the QS archive, no agent will get past the word count and the idea of a prologue.

J.D. Salinger did not want his works to be published. Writers will write regardless, but some of us would like to be published. The question is how, under the circumstances you describe?

Unknown said...

Great point about connecting with beta readers early. I offered to read for a number of different people while I was working on my own manuscript. By the time I was ready to have mine read, I didn't even have to ask anyone--I had volunteers.

Terri Lynn Coop said...

Yes on the betas and critters. And I tried to get a couple of non-writers in there as well.

Readers who wouldn't be trying to pick out the act structure, but instead who could write the review like the test pilot in James Michener's SPACE, "How did it make you feel? That moment when you felt your ass sliding out from under you . . ."

And that music just slayed me. Figuratively, thank goodness, I have deadlines today.


Wendy Qualls said...

Shawn -

The prologue is surmountable, but the word count isn't (unless it's adult fantasy, and it's quite long even for that).

Anonymous said...

Ohhh THAT kind of John Williams goes to the beach kind of music haha

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

My music, ooooh...Donna...ooooh...Donnaeverhart so it's in the 70s where you are and the grass is green and the birds are chirping and you went swimming in the Keys where the water is always warm and swarming with deadly creatures. Well up here we have, I mean we have fahgetaboutit.
As I look out my window into the woods I see a foot of snow still on the ground.
When is the QOTKU going to do something about the weather?

Elissa M said...


One way to get away with a prologue is not to call it that. Don't put any heading on it, just start it. Readers (including agents) will read it because it doesn't say "Prologue" and it's sox-knocking writing. (It IS sox-knocking, right?)

By the time they get to the first chapter, it shouldn't bother them that it says "Chapter One" because you've already hooked them with your awesome writing and storytelling. You might want to put a little header on the first chapter that indicates time passage, just to orient the reader. (One week later, twenty years later, whatever.)

As for word count, put it at the end of the query, after you've hooked the agent with your amazing story. Any agent that refuses to look at pages just because of word count (after your query made them sit up and look for their sox) isn't the agent for you anyway.

Shawn Oueinsteen said...

@Elissa M

Thanks. I needed that.

Amy Schaefer said...

Shawn, it sounds like you are suffering a bit from character-love. Is there really nothing you can cut down? Really? No scenes that don't really forward the narrative - they are just there because they are beautifully written?

I'm a big fan of Janet's advice to put draft novels away for a few months in order to come back with fresh eyes. Maybe you'll find you need every single one of your 135,000 words. But you might find that you don't.

Shawn Oueinsteen said...

@Amy Schaefer

I already cut the novel down from 186,000 words to 135,000. One of the major characters is now a minor character. I removed several chapters. I deleted many scenes in remaining chapters. I rewrote every sentence to get rid of unnecessary words, and a lot of sentences I wiped out entirely. It's as lean now as I can get it.

whiporee said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
whiporee said...

Shawn --

I don't think the word count is the deal-breaker that many do. I had offers on mine at 146K. If the letter works and the pages you include work, then it won't deter all of them. Some, sure, but not all of them. If the book takes 135, and any more cuts take way from it, then go with the book you love and see what happens.

As for QS's post, that actually got me. I sent a query out to an agent I'd met, thinking she'd take two weeks to respond and at the most would want to see a few pages. Instead, she requested the full. Problem was, I hadn't finished my last edit. So I had to scramble and sent her something less than I had hoped to send. It turned out okay in the end, but I learned my lesson about starting before you're ready.

Flor de Maracuj√° said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Shawn - I don't think multiple POVs necessitate extra length in a novel. If you lay your manuscript aside for awhile, and give it another pass, I'm sure you'll find ways where dialogue or phrasings or narrative can be cut to make the work more concise. And most info or prologue can be woven into the story. Here's where I think a professional editor can really help.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Hah, just turned off my computer and turned on the TV. Guess what`s on? We need a bigger boat.

Susan Bonifant said...

Once Janet Reid passed on my manuscript (very politely, too)but I have since wondered what would happen if I threw in a big crime, dialed up the suspense, and resubmitted. And now this post appears. This was no boating accident.