Monday, January 05, 2015

Query Quesiton: querying first of a two book series

 I'm new to writing and, like most newbies I'm sure, am blindly feeling my way around the entire process. I was even naive enough to believe that writing the story would be the difficult part, when in fact that was the easiest part of all! As I began my story I realized that it could not be told in one book, therefore there are two books. 

The first book is complete--edited and polished to the best of my ability and I'm ready to query. The second and final book is written, however, I still have about another 50 rewrites, some editing, and likely lots of polishing left on that one. 

My question is this: should I wait and query the first book when the second one is ready? I read your blog as well as your QueryShark blog and know that you advise to query one manuscript at a time. If that is the case, should I at least mention the fact that there is a second book in my query for the first one?

Having something to work on while you query that first book is better than waiting to finish both books to start querying.  Querying can take a while, what with those vast stretches of silence we seem so fond of inflicting on y'all.  (38 people are suffering this at my hand as we speak.)

Whether to mention this is part of a two-book series depends on a lot of things. Can Book One stand alone? Does it wind up ALL the plot points or do some of the plot points remain unresolved so as to appear in Book Two?  You don't want to convey the idea this is a standalone and make an agent think you don't know how to actually finish a book when s/he reads Book One and the fate of the Buttonweazer Clan is still unresolved on page The End.

You can do this by saying "I envision this as the start of a two-book series. I am finishing up the second book now."



Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Just think, boys and girls, there are 38 writers out there waiting to hear from Janet about their queries. 38 writers checking every day, on the hour, or the half-hour, or refreshing by the minute, their inboxes. 38 people telling assorted spouses, friends, family, co-workers, and supportive writer, on and off-line friends, “I finally did it, I sent my query to Janet Reid”.

Some of the group will wait with patience and some will plow on and query the Jennys the Rachells and the Betsys plus a myriad of other agents for a chance at a title page. Some will cry, some won’t sleep and some will fill their waiting with thousands and thousands of new words, better words, words paving another yellow brick road to Emerald City.

Many of us have been there, some will go there again and some will chant, “I cannot do this over and over,” and they will stop, for a while and some forever.

To the group of 38 I say this:
Wishbones break two ways, long piece and short.
The more mellow the bone and how sure your grasp, allows the longest to be your piece. But if, in your hand, the shortest remains, and if you have chosen your opponent wisely, the Janets, Jennys, Rachells and Betsys, not opponents at all, are your team wishing for your wish to come true too.

Carry on, group of 38, carry on.

Colin Smith said...

If I may, let me add a hearty nod of approval to Janet's recommendation. Having been in the query trenches more than once, you will do your sanity much good if you start querying Book 1 while working on Book 2. There's nothing worse than watching the inbox for rejections (sorry, but the truth is if you query you will be rejected by *at least* some agents--hopefully not many). Not only is it detrimental to your mental health, but it's almost as much of a time-suck as Facebook and Twitter combined. Be sure you have projects with which you can make productive use of your waiting time. Rewriting, editing, and polishing Book 2 would be a great use of this time.

Also, be sure you are ready to respond to positive feedback. When I query, I make sure I have a folder that contains the following:

* The novel, properly formatted with name, contact info, and word count on the top left of the title page.
* The first 50 pages in a separate doc.
* The query (without any personalization--include this with your response to remind the agent what it was s/he requested pages for).
* A 3 page synopsis.
* A 1 page synopsis.

[Some agents might ask for 5+ page synopses, but I haven't seen many of these, and frankly at that point I wonder why they don't just request a full!]

You may not need all of these in your querying, but until Janet is formally declared Queen of the Known Universe (she is that already in our hearts), different agents will have different needs/wants, and having these documents to hand will enable you to respond to requests promptly.

All the very best to you, writer friend! :)

Anonymous said...

Hear that? That is otherwise known as the collective sounds of teeth gnashing, knuckle cracking, and sobbing in misery by the group I'm going to call, "THE 38."

What a way to start the New Year, and boy, can I relate to those "vast stretches of silence."

Here's to screams of joy. Here's to THE CALL. And mostly, here's to contracts landing in many mailboxes.

If we go by Colin's wishes, Janet will find some stellar writers this year. Maybe they're lurking within THE 38.

Colin Smith said...

@Donna: That has movie potential:

"THE 38"--38 writers thought waiting for query responses was torture. But that's nothing compared to the horror of finding themselves trapped in the novels they're querying...!

Actually, that could be a Stephen King novel. I know you're reading this Mr. King. I'll send you an address for the royalties. :)

Anonymous said...

To the Original Poster,

First off, I am weeping that you finished your second in the series before you started querying, but what's done is done. If nothing else, it was good practice in writing and finishing novels, which is never a bad thing. I say this because you don't know if the first one will sell.

Having said that, good job. Finishing one novel is hard enough. Everyone has a novel in them. Very few ever sit their butts down and write it, let alone edit, revise, polish and query.

Colin has very good advice. I have a five-page synopsis because several agents do request them. I also have one-page and two-page, but I cheated on them. The one-page is single spaced and the other is the same, but double spaced. I know, lash me with a noodle.

I keep a color coded spreadsheet with all agents I'm interested in with pertinent information. Different colors denote different things, queried, they have requested material, rejections, well, ok the rejections have skulls and crossbones on them, but it's kind of the same.

A lady on another forum said a small publisher had her full manuscript two years before getting back to her and saying, "Hey, we'd love to publish you!" I think I would have declined, but that's me.

I have my epic fantasy on submission now, but let's be realistic. As much as I love it, it might never sell. I'm working on the sequel, but I'm also working on a paranormal Civil War novel that sets my heart ablaze. There was a reason Pinkerton said the greatest weapon the south had was the southern woman.

I had to do make some excuse for owning 300 plus books on the Civil War! Well, many of them I actually study for military maneuvers in the fantasy, but still.

The long, belabored point is, I work on other novels. I read for research. I read for pleasure. I read agent blogs and interviews. I organize my bookcases, which are a mess right now. I do anything except watch the inbox. Yes, I miss the occasional mail advising me I've just inherited a million dollars or I too can have the secret to pleasing women as soon as they come in, but I'll risk it. Besides, I already know the secret to pleasing women, help with the cooking or at least help feed the horses.

Set up whatever system works for you to be organized when you query. Study which agents you think will fit. Query intelligently. (One editor tweeted yesterday she had just rejected three authors because they didn't follow submission guidelines.) Remember that rejection is part of the journey. Dejection is a choice.

Keep in mind just because an agent says they'll get back to you in six weeks or three months, that isn't a contract signed in blood. Crap happens.

Good luck. Take your mailbox off your toolbar.

Anonymous said...


"38 writers checking every day, on the hour, or the half-hour, or refreshing by the minute, their inboxes."

Some may be senior starters who've been out of the gates a time or two, and aren't paying any attention to the email. What does surprise me is the number is that low.

Miss Shark and her Sharkette must have been swimming furiously to get the number that low or I am completely off in the numbers game I play in my head.

Anonymous said...


I want to be your friend. I love your methodical approach.

I still have my old ledger from a former life when I was querying. It had a ten column page where I could make different notes. Then, when I got rejection letters or offers to submit, I punched them and put them with the agent page. God above how I love those hard copy letters. They almost always had some note on them. I loved collecting agent autographs even if it was a rejection. Not that the rejections didn't sting, but compared to the new "no response means no interest" it was heaven.

Anyway, I love the way you organize everything.


Colin Smith said...

Hello, Julie, my new friend!

I came to this system out of experience.

Well I recall querying my first queriable novel. I received a request for a "package" that included both the full mss and a synopsis, and worked myself into a sweat because I didn't have a synopsis, and only had a rough idea how to write one, and ended up doing the best I could and probably failing miserably!

Next time around, I had the "long" and "short" synopses written and polished before the first query went out. Lesson learned.

My system also extends to keeping copies of every mss revision. Each Word doc carries a version number, incrementing by .1 for every revision. Novel 1.0.doc is the rough draft. 1.1.doc is the first revision, etc. By the time I get to 2.0, it's ready for First Reader. 3.0 is Beta Reader ready. 4.0 is Query Ready. And I keep every iteration in between. That way, I never permanently lose a good idea that wasn't right for this novel. And I can also go back and learn from the changes I made.

Again, these are all things experience taught. :)

I like the idea of having real paper letters with real agent signatures on them. But I think I would die if I knew my query wouldn't even reach the agent for days, and I'd then have to wait for them to open the envelope, read it, print off a reply, mail it, and then wait for it to make its way through the mail system, get accidentally re-routed to Idaho, and eventually arrive in my mailbox 10 weeks later. I guess I've become too accustomed to technology. :)

Anonymous said...

Okay. I can't beat Colin and his system - especially the 1.0 to 4.0 and all versions in between :), but I'll say this b/c no one has mentioned it.

Back up your work.

This has nothing to do with querying and the processes/methods mentioned above. It does has something to do with, as Julie M Weathers said, "Crap happens." None of these steps will matter if you lose your synopses, query letters, and the like.

There. My good deed for the day is done.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Colin, the old way (paper, envelope, stamp, trip to the post office just to make sure it got mailed)was awful and yet therapeutic in a way. It taught patience, trust in the process and the US postal service.
It was not unknown to have the mailman honk and wave my SASE response before proceeding to the next mailbox.
I'm glad those days are over and sad too. Now everything is either lightening speed or non-existent, (no response means no). How do know, I mean really, how do ever know.

Lisa Bodenheim said...

Wow Colin. Impressive organizational ideas.

For my ms, I file each iteration by month and year of when I first wrote or revised it. It's easier to kill my darlings as I don't permanently lose them. They're just not in the current file.

Thank you to the comments that suggest doing a synopsis (blech) before sending out queries.

Colin Smith said...

Donna: Sage advice, indeed! Save and backup.

Carolynn: I agree--bittersweet. There is something wonderfully personal about a hand-signed (or better a hand-written) letter in an envelope. But you can't beat email for speed.

Lisa: The reason I didn't have a synopsis the first time was because I hate them and really didn't want to write one. I guess I hoped no-one would ask, and I avoided querying agents that required them. Serves me right that the first request I got wanted one! :)

I did learn a neat trick for writing synopses that doesn't totally eliminate the pain, but does make it a lot easier. I create a spreadsheet. In the first column I put the chapter number. In the second I put the chapter page count. In the third, I give a brief (two or three line) summary of what happens in that chapter. When I write the synopsis, I start by copying the text from all of those chapter descriptions, and then edit/embellish and polish. Why the page lengths? It helps me see whether the chapter length is proportional to the importance of the chapter. This can be very helpful if you need to make a major edit. It's also useful if you're really particular about having chapters that are about the same length.

I'm sure that synopsis idea isn't original with me, so I'll only take credit for passing it along to those who hadn't thought of it before. :)

angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

Everyday I say to myself, “I will not comment on Janet Reid’s blog. It is not a forum.” But I would like to say to Colin: I am printing your comment and nailing it to my easel/desk.

Thanks to the writer for asking this question. And thank you Great Shark for your response because it answers my question.

@ JulieM.Weathers we just got a bookshelf after hauling back home 20kgs of plumbing pipe (pipe-bomb type) bought at Home Depot in a pristine purple suitcase from Walmart. I left a personal note to security at Dulles airport in our luggage, including an illustration of said industrial-look shelving unit.

Good luck to the 38. And to the Shark and to the Minion, I hope you find some awesome voices.

Unknown said...

I didn't know my series was a series until it sold. I didn't query agents. I wrote a book I loved that was way too short and nowhere near marketable. I emailed a friend who had started a publishing company and in four days he responded with a deal offer and asked if I had a second book in mind for the series. I made up something on the spot that combined a couple of short stories I had published.

There is no right way to do it. Just write what you want, don't be a jerk, and make well-connected friends who start their own publishing houses.

Anonymous said...


Crap does indeed happen. I have two novels in the nethers because crap happens. Computers crash and burn and hard backups become corrupted. The first was the first I wrote and rougher than a cob, but it had good bones. The second was a good story and garnered an agent and had several requests.

Even all the newfangled cloud backup isn't foolproof. Dropbox for some weird reason lost all of my files that started with v-. Those were all my vampire stories and research for a game company.

Backups are essential. I save each day's work as a new file. Backup to an external hard drive and email to myself.

Jenz said...

If you don't have routine backups in place, you are at risk of someday having this conversation:

You: My computer crashed and I lost some of my files.

Friend: Did you have backups?

You: No.

Friend: [judgmental look masquerading as sympathy]

Both Windows and Mac have automated backup software built in to their systems. External drives are cheap, and setup is easy.

You can also get a free account with Dropbox, which also has mobile apps; then you can access your files again from any device (assuming you save them in a readable format).

Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale said...

Dear Original Poster,

I shall differ from my respected colleagues in saying that I don't think it's a bad thing that you have written your second novel before you queried your first. If you're an Apprentice Author, I feel it's a good thing to have written the first drafts of a few novels before attempting to query one.

Is this first novel your First Novel Evar?!?. If so, then you do well to write a second. Maybe a third.

The more novels you write, the more you learn about the craft.

My experience is that after I'd written several novels, I went back to my first novel, saw what amateurish errors I'd made. I tweaked them. My "first" novel became a stronger book for it, one that had MUCH better luck on the second round of querying. (Yes, I queried a novel before I realised it wasn't ready to go. These things happen. But they don't destroy your career. Don't even delay it, really.)

Also, it's not just in the mastery of craft, but the improvement of plot arcs. Perhaps your novel needs to be a series, and you won't feel comfortable enough with the plot arc until that second novel is finished.

Regardless, query when *you* feel ready. Will your first novel be affected in quality if the second isn't polished? Or is this really one novel in two volumes?

Maybe you will write both books, realise you were more longer-winded that necessary, do some deep editing, and end up with one really tight 100K-word novel.

Gingermollymarilyn said...

A loaded 38-special! Good luck to ALL 38!!!

Michelle said...

I am so new to all this query business, I didn't even know what a literary agent was until last week! I am doing my level best to devour every blog and comment stream I can find. What I was looking for was someone to tell me what the heck I'm supposed to DO with this information.

Colin: THANK YOU!! Your organizational ideas are genius. NOW I feel like I have a place to start.

I started out writing an idea for a stand alone book, ended up with a completed 92k word manuscript, 5 beta readers, an editor, and what looks like a four book series that my beta's are begging to get their hands on. All because I dared to open a document and start writing. What I didn't realize was - that was the easy part.

My new plan is to spend January researching agents, preparing the letters and synopsis, and sending the queries. AFTER I set up spreadsheets to track them, folders for letters and synopsis, and re-vamping my revision tracking.

Thanks again to Colin for the brilliant advice. Getting started on the right foot is a whole lot easier than trying to fix it later.

Once all that is done, I'll go back to finishing the series. And wait.