Saturday, March 07, 2015

Query Question: how much revision till it's new

A year ago, I queried for a manuscript and got several full requests. They were all rejected with the primary reason being the opening was too slow, and various other style quirks as well (1), but most of these agents did request to see future projects (2). I've spent the past year revising the novel and it turned into a completely different novel, with the exceptions of character names and some character personalities, as well as a specific setting and half the title (3). Altogether, the plot is 90% new (and I did rewrite the entire thing), but in a query, there would be parts that would ring bells for agents who have already received a query on the previous version of this work.
I know in one of your recent blog posts you said that no means no. But since a few of these agents did love the premise & writing style, can I still query them with the new, different version of this project? And if I do, should I mention that I've queried a different version of this previously?

See above.

Now, here's why I said no.

First, look up where I marked (1).  You got rejections saying "the opening was too slow" etc. That is NOT a complete list of why they didn't pounce on your novel with all four fins.

It's what they told you. It's not necessarily the COMPLETE reason.

What they did say clearly is FUTURE projects. (2)
That means something not-this.

You've painted and plastered, and replaced the fixtures, but this house is still at the same address.(3)

I know you want to start with the agents who expressed interest in your work, but you're better off shopping this to fresh eyes.

I've gotten a couple of these refurbished fulls, and I don't think I've ever said yes on the second go-round. 

If you elect to ignore this advice, you should mention that you queried before, took their advice to heart and rewrote the novel completely.  The part about taking their advice is the key here.



Unknown said...

I've gutted and revised my current WIP three times now. I'm still fiddling even though some agents have it. I know, woodland creatures are not supposed to do this.

I re-queried one agent who had passed on it previously, but asked to see other work in the future. She thanked me for remembering her and promptly rejected it.

If you watch #tenqueries, #querylunch, etc, agents invariably say, no means no. One agent estimated how many people had re-sent a manuscript they had extensively revised without being asked to and how many they had changed their mind about. Zero.

Take Janet's advice and move on. Put this one away and when you sell your first book, you have something waiting in the wings. That isn't a bad thing. As much as I love Far Rider, there may come a day I have to follow my own advice and shelve it.

It wasn't a waste. It was a remarkable writing course and I've learned a great deal. My next book will be better because of it.

Lisa Bodenheim said...

Julie: I agree. I used to feel bad for all of the darlings--plot ideas, beautiful sentences, just-right words--I've killed and put away in previous version file. But it is all part of learning craft, as you stated, a remarkable writing course.

As Janet said, onward to other agents. And keep learning.

DLM said...

And then again, this:

Personally, I'm a believer in no-means-no, but the lack of industry standards does leave the woodlands a nervous and yet hopeful place.

Dena Pawling said...

It's because I believe this response that I'm procrastinating.

I wrote my first manuscript about two years ago. When I finished the first draft, I thought it still needed “something”, so I followed the recommendations to let it sit. It sat for 6+ months while I wrote the first draft of my second novel. The second one I entered into a few contests for feedback, plus I sent it to a freelance editor for input.

Now the second one is sitting [like the first manuscript, I think it needs “something”] and I'm back to my first one. I figured out the something it needed, so I rewrote it, found some critique partners who've now read it and gave wonderful suggestions, and sent it to my freelance editor for her input. I made those changes, now everyone agrees it's ready. They say it has the sweet-spot 90,000 words. It has a killer first line. It made them both laugh and cry. It has wonderful, individualized characters. They love my query letter. Etc.

Last week I sent my primary CP an email. “It's ready! Yay let's celebrate, it's finished and it's ready! So now I'm procrastinating lol”

My CP gave me the pep talk. It's a wonderful story, she said. You need to send it out, she said.

Last week, instead of working on individualized query emails to the agents on my A-list, I made some changes to my blog.

My CPs and my freelance editor say it doesn't, but my main fear is whether it starts too slow.

This weekend I'm tweeking my synopsis and ruthlessly reading the first chapters of a few books I checked out of the library, and the Amazon “look here” previews of several authors, searching for two things: 1) is my opening slower than the others? and 2) can I find recent comp-titles rather than the comp-authors I have?

I'll probably procrastinate some more. Maybe I'll go back to my second manuscript because I think I've figured out the “something” that one needs. Maybe I'll outline my ideas for other stories [both of these manuscripts stand alone but can be part of a series].

Maybe I'll binge on apple fritters and vanilla ice cream.

Should I send to my A-plus-list agents first? Should I sent to my A-minus-list agents first, in case the query isn't good enough? But what if those agents ask to see more? Would I then quickly send queries to my A-plus ones?

Deep breath. I need to believe in myself.

So I'll probably send to my A-plus-list first.

When I'm ready.

I think I've graduated into being a woodland creature :)

DLM said...

Dena P, you gave me a good, full-throated laugh on that last line. Don't we have some sort of kale and lima bean garland crown for these occasions around here?

Also, Saturdays are weird. I'm usually the LAST person to make it to the comments, and today I was third in line. Gossamer damn near passed out.

Unknown said...


That's exactly why I keep more than one project going. If something feels off or I'm burning out, I play with a different project.

While I'm playing with the other project, the boys in the back usually figure out what's wrong. Then one day you look up and think, holy crap, I've got 50,000 words on a new novel done. There's my prologue!

I wish you much success with your work. This is going to be the year!

Karen McCoy said...

Looks at all openings of current projects, and decides all they're too slow. Sighs.

Tells perfectionist to leave the forest. Reminds self that this wasn't the only reason for lack of fin-pouncing, and that persistence pays off.

Karen McCoy said...

And thanks, Julie. A great reminder that we are all students, and that the perfectionist has no place when it comes to learning.

Unknown said...


Nothing you write is a waste. I've been listening to a lot of Shelby Foote lately. Lawsy, if I ever found a man with that voice who loved history like he did, I would be lost.

He mentioned how carefully he thought about his words when he wrote. It shows, I believe.

Mark Twain said, “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”

That is the lesson I'm working on now. Right words.

It's also important to have right beginnings to preface those right words, but I know you can do this.

A minion who shall not be named commented FR started in the wrong place. I should start it with the dead uncle arriving on the dead horse. She was absolutely right.

I scrapped two chapters I loved and started with the dead uncle. It makes all the difference in the world.

Have you got some good critique partners? Get you a posse of those.

If you don't have some Compuserve Books and Writers forum has some writers workshops, exercises, research and craft sections etc. If you just pop in and don't know anyone it might be a little intimidating. Jump in one of the conversations going on where I'm at and tell them Julie sent you. If you don't already know about it.

It's good to get eyes on your work.

I love Far Rider, my work, I love the story it will become if the series sells. However, I have to be real. There's a very good chance it won't sell. So I work on a couple of other projects and apply what I learned building FR. Far Rider is better than Dancing Horses was and Dancing Horses is better than The Bard was. So it goes.

Chin up. Of all the billions of people in the world, you are among a very elite number who have actually finished a book.

DLM said...

I all but kissed one of my writing group readers when she told me I needed to cut the first SIXTY pages of my ms during my first Huge Revision. She was terrified to say it, but she was so right it was almost exultant.

Craig F said...

So you painted, polished the brightwork and grounded all of the highlights. The only problem is that the sinkhole is still in the front yard.

The sinkhole is still there because you are not sure of the cause. It could be organic in nature or man made.

The agents tried to be nice but they saw the sinkhole and passed. Now you want to ask the same agents their opinion again.

Agents in the literary world and agents in the real estate world have some things in common. On of those things is that they are in business. It might be a business reason that they passed on your project.

It is possible that they felt that your premise was skimpy. If that was so then they would have to wonder if you had enough creativity to write something else. Agents don't really want one hit wonders. They want someone who can create a brand. They might love your book more than their spouse but if there are questions there are questions.

If you can write a second book in a reasonable length of time they might remember and in the longer run pick up your current no-no.

Start your engines and create something else. Please also remember that editors are there for a purpose. Leave them a little meat on the bone or Limas in the bowl. Don't forget the bacon either.

Colin Smith said...

Speaking as a woodland creature (we welcome you with open arms, Dena!), I think the underlying concern our writer friend has is of being black-listed by the agent for persisting with a novel they've said "no" to, or missing the opportunity of convincing the agent that they might like it after all the changes have been made.

Here's my take away from Janet's response. Unless you're a total jerk, you're not going to black-list yourself for trying again. But if the agent says no after the second attempt, only a jerk would keep pounding on that door. Let it go. Move on. However, understand that the chances of the agent saying "yes" after having said "no" are very slim, even after a revision, especially if they haven't invited you to re-submit. But if you think trying again is the best use of your time and energy, have at it.

I think that sums it up for me. :)

Elissa M said...

Nobody likes to feel they've wasted months (years) on a project. It's like staying in a bad relationship because you've been with that person for so long you don't know how to move on.

Julie already said it: No writing is wasted. My husband is a musician. He practices daily. Is any of that work "wasted" because no one hears it but me? I have paintings on my walls that never sold. Did I waste my time painting them?

This writer has a novel that's been completely re-written. To me the best answer is what Janet said, query fresh eyes. Unless the writer already sent it to over 100 agents on the first go-round, there should be plenty of fresh eyes available.

And, as everyone says, don't put all those hopes in one basket. Write another book.

Dena Pawling said...

So it's 88 degrees here today, with a hot breeze blowing in from the desert. I have the a/c on.

[Don't forget to spring forward tomorrow.]

My first draft of this manuscript also started in the wrong place, but unlike what you all [all y'all] have noted, it started too late, according to everyone who read it. So I moved the first scene to the end of chapter 3, rearranged a few other scenes, did a few other things, and now everyone says it's perfect. But I still worry.

Today I celebrated my finished manuscript by going shopping lol. I now have several more court-worthy blouses and a new pair of shoes.

Now it's back to reading the openings of published novels and stressing over whether mine starts too slowly.

Thanks for the welcome, Colin :)

Jed Cullan said...

A no means no. But, you never know if the no would turn into a yes if you gave it a go.

However, be upfront about everything if you do try again.

But, there are also plenty of other creatures swimming in the deep who are just waiting to gobble up your genius. You just have to paddle into their line of sight. Good luck.

Amy Schaefer said...

Dena: step away from the stress. Let that manuscript be finished - really finished - even if it is just for a little while. If you are dying to write (or to tweak or to just check that last thing on page 68), go write a short story, or a blog post, or the opening for a new book. Just something new. It will clear your head, I promise.

Unknown said...


I agree with Amy. That's why I have so many short stories floating around somewhere, lining drawers or something. They clear my brain completely of the long scope.

Congratulations on the new blouses. I used to love buying new clothes when I worked at the western store. Now, what kind of blouses were they? Enquiring minds want to know?

Can y'all tell I am breaking from the edit?

Jed Cullan said...

There can never be enough tweaking in the world to convince a writer that their novel is truly finished and completely perfect. But at some point you have to stop and say, "enough is enough, this is ready to send." And then send it.

Then, of course, you land an agent and they'll tweak it to hell and back between spontaneous bouts of twerking. And then they'll sell it and the editor will twerk and tweak even more. And suggest totally re-writing chapter three.

In short, at some point you have to pass the tweaking onto someone else and give twerking a try.

Dena Pawling said...

I bought summer blouses, because it's been hot these past few days and I think our winter is over [sorry to all of you still shivering]. This week is projected to be in the 80s and next weekend the 90s. I've been wearing 3/4 sleeve blouses and fashion boots to court, and they've been getting a bit too warm for me. So now I have sleeveless shell-blouses and a pair of more-open flats [I don't wear heels].

Page 68 is the end of chapter 5. I checked it again, just for fun because Amy mentioned it. Still looks okay :)

I've checked a few openings on Amazon and mine still seems okay. I'll stress about it until I finish checking, then I'll be okay.

Next weekend is my monthly RWA chapter meeting. I'll get more pep talk there, then I'll be ready to go.

The new definition of March Madness lol

Susan Bonifant said...

The thing that struck me was this:
"It's what they told you. It's not necessarily the COMPLETE reason."

I only once went back to an agent who felt there were "pacing" problems with a ms, after I felt I'd sped it up of course. No dice.

It's easy to take one comment (pacing, slow opening, etc) to heart and feel that with one fix, it might present differently. But really, if an agent found only one thing wrong with an otherwise compelling book, would they turn it down?

Knowing it's a subjective process, I trust it when an agent says they just can't embrace the book and I DO believe there are probably other reasons that are not as easy to articulate. Moving on is probably best for everyone.

DLM said...

Here's the thing - not all good books are also good products, and not all agents are the right agent. It's no accident that so many passes on reads and rejections after partials or fulls come with the "KEEP TRYING, what's not right for me/us may be right for another agent" encouragement. I had an agent tell me The Ax and the Vase was good AFTER a two-read rejection.

This does not mean I'll try, try again (with that agent). I've been trying with others to the point, now, where I'm not even sure where to find more agents to research and hit up anymore. (Yes, I feel like I've exhausted the entire literary agent population of the world with no luck!) But I'll either hear something from the many queries now out, and/or I'll find another resource to research more.

Because querying is kind of like grade school and the house you grew up in - you can't go home again.

DLM said...

All this said, I do subscribe to the idea of erring on the side of possible success (who was it said that? I'm so sorry I'm not citing you!), and "the worst that can happen is a rejection" - but in the case of a full or partial request, no is the end of it.

Unless you're fortunate enough to write in a genre Jessica Faust represents. :)

Gingermollymarilyn said...

Oh, the torture. . . it's 90 percent NEW. NEW.

Dena, Have you ever tried nuking the apple fritters for about 20-30 seconds or so? Yum! Makes them softer like they just came freshly out of the oven!

Karen McCoy said...

Thank you, Julie. *cries happy tears* Will definitely check out the resources you listed.

And you're right--putting things out there is good. My hesitation is hanging them out to dry before they're ready. (This bit me on the ass a few years back, and ever since then I've been in the cave, constantly polishing things until they shine.)

As luck has it, I was fortunate enough to meet with a critique partner today, and she showed me some ways to sequence my beginning that really helped, and it gave me much needed optimism for this newer project. (It had agent interest when it was only an idea--it's now second-draft finished, and with one more run-through, should hopefully be ready for betas, of which I have a few in mind.)

And you're right--even if this project doesn't sell, there will be others.

Dena Pawling said...

My opening is probably on the slow end of normal, so it's acceptable.

I found a comp title from 2013, which theoretically is recent enough. And another author to start reading. She's good :)

I wrote my blog post for Monday.

Apple fritters are good nuked. They're also good cold, hot, anywhere in between. They're just good. My waistline can attest to that.

Jessica Faust reps women's fiction!

It's been a good Saturday.

Christina Seine said...

Since there no "like" button, I will just say this:

Like like
Like like likety like

Sam Hawke said...

Dena you're playing the time-wastin' procrastination game and while I know it well I can't recommend it. You can ALWAYS think of more tinkering to do, more research, more obsessing. You described a project that is ready for querying. Just do it. It'll be scary but also pretty fun, and it's amazing how good it feels leave the world of nebulous hopes and take actual concrete steps toward your goal.

[I sympathise. I literally took 16 months between first writing a draft query letter and sending one out. Because I too am a procrastinating woodland creature. :) ]

In the words of the brilliant Robin Hobb: the worst they can say is no, and we've all heard that. Get in there.

Kurt Dinan said...

"You've painted and plastered, and replaced the fixtures, but this house is still at the same address."

Great analogy!

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

You lost weight, had your hair died, plucked, waxed, implanted and Botoxed but his no phone call, no text message, no email back, means no.
Move on honey.
It's a big candy store out there. Find the flavor that best suits you.

Unknown said...

Carolynn with two n's,

I know. It's just hard to please some people. I mean you wake up early to get pretty and fix that special someone breakfast in bed and all you hear is, "How did you get in my house?"