Thursday, June 30, 2016

Do overs!

What if your query letter is not quite on the mark, and you do not discover the problem until a particular agent you hold in high regard points it out? Would it be a faux pas to re-query with a revised letter? Or have you burned the proverbial bridge and watched the pieces go downriver? 

That really is a sinking feeling isn't it?
It's happened to me.
I pitch editors and then think "oh crud, I shoulda said THIS, or that, or probably even THOSE"
But, no do-overs.
Not really.

(and this is a big however)

There is no such thing as the Query Police.
So, what's the very very worst thing that could happen if you requery?

You MIGHT get a stern email in return that says "you queried me for this on X date and I responded."
Which is code for "get organized, you're not keeping good records."

So, what to do when you query on Monday, and Tuesday you see a blog post like this and then realize you failed to include a plot in your query, or an overarching theme in your memoir, or forgot to mention what the story was about. Basic errors that make me reach for the "sayonara snookums" button on my computer.

sayonara snookums button

First, you redraft your query as though your life depended on it.
You make double dog sure that you have plot on the page, or an overarching theme, or are very clear what the story is about.

Make double dog sure you have your ducks in a row on the new query

In other words, you aren't rushing, and you're getting beta reads and you're letting it sit overnight, and you're not just in a panic. You're focused. If you don't know the difference, take a breath, calm down and say "this will not be the end of me."

When your query is so much better you have to cringe when you think of the old version, then and ONLY then do you resend it. And you say "I realize I left out the plot/the overarching theme/what the story is about, and this revised query fixes that problem."

This won't help if you're writing a book I don't want to read, or don't think I can sell, but I always take at least another quick look at this kind of query.

Not all agents will, so yes in some cases you are sunk, BUT it's worth the time to revise and requery cause you're going to need that revision for future querying on this book anyway.

It's better to try and not get a nibble than miss a chance.

And if some sneering agent bitches about this on Twitter, tell 'em to suck it up and go sell something instead of complaining about the source of their income.


Carolynnwith2Ns said...

"It's better to try and not get a nibble than miss a chance".
New subheader.
New mantra.
New anthem.
New prayer.
Of life.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

I agree with 2NN's, that's subheader material, t-shirt material, coffee mug material.

And no ma'am, I will not tell a bitching agent on Twitter to suck it up. I will, depending, remove them from my list and perhaps unfollow. But if OTHER agents wanted to tell him/her to suck it up.....

Colin Smith said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Colin Smith said...

It's better to try and not get a nibble than miss a chance. Isn't this why Janet says to query even if your query doesn't slot exactly into the agent's preferred genre? When in doubt, query anyway. You're already expecting a "no" so what can it hurt?

But to today's topic, we worry about first impressions, and they do matter, so we need to try our darndest to get it right the first time. But it's nice to know that at least Janet appreciates when a writer realizes they messed up and makes a sincere effort to correct themselves.

That last line though... ha! With Jennifer, I doubt I would ever say that to an agent, but it goes along with not being the beggar at the publishing banquet. Without writers, publishers would have nothing to publish. There would be no publishing industry. That doesn't give us license to be cocky, but it should embolden us to be persistent.

DLM said...

Hmm, I commented and got an ERROR 403 FORBIDDEN.

And all I said was something silly about loving rubber duckies and how I want to go home right now and be with Penelope and Gossamer, because - aww, smooshy double doggie faces.

And that one of the great themes of this blog is the consistent reminder - sometimes overt, sometimes subtle, always *there* - that WE are the reason the publishing industry exists. We are the source of all its mechanics, all its revenue. Thank you, Janet.

Lennon Faris said...

Ah, I love this blog. It always realigns my perspective. Back on track.

Diane - keep the comment under control! Duckies and doggies are totally inappropriate material, sheesh. :P

AJ Blythe said...

Shark key... 'splains everything.

Like Jennifer and Colin I'd never actually say it out aloud, I'd probably be too worried to think it (just in case), but nice to know "It's better to try and not get a nibble than miss a chance".

(must recite that to myself every night before bed)

Celia Reaves said...

Choosing not to re-query reminds me of an earlier post where the concept of self-rejecting came up. It's not up to me to decide whether an agent wants to look at my work. It's up to me to do the best work I can and show it in its best light. After that, it's out of my hands.

I might THINK about telling a whining agent on Twitter to suck it up, and I might even write that tweet, but I'd never send it. Didn't we have a discussion here a while ago about professionalism in public spaces? I'd have to satisfy myself with snickering about the agent to my friends.

Cindy C said...

I wonder what it is about humans that makes us sneer at the very people who provide our livelihood? Agents aren't the only ones. People in retail sometimes react this way about customers, and even teachers have been known to complain about students. I'm not talking about sneering/complaining at obnoxious or rude people--it's probably healthier to ignore them, but we all deal with that our own way. But why be unhappy with the everyday people who ask for the book with the blue cover, or the kids who need to go to the bathroom during class, or the author who re-queries with a politely worded and revised letter?

angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

Yes. It's better to try and not get a nibble than miss a chance.

That sums up why I can't stop reading and commenting on Janet's advice. Deep in my heart is the need to write and finish the projects I began. And I want to query them. After my #wrexit (writer exit, or quit writing) because of zero time, I believe I can revoke that decision.

OP, I hope you get a bite from your updated query.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Yep and so I am writing a new book. For a do over. When I first tried the query thing with my last book, I was terrible at it. Before I started writing the new book, I drafted a butt load of queries for each of the books I have on my back burner that I wish to write. This helped a lot in getting started with the new project.

I plan, this time round, to continue working on my query all through the process so that it is a glorious thing by the time the book is ready for prime time. I realize this is backasswards, but you must get past the query wall to gain entry to a majestic and worthy agent in most cases. Especially if you have my stunning lack of social skills.

For those going to the WD Conference, I went last year. This is where I encountered our sharky majesty for the first time. I did not speak to her because I was an ignorant little woodland creature. I can’t afford to go this year, but should you attend, when you meet her, bow low and say “Your Majesty!” then present her with free adult beverages. Do this in my name and I will be so grateful as that is what I would do if I could. Even though it’s weird. I realize, but she is my queen. No matter how many times she might reject me.

Lisa Bodenheim said...

Awww, double doggies and duckies.

Such an encouraging blog on a morning when it's dark and fixin' to rain and I've curdled (rats) the milk for my sweet rice. Thank you, Opie, for asking the question.

I'm with the others.

Lisa Bodenheim said...

Whoops, my italics didn't work. They vanished! I know how to make phrases invisible!

Here it is:

It's better to try and not get a nibble than miss a chance.

Sherry Howard said...

It's such a shame that queries create such quivers. It's wonderful to have a query shark, which leads to this perfectly: Maybe Colin Smith will be kind enough to linkify this so you can see the post on Janet and this blog. When Janet and 10 Minute Novelists ended in Writer's Digest pool of wonder in the same issue, I thought they should be connected, so I did a guest post over there. #4 is a bow to you wonderful people, at Jnaet's insistence. Just kidding, I'd have bowed to you anyway, but those are her own words.

PS: If you happen to follow the link to my site, profuse apologies. I'm trying to re-construct and failed miserably.

Theresa said...

Love the shark key!

SiSi, I think everyone needs to blow off steam about their work, but it should be done privately with a very trusted friend. No need to put it out in the Twitterverse.

It's comforting to know that you can give a do-over a shot.

DLM said...

Angie, I hope to read your work someday. If that means you Wrexit (love that coinage), all the better for all of us!

Lisa B, I wish you not champagne dreams, but fresh milk dreams. Rats indeed.

Linda Strader said...

Oh, wow oh wow...I'm so glad I asked the question, because now I can stop staying up all night chastising myself for screwing up. Even though the previous query letter generated requests for partials, and in one case, a full ms, (all of which I am waiting on), I am ALWAYS looking to improve, and will keep searching for "the" agent that loves my book as much as my 5 beta readers did.

Colin Smith said...

Here's Sherry's link:

Thanks for asking the question, Linda. We welcome every opportunity Janet gets for setting our quivering hearts to rest. :)

Linda Strader said...

Glad to be of help, Colin! Even if I went through days of self-torture first, LOL.

Susan Bonifant said...

In today's "Guess what Janet will say," challenge, I had it halfway down:

"There is no such thing as the Query Police. So, what's the very very worst thing that could happen if you requery?"

I love that.

The longer I write, the more I am learning that surprising opportunities often hide behind daunting odds.

Err on the side of possibility, writer.

Unknown said...

Ducks and dogs! So cute. :)

Unknown said...

E.M. - your comment sent me to visit your Blog ((see June 25)
Linda - your brave question hit at what I want to do with all my writing all the time
Empress of the Coral Reef-You are the trusted mentor for this writing quest we embark on every day and today's posting gave me pause to think, then say to myself it's okay, I'm going to screw up. Go back out there and try again.
This blog community is filled with heroes on a quest who don't give up. I'm still working at it.
Check out the song link on E.M.'s Blog posting. It seemed a perfect fit in tone to what Janet gave us today.

Dena Pawling said...

After careful viewing of an enlarged version of the sayonara snookums photo of your keyboard, I am pleased [altho very surprised] to note the lack of teeth. That is very encouraging.


And now back to staring at news reports of yet another active shooter at a military base. I texted my son and he texted back, so I'm good.

The year is half over today. Time flies.

John Davis Frain said...

ALL aspects of life should include do overs. Because ALL people in life need do overs on occasion.

Already this week, I've needed one on the occasion of Monday occurring and the occasion of Tuesday showing up. Thankfully, Wednesday allowed me both do overs. And ... here comes Thursday. Worried about a theme here.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Claudette Thank you for your kind words. It was hard to let go of the last book, but I probably should have done so sooner. It was finished and I so wanted it to sell. Starting over is hard, but it is also redeeming with so many new possibilities. A lovely automatic do over. Provided I can avoid sphincter shaped head gear during my next foray into the query trenches.

Linda Keep on trying. Everyone messes up now and then. My first queries were abysmal. I got a lot of traction on my last book, but ultimately no cigar. You will find that perfect agent in time. Remember there is no such thing as a failure who keeps trying.

John Manuscript Frain I have often wanted a do over for my whole life. If there was a bonehead move to make, I made it. If there was a new and colorful way for me to shoot myself in the foot, I blasted off an entire leg. If there was an opportunity staring me in the face, I put my head in the sand and ignored it. Now I thank God for all I missed and all the wrong turns I seem to have taken because they led me here. And here, wherever here might be, isn't a terrible place to be.

Colin Smith said...

John: I don't think I have enough hair for a do-over... ;)

Unknown said...

Clarification! "it's okay, I'm going to screw up. Go back out there and try again."
Did not mean - 'try again and screw it up' although that may happen anyway, sigh...

Meant 'try again and get it right'
And as JMF reminds - do it with a grin!

Unknown said...


Could the world get a do over, please?

Julie Weathers said...

I love the dogs and ducks. We used to train our Aussies on Indian Runner ducks who flock much like sheep so they're good for training herding dogs. We go from ducks to sheep to cattle. We had an orphan kitten who showed up and used to watch us training puppies on sheep. The kitten stayed around around the puppies so I assume she thought she was a puppy, but at any rate she thought she was big stuff.

One day she decided she was going to work sheep. Unfortunately, sheep don't much care about kittens mewing at them. So, she jumped on the side of one of the sheep and off they went. It was kind of amazing to see a kitten put a bunch of sheep through a gate. That was pure accident as she was just along for the ride, but impressive none the less.

Sometimes you just have to be fearless.

What's an agent going to do? Hit delete twice?

For those thinking about querying, agents and editors are posting their manuscript wish lists on twitter today on the #mswl hashtag. Don't pitch them on twitter. Query the regular way, but this gives you an idea what they're looking for.

Colin Smith said...

... and just to reiterate: Janet's #mswl is: "It's better to try and not get a nibble than miss a chance." :)

Julie Weathers said...


That's true to an extent, but if an agent says I don't want to see rape, child abuse, killing animals it's probably best not to query and try to get a nibble than miss a chance. Sending said agent a query opening with a graphic child killing may get you blocked.

Common sense is a good thing.

Donnaeve said...

"Common sense is a good thing."

Any sense at all, common or otherwise, would be good for me on any day.

I imagine our dear Colin has a healthy dose of common sense when it comes to querying. Anyone who would ignore blatant rules relative to the subject matter vs a particular genre is liable to be listed under "author asshat."

Julie Weathers said...


I certainly didn't mean to insinuate Colin doesn't have common sense. It was a general remark. If an agent says specifically don't send me this, it might be best not to fly in their face with exactly what they don't want

John Davis Frain said...

Loved your blog post on 10 reasons to become a Reider.

I bet autocorrect drives Jeff Somersault crazy some days. And other days, he just rolls with it. (Oh c'mon, who could resist that?)

Even on a day celebrating do overs, I wouldn't change that line. It was a fun post to read, and Jeff's somersault made it even a little more fun.

Beth Carpenter said...

That picture of double dogs getting their ducks in a row made my morning. While it's important to spend the time it takes to get it right, knowing that a single misstep might not be fatal makes it easier to take that step.

Julie summed it up perfectly.

"Sometimes you just have to be fearless.

What's an agent going to do? Hit delete twice?"

I may have to print that out and post it on the wall.

Kae Ridwyn said...

I'm with Beth - that 'hit delete twice?' quote of Julie's is going to go on my wall too :)
Oh, and that 'John Manuscript Frain' had me guffawing and my cherubs eyeing me sideways, mentally questioning my sanity. But it's school holidays and I don't care!
Happy writing, everyone!

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Woofs and quacks make me smile.
Only reiders would understand.

Craig F said...

I do sooo resemble this question. I did once send the Queen a query and then redacted it. I like to think that the reason lies in one of my many bad habits.

The bad habit in particular is that I tinker. There is nothing in this world that is safe when I'm around. That includes my own queries. I have had some that were close and I buried them by the light of the new moon, danced and chanted naked around them and dug them out when they were properly aged.

I set down in front of a computer with it and prepared to send it out. Then I would see something I could improve on and fucked it up. Usually I then delete them and start over again. One got away though. Maybe I should have just let it run free.

Craig F said...

Oh, thank you Donna and Julie.

Anonymous said...

OMG, Sherry! Jeff "Somersault" has got to be the best auto-correct blooper EVER. I'm still wiping tears of laughter from my eyes. Thank you, I needed that. Also, your post was lovely and very well done.

Janet, thanks for once again talking us down from a ledge some of us didn't even know existed. I swear, the things I didn't realize I needed to worry about... thank you for asking that question, Linda.

And that picture! Never mind the ducks, I want to know how anyone got dogs to sit still in a bathtub.

BJ Muntain said...

I can't tell an agent to suck it up. I'm Canadian. I could, however, say something like, "I'm so sorry I wrecked your day with my thoughtless query. I'll know better next time."

Dena: The year is half over? Here's hoping this half year was the worse part of the year for everyone, and that the rest will be much better. No matter how good your first half was. (Mine wasn't.)

Joseph S. said...

Craig I know your pain. It is a call of nature to make last second bonehead changes.

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

Thanks. I needed to hear this.

I queried over three dozen agents with a query that didn't get any love. None at all.

The query sucked, obvs. So I've rewritten it. Wasn't sure what to do with it, as most of my researched agents had already No'ed or NORMANed. (And I so wanted to win one of them over.)

However, after this post I might resend it to them... after #QueryWars.

Yep, I'm gonna throw my ms in the ring and see what happens. Then if I don't end up winning grand prize, I'll go back to the trenches with the New'n'Improved and see what happens.

For those who rejected pages (for sure), I might give them a miss. For those I don't know if they even got to the pages (or didn't ask for them as part of the query), I'll hit up again.

I figure they won't remember my first query.

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

P.S.: Happy EOFY, fellow Australians!

angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

Shelly, that's a great post about why Janet has reached goddess status among writers. Some even go as far as asking questions on twitter as if twitter were a chapel.

Linda, great question.

Diane, If you want to read a few chapters I'd love to know what you think.

Last night at dinner two scientists (we always have scientists at dinner) compared how babies and adults brainwaves differed while recognizing sounds. The conversation warped into how someone becomes excellent in their field. By chance a European championship game was on. These scientists said in order to reach excellence you must practice. Constant practice makes for muscle memory. I asked how can you apply this to a writer. Someone who consistently writes excellent fiction. They didn't know how to explain the muscle memory in constant creativity. The writer's muscle memory is butt in the chair.

Though I cannot explain it I know that learning how to concentrate takes practice. Learning how to detach from the physical world and enter into that creative space takes practice. The more you do it the faster you can relax into the mental space and concentrate on writing, or art, or editing query letters.


I think one of the biggest problems in today's world is the immediacy of our actions. And the lack of reflection before we act. Once you send that email you cannot retract it.

Mabye that is why Angela James, evil editor nice mommy, calls her editing course Before You Hit Send.

Once you vote it's done. You can get a do-over in the next election or referendum or query. Consider the consequences of re-querying. Maybe it's better to query something fresh six months from now.

DeadSpiderEye said...

If your contact with an agent is at a level were they're actually opening your e-mails, even offering cordial tips on your pitch; that's seems a position where you have something to lose by harassing them with a re-wording of something they've seen previously. If the feedback wasn't so cordial, well at least they replied and in both cases, it's fairly safe to assume they'd know their own mind on the decision without receiving same pitch.

My reading of the 'however' er--however, is that there's room for a second bite of the cherry in more circumstances than you might think. Because--the reality of processing an inbox, means that a lot of material isn't going to get the examination it warrants. Consequently, not only are viable projects, not going to receive due consideration, there's room for a re-do in circumstances where you can be reasonably sure, no one read past the first line of your letter.

Karen McCoy said...

E.M.--Not backasswards at all. Sometimes I'll write the query paragraph(s) when I'm still figuring out plot points, to make sure they all check out.