Friday, April 30, 2010

12 How to Know You're Querying Too Soon

A couple of days ago, I blogged about Nathan Bransford's Agent for a Day experiment. On Wednesday, he posted the first thirty pages of the five random queries used in the experiment on Wednesday, and then yesterday he posted his takeaway from the experiment. What I found most striking was that he had picked the five queries at random from a sample submitted for the contest--and they were all pretty good. From the sample pages provided, the manuscripts themselves also had promise. But Nathan mentioned that they all needed "some work and polish before they'd be ready." In other words, the writers queried too soon. Which isn't to say that he would necessarily take on any of the writers down the road, only that they didn't give themselves the best possible chance.

This is something I struggle with, too. I've come to look at the process of getting a manuscript published as if I am the agent for my characters. It pains me to think I'm not doing a good job representing them as much as it pains me to think I might not have written their story well enough. But how do you know?

How do you know when you've done the best you can do? How do you know when you are ready to query?

Does anyone else have this problem?

I've found a couple of good posts on the subject, but I'm still waiting for the epiphany that will keep me from doing it again. Janet Reid recommends that we succeed in writing a brilliant one-page synopsis and write a second novel before querying the first one. What do you think? Does that resonate?

Here are the links:



P.S. - Here's a great post by Write It Sideways about the 25 Reasons (Janet Reid says) Your Query Letter Gets Rejected.  (Janet Reid is the Query Shark for those of you who haven't seen her fantastic blog site).

P.P.S. - I had to come back and add this. Either Nathan's blog got a lot of us thinking along the same lines, or we are into the realm of the kind of coincidences you should avoid in fiction. Roni Griffin from Fiction Groupie just reposted an earlier blog about Should You Query Your First Novel, and her post is fantastic.

Check it out here:


  1. I agree with writing your second novel before querying the first. It gives space and distance and a chance for the first to cool. Plus you have more to offer the agent with two (not necessarily sequels). But sometimes you just have to jump in and be rejected a few times to know what to do and when to do it.

  2. And you know, the expectations are different with each agent. I was just reading something on Kate Testerman's web site and she expects a 5-10 page synopsis! I'm not sure which is harder: one page or ten!

  3. I enjoyed Nathan's experiment too. What a learning tool!

  4. Amie, I love your observation about space and distance and letting your writing cool. Having more to offer an agent is also a plus--although I've heard you should never mention anything except the one work you are querying about in a query letter.

    Sherrie, for me--the three-page (short) synopsis is harder than both the one page and the ten page! I have the ten page mostly done because as I do my complications worksheet. But skimming the storyline in one page is easier than explaining enough to cover it more in detail without going into too much detail! Have you done both the one page and the ten page synopsis already?

    Anne, wasn't that amazing? He is so generous with his time!

  5. I think that often writers query too soon because they are sick and tired of the revising and want to move forward. This is EXACTLY why shelf time is so important. If you're querying to get a project off your desk, chances are it isn't ready. But when you can look at it after a break and think, 'This is it. It's the best I can do.' and can't find anything to change except a reword here or there, that's when it's ready.

    Never send anything out that you don't 100% love or 100% believe in. If you don't think it's good enough to deserve publication, agents and editors won't either.

  6. What a fantastic answer, Angela. How long do you usually let a manuscript sit?

  7. Although it sounds like logical advice from Ms. Reid, I'm sure that most of us who have a full time paying job would find it unbearable to sit on a manuscript until we have produced a second! For some people it may take years to find the time to create the first....phew, maybe those of us who are part timers should shelve our projects til we retire...?

    OK - the prospect of exhibiting patience seems terrifying to most of us. Angela's comment was absolutely spot on, though. She hit the nail on the head - human nature/our consumer society doesn't encourage patience and self-examination.

    Maybe a comment from one of my all-time favourite characters is appropriate here. Gollum (from Lord of the Rings) says to Frodo and Sam:
    "More haste, less speed!"

    Perhaps we can make a compromise with the esteemed Ms. Reid and at least have a second wip to boast about to a prospective AGENT?

    REALLY interesting post - THANK YOU!
    Thanks for the email I received today,too!

  8. Excellent post. I spent the day writing a draft of my synopsis, and I was frozen. You are not alone in your doubts, that's for sure. Thank you for stopping by my blog!

  9. Ann Marie -- LOVE your Frodo quote! And I have to say that I'm not even done with my current WIP, but I've learned so much that it has given me perspective on my last one. So, I think moving on has merit for three reasons. One, I think you need the distance as Angela suggested, and two, I think that having a second WIP shows you aren't a one-trick pony, and three, it gets you out of that all consuming place where the current work is everything. Maybe it makes the rejections hurt a little less when you have something new on the horizon. Have you queried your novel yet?

    And Julie, you have my sympathy. I HATE writing the short form of the synopsis, but I swear it really helps clarify things. I'm curious whether your manuscript survives unscathed after you wrangle the s-monster. Let me know whether you end up doing another round of revision like I did!

  10. You're right!
    I've got 2 wip's at varying stages of development. The one close to my heart probably isn't so commercially viable but is further along. The second is a humorous work and is probably a more commercial project....I think I'll need quite a lot of time though before I send them out to those (tame and lovely) SHARKS!!!! AH! Especially after following Nathan Bransford's experiment this week...maybe I'll just put them under my bed until I retire after all!!

    This was fun - THANKS! Have a creative weekend!

  11. Ann Marie -- Don't give up on getting something published EVER. Seriously. If you believe in the characters and the story, take time off if you have to, but keep plugging. You are so obviously dedicated to writing despite the small amount of time you have available, so it's a disservice to yourself to assume anything should be pushed under the bed for years. Do you work with a critique group?

    Hang in there and have a great weekend!

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