When it comes to querying agents, I made all the mistakes…
Addressing the query to the wrong agent. Sending the wrong materials. Accidentally querying the same agent twice.
I’m sad to say I have done them all.
And then some.
No, I haven’t stalked agents or sent them gift bags full of glitter and decorative soaps. (Definitely don’t do that!) But I’ve made a big querying mistake that’s hard to recover from. And I’ve done it more than once.
Let’s rewind to 2012. I had quit my full-time teaching job and was living in the guest room at a friend’s house on Cape Cod because I’d decided to get serious about my writing.
And with no grueling commute or long, hectic work week, I was able to write a Middle Grade novel in less than two months. I was pretty excited.
On the day I typed “The End,” I rode my bike to the beach, daydreaming about my soon-to-be published novel. Maybe it would get turned into a movie! Johnny Depp should play the villain, I decided.
The next day, I read the entire book over twice, changing a few minor things and catching some typos. “There,” I thought. “Revision is complete.”
The day after that, I started querying agents.
My query letter was decent, and the first few pages of the novel were pretty good. Right away I had two agents request the full manuscript. I could barely contain myself.
But as I waited to hear back from the agents, I started to think about my novel. I loved the beginning and end, but the middle was a bit… mushy. There weren’t enough obstacles for the main character to face, and the problems she encountered were too easily solved. I worried the plot was too simple and that my main character’s motivation was too thin.
“Oh well,” I thought. “When I get an agent, he or she will help me fix that.”
You can probably guess what happened next…
I got all the rejections.
Because yes, there ARE editorial agents who will work with authors to improve a manuscript, but you can’t rely on that. Why would an agent take on a book that needs tons of work when they could choose a book that’s ready to go? It’s not like agents are hurting for submissions.
I queried quite a few more agents before realizing I should fix what was wrong with my book before submitting it. What I needed were beta readers. And feedback from other writers. And a real revision.
I needed to walk away from the manuscript for a couple months (at least!) then come back to it with fresh eyes. That’s when I’d be ready to revise.
And I’m not talking a revision in which I correct a few typos and change a few words. I’m talking a revision in which I take out entire chapters and add in new plot points and switch the book from first person to third and from present tense to past (all of which I ended up doing).
Books don’t come out perfect on the first draft. Over the next few years, my novel went through several major revisions before it was truly ready to be submitted to agents.
Problem is, I had already submitted a crappier version of it to a lot of my top-choice agents.
Some agents accept revisions – if you’ve made significant changes. But most of the time, once an agent rejects your novel, that’s it. Maybe you can try again with a different novel, but you can’t query them again with the same one.
In fact, many agents say the most common mistake writers make is querying too soon.Most agents say the biggest mistake writers make is querying too soon. #amquerying #querytip Click To Tweet
Querying agents the right way:
Agent Janet Reid says that you shouldn’t query your first novel at all. “Write a second novel before you query on the first one,” she suggests. I know to those of you who are writing your first novel, this might be disheartening. But I think for many people it’s true. Sometimes you have to write a practice novel (or two or three) before you figure out how to do it right. That was certainly the case for me.
My advice is to let your first draft rest for a while. Then do a revision. Then let your second draft rest for a while. At some point get honest, constructive feedback from people who are not your loved ones. Then do another revision. Or, perhaps, write another book. Resist the urge to start querying agents right away. Keep resisting the urge and keep writing. Only query when you’re positive that your book cannot get any better.
It’s hard advice to follow. Maybe you’re anxious to get something published now so you can feel like a “successful” writer. Or maybe you simply can’t wait to get your amazing novel out into the world.
I get that. It’s one of the reasons why I blog – for the instant gratification of sending my words out into the world. It’s also one of the reasons why I have beta readers and writer friends who will give me honest feedback on my work-in-progress.
One of the questions I often ask them is, “is this book ready to go out into the world?”
And quite often, the answer is no.
It takes time and perspective to get your novel just right. And it should be as close to perfect as possible before you start querying agents.
Need feedback on your novel before submitting to an agent?
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