Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Right Time to Query

The big question for every writer who is serious about getting published is this: When is the right time to query? Unfortunately this is not something that we can be told. Each of us has to decide. However, there are some key points that might help.

For example, it's probably not a good idea to start querying after you've finished your first draft. The manuscript will be as rough as a porcupine pillow. I know of no writer who has a quality manuscript after the first draft, no matter how long it took them to write it.

It's also probably not a good idea to start sending out your manuscript to agents and publishers if no one else has read it. Critique partners and beta readers are essential, even for seasoned writers. No matter how talented you might be, you will miss mistakes trusted readers will be able to catch.

Many of us are the impatient sort and we want to start querying the day we declare our manuscripts finished. It's probably a better idea to wait two weeks, read through it again and then send it. I've heard agents say to wait two months before sending.

Of course, there have been exceptions to the rule. I know of an author who sent only the first three chapters of an unfinished book and scored a contract based on that alone. But remember, that's the exception.

The publishing game is a slow one. There is no need to hurry when it comes to our first books. As Jennifer Hillier said in an interview with herself found here, 'Write the best book you can. DON'T RUSH – enjoy the fact that with your first novel, you don't have a deadline and can take your time. When it's ready, and not a day before, start querying. And never, ever give up.'

How do you know if you are ready to query? 

56 comments:

  1. You know, Lyndylove, it fell upon my mind that you could turn all of these posts of yours into a very practical book on writing advices. I don't know anyone who is more concise and intelligent in this than you.

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  2. What a lovely li'l snail pic! Not that snails are lovely, but it's a good photo nonetheless. And they're admittedly cuter than slugs. Ugh.

    Anyway, spot-on here. NEVER query hot off the press. Let your CPs shred it first. That's way better than an agent automatically rejecting it based on a weak beginning or other flubs!

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  3. Definitely don't rush the first one. Damn, enjoy the lag time. Because after that first one, there is no more lag time...

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  4. Definitely well after the manuscript's rough draft! Preferably, after beta readers and crit partners have had a chance to read through the draft AND revisions. Even then, for me, I would wait until it's the best story I can craft.
    The real answer for me would be that I don't know when I'll be ready to query. Maybe even after all my work, it will still not be ready. Hopefully, with experience, I'll be able to know the difference.
    I just know that whenever I do query, I want to be proud that my name is on that specific story.

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  5. I think about this a lot. When the time comes, I hope I'll just sort of ... know!

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  6. There was a time when I thought I was ready and I queried. It was WAAAAY too soon. Now I'm not sure. I just know it has to sparkle.

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  7. For me, it just sort of fell naturally at the end, when the novel was polished as well as could be, and yes, after all the critiquing and so forth.

    I love this: "as rough as a porcupine pillow". A great description for a first draft. :D

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  8. words to live by. Rushing into querying can be a mistake an author can't take back. I understand once an agent has rejected a M.S., it's difficult to get them to review it again. I would think this is especially true for an author who submitted an unpolished draft.

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  9. I think that's why agents dread December. Too many NaNo people try and query their November masterpieces the minute they're finished. Novels definitely need to sit for awhile after being completed. And then they need a lot of polish. I'm still getting helpful feedback on mine six months after what I thought was my "final" revision.

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  10. I have to remind myself of this all the time. The voice inside me screams at me to rush, to hurry, to go, go, go. But it's important to take your time, and to make sure it's good before you go!

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  11. Sound advice, both from you and Jenny!

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  12. Such a tough question. Probably a year later than you think ^_^

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  13. I love that I can take my time with this novel. It's great not having to worry about deadlines - even if I would love to be published. :)

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  14. See, I'm the opposite. Rewrote it 27 times?? Sure, they'll love the 28th, so start over... :)
    erica

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  15. My CP is going to have to force me to query this time because I'm afraid of querying too soon.

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  16. Dezzy, you are such a sweetie. I'd love to do that one day.

    Carol, the snail was being somewhat conspicuous on my front steps so I took pics of him after coming back from a walk one morning.

    Alex, I'm thoroughly enjoying the lag time, but I think I work far better with looming deadlines ;)

    Liza, I agree. I have this silly feeling my manuscript wouldn't even be ready after it was published and on the bookshelves.

    Sarah, and sometimes it's as simple as that :)

    JEFritz, I also queried my first book way too soon, but I've learned a lot since then.

    Joanne, I think my first drafts are even rougher ;)

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  17. Andrea, exactly right. We only have once chance to make that first impression.

    Luanne, haha I actually feel for the agents in December. I remember how rough my NaNo novel was. Eeek! It wasn't fit even for my cat's eyes ;)

    Shallee, yeah, I think it's because we think it's because a successful writer has to be published. But I think a successful writer has to have a finished, polished book first. That in itself is a success.

    Nancy, thanks

    Angelina, haha yeah.

    Bethany, yes, enjoy the lack of deadlines while you can.

    Erica, that's fantastic and a sure recipe for a win.

    Stina, hahaha yeah, I can relate.

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  18. I get the urge to rush and query. Yet for my WIP, I'm holding back. I've finished several revisions. I had my CPs look at it and my beta readers are currently looking at it. I really want to query, but I know it takes time to make your story shine.

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  19. Head over heels in love with this post.

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  20. On the topic of TIMING, I have also read that there are certain times of the year that are better than others. Agents (apparently) don't take many new queries via mail/email before a major conference (they don't want to commit until they see all that hot talent at the conference) or after (they're too busy with all the new hot talent they signed at the conference ...)

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  21. Aw, thank you for quoting me! I'm so flattered!

    I'm really glad I didn't rush my first book. It's possible I even held onto it a little longer than I needed to (though of course there's no harm in that). I can't say enough how much I long for the days when I could take my time writing, and take as many breaks as I needed to. It's a luxury I no longer have, though I'm definitely not complaining.

    I'm just wistful.

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  22. Christine, it does take time. I often say it's worth holding back and doing one more read-through and revision.

    Suze, :)

    Tracy, it makes sense.

    Jennifer, it IS a wonderful luxury to have all the time in the world to get it right. There is a lot of pressure on that second book.

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  23. Great advice, Lynda! My critique partners see so many things that I would've missed, mostly because I lack that outside perspective. (That, and they're awesome!) It's best to wait. :)

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  24. I've heard that advice about waiting two months, also. I just can't imagine waiting that long - it would be unbearable! I think two weeks is much more reasonable. Though I certainly see the wisdom in that advice - when I do come back to a ms after a long time away, all sorts of things stick out to me that I didn't notice before.

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  25. great points Lynda~ I fouled that ball twice before I realized DON'T start querying til the book's been through betas~ :o) <3

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  26. Yeah, it IS a big question. For me, I know I'm ready (after getting revisions back from my CP's and reading it through a couple times out loud) when I am just "piddling around", changing adjectives in a sentence.

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  27. I am taking your advise to enjoy the time you have to write the first one, without the pressures and deadlines a second one may have. Patience is the key, I'd say, to writing as well as all other areas of life!

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  28. I'm never ready for querying--that nervous pacing away from the computer and back to refresh my inbox, that sinking at form rejections, the nervous twist when something more is actually requested...

    I hope people realize what the next stage entails before merrily dancing into query heaven. They better watch out for the pitchforks on the way down.

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  29. Great post! Querying can be hell, but knowing when you're ready is half the battle. Thanks!

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  30. When crit partners tell me to drop everything else and just query.

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  31. My current strategy to keep myself from spewing out queries: start a second novel. It definitely takes the pressure off. In the meantime I'm going through yet another round of chapter crits with my SCBWI critique group, so I can slooooowly do one more polish, one that comes with a lot of distance on that project.

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  32. Geez, Tracy, it would be great to have a query calendar. Anybody ever think of making one up? Don't query after Nano, after the annual or mid-year SCBWIs, between Thanksgiving and Christmas, or during the late summer. What does that leave? Looks like maybe March and April? : )

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  33. Carrie, yes, crit partners are awesome :)

    Susan, I often think, 'How did I miss that?' lol.

    Leigh, hehe, it's easy enough to do.

    Christina, haha yes, 'piddling around' is a great indication of readiness :)

    Lynn, so true

    Crystal, yep, the next stage is a lot of hard work.

    Emily & E R King, thanks

    Robert, yep, that's a great sign

    Gail, I think distance on a project is essential for clear-headed polishing. HAhaha yeah, March and April sound good. Oh and don't forget to query after lunch but not too close to the end of the day...around 3pm ;)

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  34. Excellent advice, as always!

    I've been editing this MS since January, and I'm pretty sure I still have to go through at least 3 more rounds of rewrites. I keep changing my date as to when I'll be ready... but you're right... this is the first novel you'll have all the time in the world with :)

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  35. The patience factor is so true- by the time you hit THE END, you're SO ready...but you're usually not ready. It's usually another three passes before I'm ready.

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  36. Great advice Lynda. I'm currently editing and re-writing my first novel (I've lost track on how many times I've done this). I brought this mss with me to a workshop a couple of years ago, and it clearly wasn't ready to be submitted. I'm hoping that with after a bit of tweaking and some beta readers/critique buddies, I might finally have something a bit more suitable to submit.

    It's taken some years to get to this stage, and as you say we don't have a deadline for the first. I want to make sure my mss is as perfect as possible, but at the same time I have an impatient supportive husband on my back! :)

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  37. I don't know when the right time is yet, but I think I need to hurry up and get it done. I keep on procrastinating.


    Lee
    Tossing It Out

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  38. WritingNut, yeah, I kept changing my date too hehehe. Sometimes it's inevitable.

    Colby, haha yeah, I think that's why we need breaks--to get over the "I'm over it" factor.

    Debbie, it's good to have the supportive hubby. I've got one too. I smiled at your hubby being more impatient than you are.

    Lee, yes! get it done...but don't hurry :)

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  39. I've copied and pasted that quote from Jennifer Hillier to my desktop. I'll be looking at that every time I feel like giving up. Many thanks for another great article.

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  40. I just did a post on this a few days ago. It is such an important one to cover I think because it is so easy to jump the gun after that first draft.

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  41. Hi Lynda...though I have started querying, I feel I can still make my Manuscript better, by making few crucial changes. Querying should always be a well thought out and un-rushed process.

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  42. Great post! This is something every writer must figure out, but I've found that time of year effects things too...i.e. submitting around the holidays is a guaranteed way to get delayed responses;)

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  43. I learned the hard way. Sometimes that's the only way to learn. I had no idea when I considered gettting my book published that I needed Beta readers, but there is a type of tunnel vision that takes a hold of us when we write. There comes a point when we don't see the flaws. Great advice, Lynda. Huh, just curious now. How long was it before you decided to start querying? :)

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  44. Great post! This is something that I struggle with. I always want to qeury right away! But once I actually start the letter, and look back at my manuscript, I tuck my tail behind my legs and bust out a red pen.

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  45. Hahahaha I will let you know... when I'm ready to query.

    In the mean time, I will heed the advice you shared. It makes a lot of sense to me.

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  46. People keep telling me to publish my stories. I'm not exactly brimming with self-confidence. Maybe because that's never what I had in mind. The more I look into publishing the less I want to. TMI. I think you really have to want to, and I see a lot of that here. You do a great job encouraging and advising people.I try to incorporate what I learn here and it's helped.

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  47. This is sound, solid advice, Lynda. My first drafts are pretty bad. I love your description, "as rough as a porcupines pillow." Haha!

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  48. I know when I'm done when my readers aren't asking for many changes anymore.

    When I wrote my first manuscript, I sent out the rough draft. I cringe when I think about it.

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  49. Great post and good advice! This is something every aspiring writer must figure out...

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  50. This is all great advice. Take your time! Make it the best you can make it. Be glad you don't have the pressure that comes with the sophomore effort!

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  51. I've been catching up on your recent posts, Lynda. You've shared some terrific information in them!

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  52. Dan, I really do hope the quote works and you don't give up.

    Deana, I think writing the first draft is only 10% of the total work that needs to be done to a manuscript.

    Rachna, good luck with your querying

    Mark, absolutely. There are so many factors to consider.

    Laila, my very first novel I waited until I finished my second draft before querying. Big mistake. With my last novel I've done a whole lot more and waited two months.

    Caitlin, that's great to hear.

    Misha, hehe good luck getting ready.

    Curmudgeon, I agree that publishing isn't for everyone. For a long time I was content to write for myself. No one read my stories and I liked it that way. You have to do what's right for you.

    Lynn, hehe thanks

    Theresa, yeah, I cringe at my first queries way back on my first attempt at writing a novel. Kinda embarrassing.

    Nas, thanks

    Ashley, not having the pressure is a big one ;)

    Connie, thanks so much

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  53. I have sometimes sent out queries prematurely. But the publishing business is so slow, I end up having enough time to make revisions. Keep in mind, a slow reply can be good, since that means your query letter is going up the chain in the publishing house, to get an editor's approval. Or it's just sitting forgotten in some mail basket.

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  54. Thanks for this, Lynda. I need it now because I'm starting to get the query bug, but only one person has read my new novel and I'm still working on revisions based on her feedback AND waiting for other beta readers' comments! [big sigh] I will remember Jennifer's wise words (and reread this whenever I feel like querying someone, sort-of-like a queryier anonymous support system. :-) )

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  55. Mark, lol, true. It is a bit slow which does give you time to write those revisions. It's a risk though. You don't want to be rushing a revision when an agent requests a partial.

    Lorena, ha, yep, it's such a slow process... writing, waiting, revising hehe. I like the idea of an anonymous support system.

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