Monday, October 18, 2010

Query Submissions

I sent out another batch last night so I have a question. Do you hate them as much as I do?

I'd like to say that the entire process feels like a roller coaster ride, but a roller coaster doesn't take a year to ride to the top of the mountain, and there's no flaming heap of rejections at the bottom, or else no one would ride the darn thing.

Wouldn't it be nice if you could send out a query when you had the idea mapped out on paper, but not yet complete, so you could get feedback on whether it's going to be interesting to any agent or not?

Wouldn't it be nice if once you finished the first draft, an agent would take a look and tell you "you need to change this" or "you need to change that"?

Wouldn't it be nice if after finishing the book, and sending out a query, the agent would tell you "I don't represent that type of book, but what's her name does, and why don't I call her for you?"

Of course, and wouldn't it be nice if I could buy one lottery ticket and win 50 million bucks?

First of all, there are way too many books, and not enough publishing slots to hold them all. Secondly, there are way too many bad books that need a lot more work before they are ready to publish. Third, agents do not have the time to babysit every author who wants to get their book published. There are just way too many of us out there.

So what's an author to do?

Write a book that stands out from the crowd. Write the best book that you can possibly write. Don't settle for mediocre on anything you do. Make every word the perfect word. Make every sentence sound as good as it can be. Give your characters life.

Read authors that you like and try to understand what it is that you like about them, and then emulate them.

Yes it would be nice if agents were waiting in line to hand you money, but I'm afraid life doesn't work like that.

I'd like to say that I had the magic idea for how to make things better, but I don't. When there is too much supply and not enough demand, it's the way things work.

What about you? Do you hate queries as much as I do?


  1. I've never actually queried except once, so I don't know. But I have submitted to a publisher and had to wait. Not for long, though. And I have had my work in agent's hands before, so I know what that wait feels like. So yeah, I can say that querying isn't fun by any means.

    I don't like to think of publishing as a "slots available" because I don't believe it is really like that. All we can do is just write the best we can write - and write what we love to write.

  2. A very successful published author suggested another perspective to me. His strategy: just flood the market with your query. Be polite and courteous, but if you've written a good book, get it to everyone who might possibly be interested because someone will pick it up -- because agents needs books to make a living. Yes, they need to be picky, but they also need to sell books. That means sell-able books -- but books.

    Far more encouraging, I thought.

  3. Nevets, that's good advice, but a writer - especially a fairly new one - should NOT flood the market with their query ALL at once. Bad idea. Sometimes you get great feedback from agents and can make your partial or query better and then what do you do when it's already in everyone's hands and you can't update it. Even agents don't flood editors all at once with queries of books they rep. They usually do it in small batches.

  4. I think you can do it waves rather than universal, but I've seen so many writers and books die in query-rejection-editing cycle hell that I'm not sure a small batch approach is advisable either. Waves is probably a good compromise.

    It also assumes you've written a good book.

    If you're not sure you've written a good book, I'm not sure the querying process is the best way to figure out if you have or not.

  5. Oh, I see waves and batches as pretty much the same thing.

  6. I think it's a matter of scale. A lot of authors I know query one agent at a time. I'll leave that out. When I think of batches, I'm thinking 2-5 agents at a time, which is what it seems like the majority of authors I know do. When I think of waves, I think more, like maybe 10-15, assuming your genre is a healthy and vibrant one with plenty of agents.

    One of the reasons that the author recommended a more aggressive approach, and this makes sense to me, has to do with scenarios like this:

    You query 5 agents.

    3 get back to you fairly quickly. Of those, two didn't give you anything to work with. One gave you feedback that suggests change A.

    You wait a month.

    1 other gets back to you, offering no real feedback.

    You wait another month.

    You look at the pile, and decide change A makes sense and you make the change and query another 5 agents.

    You wait two more weeks.

    You finally hear back from the 5th of the original agents, who suggests change B, which is completely opposite change A, which which you have now committed.

    And the spiral of depression and frustration begins.

    I guess my point is that by querying more aggressively you not only increase the likelihood of finding an agent who wants your book, but increasing the sample size reduces the impact of outlier feedback and gives you a broader consensus to work with.

    Of course, I'm not querying yet, and this may blow up in my face. lol

  7. Slots might be a simplistic way of looking at how many books get published, but in my view, there are only so many books that get published in a year simply because of the time it takes to get one through the process. Because it is a difficult and time consuming process, agents have to fall in love with your book before they are willing to take on any new work.

    FYI, my point was not to discourage anyone, far from it, I just want to make sure that you write the best book possible before you submit. Otherwise you will be in for a rude awakening when the rejections start to pile up.

    I agree that the number of agents you query at one time should be in the range of 5-10. On this round I think I sent out 9. It just happened to be the number of agents I talked with at Thrillerfest that wanted a synopsis, and it took me this long to write it well.

    Of course in the process of doing that I made a bunch of edits to the book as well .... what can I say, it all takes time.

  8. Yeah, it does take a phenomenal amount of time, and I agree that you should write the book possible, but also that you shouldn't wait forever to get out there. I know MONARCH is not the best book that I'll ever write, but it's the best I could write right now, so I sent it out. I also waited until I reached a plateau, so to speak, with my writing, before I even self-published. I had to know that my writing was at the right level before throwing it out there. That took about 15 years...

  9. Agreed, if you wait until the book is perfect, you'll never send it out. It's a balance between writing the best book, and sending it out. The difference is a very fine line.

    I also feel that what I'm writing now is better than my previous stuff. Does that mean that what I wrote before isn't any good? No, I wrote the best book that I could at the time. It's just that since then I've learned how to do it better.

  10. I think you have to be willing to reach a point where you can say that a given book is the best it's going to be without what is unreasonable investment of your time and energy (clearly an individual call) and then let it sink or swim.

    I know for a fact that in a lot of ways Ennui and Malaise will be a better book than Sublimation, but I've made the call that that's just how it is and if I get hung up on making every book equally as bestest, I'm going to get nowhere as a professional.

    Incidentally, I think a big part of this is where each individual author seems herself on the spectrum of (arranged in alphabetical order) artist, hobbyist, professional.

  11. I mother love the query process. So pure, so focused. I can't wait to finish my current work in progress to dive into it again.



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