Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Only Way To Know...

I was talking with a good writer friend of mine last evening, and we discussed my current novel that I'm getting ready to query soon. In all honesty, I've been delaying the whole "query trenches" thing as long as possible. I don't want to go there, I really don't. All that rejection piling up, vague feedback, maybe some detailed feedback, more incentive to do more revisions.

Okay, so I'm just scared. I've never queried before. My friend barely went on submission for her novel yesterday, and she's not exactly in the best of spirits, either. More anxiety than anything, I think. Funny how I've watched some of my friends get agents and go on submission and sell books and their stress level hits the roof - to the point that it seems to overshadow most of the joy altogether. It all evens out in the end. Maybe?

So I told my friend, "You know, I'm not sure I want to do this, anyway. Maybe I'll shelve the book and work on two more projects for the next four years. Maybe I'll query then."

She laughed and said that wouldn't change anything. Publishing is slow. Might as well get the ball rolling now. Make connections, network, get agent interest, get my work out there, all that jazz. Besides, if I really do want to publish traditionally, I need to see if my work is good enough for that, and the only way to know that is to send it out there to the professionals in the field.

There is another way, though. Last week I blogged about hiring a professional editor for your work. That, of course, costs money. So what would be better? My stress or my money? I'd stress sending my work to an editor, too. I guess I've reached the point where I need to choose. Shelve it, edit it professionally, query it, or self-publish it. The only way to know the answer?

There is no right answer.

And as the brilliant Mr. Bailey has said here before, no novel is ever perfect. Messy things, those.

If you were in my position, what would the answer be for you?


  1. Oh how I feel your pain! I'm the same way. Ready to put off the stress as long as possible.

    But I say do it!

  2. It may surprise you to hear me say this, but... send it. :)

  3. It hurts! I sent mine out to query before it was really ready - I had more rejections than you can name. So I found Camy Tang - a freelance editor who will give your a manuscript critique - and I saw why I received so many rejections. AUGH.

    I'm almost ready to start the process again. Almost. Its my nerves that aren't ready.

  4. Query in batches, test the waters, see how it goes, baby steps. Then you can reevaluate after you get a few out there if need be.

  5. Make a list of half a dozen agents who tend to answer quickly--check Query Tracker for average response times--not necessarily your top picks, but something to start with to build your confidence.

    You'll figure out pretty quickly if you're ready to query seriously, you'll learn a lot, and you'll get more comfortable with the process.

    Good luck!

  6. I'd start by putting your query up on Agent Query and The Public Query Slushpile and start revising it.
    There are also some good ebooks on writing queries. Elana Johnson has one.

  7. I agree with the commenters suggesting sending in small batches--maybe five to start. If you get quick rejections, you may need to rework your query letter. If you get requests for partials or fulls, then you at least know your query is working. If those get rejected, you should at least get feedback on your work, after which you can choose to revise or not. It is scary (sickening, actually) but go for it. What you learn will be worth it.

  8. Query with a few, see what happens. If you keep thinking you're going to fail, you will. Start looking at the bright side, the hope. You have to have hope that what you've written will attract someone's attention. Isn't that why you write???

  9. send it out! Even if it ends up being a flop (which i don't think will happen) at least you wil KNOW. Not knowing is the worst...

  10. Never trying due to fear of failure is a guaranteed roadblock on the path to success.

    Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to the dark side...

  11. You can doo eet!

    You are in a better spot than me. I just finished my first manuscript after a 5 year layoff from writing. I'm afraid to read what a terrible mess it will be.

  12. You've probably already done this, but I'd say the first step is to figure out what your long term goals are, for this book and for your writing in general. Then, maybe you can make a clearer decision based on those long term goals. I know that's not easy, though. And, goals can change. When you suggest shelving it for years, I think "no." But, shelving it for a month or two might not be a bad thing.

  13. Jump into the query pool. It's scary and it's tough but you can do it!

  14. I'm with those who say to query with a few and then a few more if you get rejects. Test the waters. You'll never know until you try. Every person won't love what you do. Not every person loves Awakenings, but there are some who adore it. (Not mentioning any names or anything.) Maybe just maybe, you will be able to find the agent that loves your stuff and gets it. Elana J's post today about "dream agents" would be a great one for you to read. We have so many ideas about who would be right to rep our work before we really know that much about them.

  15. Query in batches, as others have already stated. There's something about the commitment of sending out a few—even if they meet with rejection—that feels very empowering. I think it also helps you to evaluate just what your goals are and what you’re willing to sacrifice.
    Besides, it will make the rest of us who are querying feel braver here in the trenches.

  16. "Maybe I'll shelve the book and work on two more projects for the next four years. Maybe I'll query then."

    :) In that you would be joining the grand majority of us who do the same thing--rejection is tough, folks!--but in the end you have to buy the lottery ticket to win the prize. Okay, so this is a pep talk for me, too. Good luck.

  17. Have a few trusted writer friends read the book. If you then see problems, and aren't sure how to fix it, think about hiring an editor.

    If your writer friends think it's ready to go, then have them read your query letter, before sending it out.

  18. Megan: Oh, are you about to query too? Awesome!

    Simon: That doesn't surprise me! You always have good advice!

    Steena: How much did your editor cost? I keep thinking I might need to do that, but I don't know. It's really hard to know! I love your avatar. :)

    Crimey: Yes, small batches and careful choosing is what I'm planning!

    Tere: Thank you for that advice! I think sending stuff out to everyone and their dog just isn't smart, and knowing I might get a quick response is a good idea. Thanks!

    Andrew: I hate posting stuff like that publicly, but I've got an agent willing to help me with my query - he owes me one from the contest forever ago. And I'll invite Elana over for lunch. She'll help me I'm sure. Heheh. :)

    MG: Thank you! Yes, small batches is a fine idea. I'm thinking five. :)

    Anne: You are my personal coach, you know that, right? Hope has to be there at the top of the list!

    Falen: Yes, not knowing IS the worst. I'm kind of dying. I think I'm just being more impatient than anything.

    Rick: Yes, Master.

    Tony: Ohhhh, I took a 5 year layoff from writing, too! I've been back at for a few years now. It's slow going. Good luck! Let me know if I can help.

    Davin: You have great advice, Davin, thank you. I think you're right about maybe setting it aside for just a little while. I have the partial out to that one agent, and hearing back after that might be the time to reevaluate.

    Jennifer: Thanks, Jennifer! It is sooo scary. Sigh.

    Lois: Hehe, yes, I use The Awakening as a touchstone for a lot of things. I adore that book, but 90% of the people I know hate it. I mean, that says a lot about subjectivity. I have to keep these things in mind. I'll mark Elana's post, thanks!

    Bridget: Yes, Davin mentioned the goals thing, too, and I think both of you are offering excellent advice about that. I really don't think I've done that enough.

    Judith: Pep talks are what I need!

    Anjali: Yes, I've been through the friends reading the book part. I've exhausted that and just need to move on now because they all say to go ahead and try. Great advice, thank you!

  19. Oh yeah. woops. It's called The Awakening. It's not a movie with Robin Williams. I'm apparently very low-brow.

  20. After a lot of pray I would go the professional editor route first. I need to know it's not complete crap.

    Then more prayer.

  21. Yeah, send a few queries, see what you get. Rejection is only a bad thing if it's your last chance ever to try, and it's not. You'll always be able to revise or write another, better one, with the feedback you receive.

  22. I've been struggling with this same issue for quite some time, thus the lack of progress on my query letter. I think we just have to reach the point where the fear of rejection no longer overwhelms our desire for publication. I'm almost there, just not quite. In my situation, I know my word count is high and I fear instant rejection based on word count alone. So, I have 'that' added pressure to the so many other things that might get my MS instantly rejected.

    In the end, our fear of . . . whatever . . . is our greatest enemy! All we can ever do is just try our best, and hope for the best at the same time.

    Best of luck, Lady Glam!

  23. I'm in a similar spot. Send it. I want to publish traditionally. To me, self-publishing is a last resort. There is only one way to be certain of getting no rejection.

  24. You know, it occurs to me that you're in a similar position with publishing that I am with having kids. I've watched almost all of my friends deal with infants and toddlers. I can't be excited about something that I know is going to be that much stress and work.

    When I first started sending my work out, I had no idea how much work it was going to be. I was like a young mother whose ideals of what motherhood would be like are still unblemished by reality. I think it's easier to get started that way, but maybe harder in the long run, since getting blindsided by all that hard stuff isn't very fun either.

  25. Query it!!!!!! You'll never 'know' unless you do.

  26. Query. You're incredible, Michelle. You should query because you're GOING TO GET ACCEPTED. You will.

  27. Were I in your position, I would hope to conjure up enough courage to take the plunge. This is a topic that is on my mind all the time, since I have never queried and I wonder how scary-nervewracking it will be. But in the end, the only way you can get it done is to take that step forward. Progress doesn't happen backwards, only forwards. So I say go for it, keep your spirits optimistic, and I'm sure you'll be fine.

  28. ...Do what you want. Probably there are no guarantees in any aspect of writing; every action has some risk involved.

    I always hated sending in work, querying, etc., which is partly why I stopped. But on only my third query ever (with the whole manuscript included), and on my third novel, an editor wrote back and said he'd look at my next book. Editors are deluged with manuscripts; they don't say they'll read anymore unless they saw "something" in what they had read.

    Ergo, that was many years ago; I got more personalized rejections after that, quite a few actually, but I ultimately got nowhere in the system.

    In the very early stages, gauging what rejections mean or don't mean isn't easy. Some time needs to pass. If you want to try querying, don't stress too much over it. Just do it and keep working on new manuscripts while you query. I never sent out anything old unless I was already working on something new. I kept at the writing process no matter where I was in the querying process.

  29. Take a deep breath and dive in. Query first. If it comes back rejected (which most will because it is the way of the business) then think about the professional edit. But don't spend the money unless you have to and you just might not have to :). Think positive thoughts which each query that goes in the mail.

  30. Lois: Hehe, I knew what you meant. :)

    Tamika: It's nice to hear you say that! I don't think my work is complete crap, by any mean, but it might have major issues I'm just not seeing right now.

    Livia: You're right that it's not my last chance ever to try! For sure. I should be more confident!

    Scott: That sucks about word count, but not if it works for the book. That's one I'd worry about too. I finally made my book shorter, but not for the sake of being short. It just worked out that way in the rewrite.

    Yvonne: Well, that's a great point! There really is only one way to be sure of no rejection. :)

    Janci: Wow, yes. You've got a great insight there. The more I write, the more similarities I an draw between parenthood and writing a novel novel. That's just kind of scary...

    But, I must say, being a parent will always be more fulfilling than writing a novel. Hands down. And harder. Not to discourage you or anything.

    Susan: Thank you!

    Laura: You're so sweet, thank you! I love your positive attitude about everything in life. It is such an inspiration to me!

    Eric: Same goes for you! How far do you think you are from querying?

    Carolyn: Thanks!

    FP: Thank you for the great comment! You have such a good point about pressing forward before you even send out the last project. That's important, I think, and something I intend on doing. Well, I actually am already starting another project, so yay!

    Amy: Yes, lots and lots of positive thoughts!

  31. Chocolate is the answer for just about everything.

    Honestly, blind querying hasn't ever taken me ANYWHERE. The only thing that's helped me is networking.

    I don't query much anymore. Mostly, I network. I've finally decided I"m going to have to break in somewhere small and hope I can climb the ladder.

  32. First, Amber is the Queen of Correct. Chocolate is the answer to everything.

    Second, I don't want to be the harbinger of bad news to all those who champion just diving into the pool, but I do want to point out a very real problem: agents don't ever want to be re-queried on a manuscript they have already rejected.

    I can't tell you how many clients have come to me feeling like something the cat dragged in after having queried all their favorite agents and being turned down. It's really heartbreaking. We get to the point where the ms is ready to be queried, and I suggest potential agents, and they have to say, "Tried them. Tried them. Tried them."

    So I help them put their self-esteem back together, and then? They have to submit to their second choices. Or else start all over again with a brand new work.

    This is why you're feeling anxious. It's not just random nerves. It's because there is a real cost to jumping in before your ms is ready.

    It's not your fault, and honestly it isn't even the most sensible way for the industry to operate. (How does an agent know a writer who's serious enough to re-work an ms they've rejected isn't exactly the kind of writer they want to work with? They don't, of course. They're just trying to stem the flood slightly.)

    But it's a fact of life.

    Michelle, I absolutely hear your concerns about the money. Full editing takes a lot of time, which racks up to a lot of dollars. I have found so many excellent unpublished writers during specials when I dropped my prices, amazing people who are simply stone broke. . .I do want to keep trying to find ways to make myself accessible to them.

    I'm re-working my website for the release of my book, and one thing I see over and over on the POD sites is "editorial feedback" in the very low price range of a few hundred dollars. This isn't full developmental editing, although they kind of try to make it look that way. It's a single developmental letter.

    I'm thinking about offering this minimal service, alongside my full services.

    What do you think?

  33. Victoria, thank you so much for your comment. I'm going to email you.

  34. Amber: You do need to follow what's best for you! Chocolate is always wonderful. :)


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.