Tuesday, August 30, 2011

To query or not to query, that is the question

I've wrapped up the first full draft of my WIP and am knee-deep in editing. Though I swore I wouldn't get anxious about querying, I already am. I want to test the waters as I'm excited about my manuscript but then I'm reminded of my first assignment as a professional writer.

I had been paid to do some freelance work while in college and graduate school but my first "real" assignment was when I was hired full-time, as in a writing associate who now had health insurance and paid vacation and the whole bit. To me, this meant I had arrived.

And then I handed in my first assignment. I had a deadline looming and though I was still frantically making edits, when that deadline pressed, I printed out what I had and brought it to the editor-in-chief. Not long afterwards I learned a very important lesson. Never hand in something until it is really and truly ready for review.

My editor handed it back to me in a blood bath of red ink and said, "It's a good start but it's not ready for my eyes. Don't give me something until it's as good as you can get it. If you you need an extension on the deadline, ask for it, but don't waste my time." *Ouch*

I learned my lesson, of course, and today I'm managing director of that very same firm and write far more detailed and comprehensive pieces than I was trying to tackle that day. What I learned, however, and what I need to remember in querying is not to give into the temptation to simply submit, to try to quickly jump to the next step in the publishing process whether that's off to the art director at my firm or to the literary agent weeding through the mass of query letters.

It can feel frustrating knowing that after you submit a query it can take two months before you hear anything back, couldn't you simply edit some more during those two months? My advice: Don't do it! Let that baby of a WIP grow up and mature and evolve into the truly best thing it can be. Then query. Don't waste literary agents' time with something that's not quite ready.

To get your WIP ready:

1) have some other readers review it;
2) read it aloud;
3) go through and do a "big picture" edit searching for any holes in your narrative arc;
4) then go through page by page, line by line and ask yourself how it can be better;
5) study your favorite texts in that genre and ask yourself what those writers do that you love so much, then turn that critique around and ask if you employ similar narrative style. Learn from the fantastic writing around you because it's there.

Delay your ETA to query or don't even give yourself a forced ETA, just keep plugging along with edits until you've taken the piece as far as it can go or, rather, as far as you can take it. When, and only when, it's truly in shape for professional eyes, should you send it out into the world with fingers crossed, breath held, and hopefully luck in your favor.

Any advice you want to add?

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