Tuesday, February 19, 2008

When’s the right time to query?

Tip of the Day: If you ever wonder when to query agents and the only advice you keep seeing is “when it’s ready,” then it’s perfectly acceptable to take a break from writing and regroup while watching American Idol.

As I’m finishing up my current work-in-progress, I keep asking myself the above question on when is the right time to query. I’m not sure I have an answer. Or really if one exists, since I imagine it’s different for every person and book. Sure, I definitely need to finish the book first. Then I need to wait to do more edits after having critique partners read it. But after that, how will I know when it’s ready?

I don’t want to be like those American Idol beginning contestants and think I have a good voice and then get laughed off by the judges. I want my “voice” to be ready when I send it out to my own judges (i.e. agents).

But knowing if your work is good enough and “ready” to be sent out into the world is hard to judge for yourself. There’s two good pieces of advice I’ve heard about when a writer should query in the last few weeks:

1.) Most authors submit to agents one-draft too soon. (Sorry, I don’t remember where I saw the first one, so I can’t give them credit. If you know, let me know.):

This is excellent advice and a reminder that when I’m ready I need to wait and hold out until one-more draft is done. And just hope it’s the draft that will get me through. This is definitely something I’m learning with each book I write.

With the first books, it’s really easy to send early, since you are craving feedback and want to know if your “baby” has a shot. It feels more like you are jumping up and down in a crowd and waving your manuscript back and forth yelling, “Pick me. Pick me.” However with each book, I think you learn more of not only what to do when querying agents to effectively target the attention you do have, instead of waving erratically, but also about patience. And hopefully about making the book better that agents can’t resist but to pick you (wouldn’t that be nice!).

2.) The second advice was on Kate Schafer’s Ask Daphne! Blog. Here’s a link to the entry. I read this tons of times, just because I knew it was advice I needed to hear. Basically her advice is that if you are down to tweaking instead of making the story better and you have all your loose ends tied together and have complete story and character arcs, then the book is ready to query.

I like this advice for a number of reasons. But mainly because I can understand it better than the standard, “send when it’s ready.” Because frankly, I really don’t get that. Because no one asks when it’s going to be ready if they know what “ready” really means. Now do they?

Which brings me to you all. When do YOU think a manuscript is ready to be sent to agents? Because I could really use some more advice and a slap on the hand, since occasionally my old-newbie writer self comes out and really craves to jump the gun and see if my “baby” has a shot. And I’d really rather refrain from looking like a fool jumping up and down yelling, “Pick me. Pick me.”

--Emily, Miss Awaiting an Agent


Kristina Springer said...

I'm probably no good with this question because I always jumped the gun. With book #1 (which actually ended up being the book my agent offered on but not the one we sold first) I queried before anyone else had ever even read it. Of course, when I realized this was stupid I stopped querying and ran it by some critique partners, made changes, and then queried again. When I started querying the second book (I was querying both at the same time) I had made sure that a couple of CPs had read it and I had fixed as much as I felt like I could. My thought on it is that it didn't have to absolutely grammatically perfect or whatever-- if they see something in it that they like they'll just tell you to make those other changes. I think most agents/editors can decide pretty quickly whether something is for them or not. And I'm all for the query widely philosophy. 50 agents may not get your book but it just takes that one who loves it.

Ghost Girl (aka, Mary Ann) said...

Hey Emily, I know what you mean about the whole "how do you know" thing. But it is amazing what happens when you let yourself move on to something else and them come back to the first ms. Your voice gains much more confidence because you've run the distance once, warmed up those muscles. That first mile doesn't always look pretty, but it has prepared you for the next one.

When is it ready? Well one thing you can do is read through it and see if there are any big questions. As the writer, we often gloss over those: "Oh, they'll get that because they'll keep reading..." or our brain automatically supplies the answer. But really look at it. Franny Billingsley once said she really wished she had given Well Wished another look before sending it out and signing the contract. She did get it accepted, but even so, as she looks back, she sees things she could have done differently. Of course now it's in print, so that's a moot point. If something truly gnaws at you, other than that manic desire to get that sucker in print, then maybe you need to step away again and then come back with fresh eyes one more time.

I don't know--just a couple of pennies from my woefully inadequate brain bank. :-)

DeenaML said...

I KNOW with my novels #2 and #3, I definitly queried at LEAST one draft too soon. That's good advice. As is the whole, "Make sure all the loose ends are tied up." And I agree with Tina, too, except I would add that enough of the grammar, etc, has to be pretty before querying bc you don't have too many random commas (which I do a LOT) to distract the agent from the story, which could rock!

Sherryl said...

I like that idea that when you think it's ready, you need to do one more draft.
And it needs to be a proper draft.
I think if your gut is niggling, or you read it over and you don't feel totally "right" about it, it needs another draft.
I've made that mistake of sending too early. It's so hard to be patient!

Emily Marshall said...

Thanks for all the excellent advice.

Yeah, Tina, I agree that agents can pick fairly quickly if something will work for them, but it is good to give them no reason to make that decision harder (agreed, Deena).

Ghost Girl, I know it's crazy what you find when you step away and come back to a project later.

And Sherryl you are right, sometimes you have to trust your gut. And I'm definitely learning patience, but some days it's easier than others :)

Thanks everyone.

Lisa Schroeder said...

One of the reasons I'm not in a crit group is I find it works best, for ME, to send to one person, get feedback, edit, send to another person, get feedback, then edit.

So, I did that with my latest project, and my agent still had some edit ideas after all of that.

It's amazing how we think it's good and done, and someone points out things that need strengthening.

I think at some point, when you've had it critted all you can and done everything you can think of, you have to go for it. But I think it's good to do 2-3 agents first, and see if you get any feedback to edit before going out wider.

Anonymous said...

Glad to offer helpful advice, Emily! If you have any other questions, please feel free to send 'em my way!

Emily Marshall said...

Kate, thanks so much for stopping by. I'm really enjoying your new blog!

And Lisa, I completely agree with you. That's why I like having different critique partners. Usually I edit in between sending them to others before I move on.

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