One of the biggest mistakes we make as new authors is jumping the gun and querying agents before the manuscript is ready. I wish I wasn’t guilty of this crime. I started querying agents back in September, and my manuscript has since gone through many additional revisions – including a dramatic 30% reduction in word count. I have no regrets, though, for I’ve learned many valuable lessons along the way.
Sometimes, It’s Okay To Be Ignorant
When I first started querying agents, I hadn’t spent enough time learning about how the querying process worked, what a query looked like, and what agents were looking for and why. The result? A 650-word rambling query letter that likely got automated rejections after the first sentence. Despite my blunder, it somehow caught an agent’s eye, and he offered up some wonderful advice and it’s dramatically improved my manuscript. I am incredibly grateful for that.
Some advice: Do your research. There are incredible resources out there, like Query Shark, The Other Side of the Story, and others where query letters are examined, critiqued, taken a part and put back together again. Take advantage of these resources, apply what you learn, revise, and revisit. Share with friends. Get feedback. Ask for input. Agents are swamped with 100-300 queries per day. They want you to succeed, but it’s up to you to present yourself in the best possible light.
Three versions and 20 revisions later and I think I’ve finally thrown together a decent query letter.
We All Need Space
I am always amazed at the difference a day makes. What you miss on Tuesday, you might catch on Wednesday. It’s important to let your brain rest so you can approach your work with a fresh set of eyes. Even after you’ve read your manuscript 10 times, and have shared it with 3 beta readers, mistakes still pop up.
Some advice: Shelve the project and work on something else. Give it at least two weeks before you crack open the page again. Other tips I’ve found useful are to change the line spacing and font. It’ll trick your brain and you’ll see your work in a new light. Plus, a hard-copy edit is crucial. Our brains are lazy (efficient?) and they’ll fill in the gaps. When we force them to view things in a different way, we catch mistakes we (and others) missed. Apply this technique to your query letter as well as your manuscript.
Publishing Isn’t Going Anywhere
There is no expiration date on our talent, nor is the publishing industry going anywhere. It’s changing, sure, but the world is always going to need good stories. If you want to be published – whether traditional, self, or digitally – know that your reputation and longevity will only benefit from putting forth a quality product.
Some advice: Don’t rush it. Breathe, relax, and take the time the book needs. If it takes 3 more months, it takes 3 more months. And when you think it’s done, give it one more read. Does the story sing? Are there any parts you still doubt? Trust your intuition. Chances are, your intuition is right. Don’t ever assume your gut feelings about potential problems won’t be shared by others. In my experience, it’s the first thing they’ll bring up.
Have you ever jumped the gun and submitted before your work was ready? What lessons did you learn, and how have they changed the way you approach your work and the submission process? Do you have any lessons that you’d like to share?