The Query Conundrum
Good morning, Pubcrawlers!
As many of you likely know, as an agent, I get a lot of submissions. Even when I find myself in one of those rare moments where I’m mostly caught up on queries, it doesn’t last. And that isn’t including the pile of requested manuscripts I always have on hand.
So you’ll believe me when I tell you, I read a LOT of queries. And I’m noticing a trend. I’m calling it the query conundrum: when a query is extremely tight and well-written, as are the first ten pages of the project (my submission guidelines call for the first three pages along with a query, but many ask for ten pages or more), but often past those ten pages, the quality of the work no longer matches the quality of the query and the sample materials. It becomes clear to me, very quickly, that more work was put into polishing the query than was put into revising the actual manuscript. And that makes me wonder if, between social media, sites dedicated to publishing (hello!), and word of mouth, too much emphasis is being placed on submission, and not enough being placed on craft.
More and more, before I, as an agent, can submit a client’s project to an editor, a manuscript must be in very good shape before it can be considered by an acquisitions team at a publisher. There are many reasons for this, but regardless of the why, manuscripts must be much more polished before editorial consideration than they might have needed to be a decade or two ago. This means that I am also looking for projects that are close to ready, or projects that I feel can be made close to ready with my editorial guidance.
But “editorial guidance” does not translate to me helping a writer take a novel from first draft to final draft. I understand that more agents these days consider themselves “editorial”, myself included. But part of being editorial means working with writers who we know will understand how to take notes, how to rip scenes apart and put them back together. And the ability to do that is obvious within the text.
So when it becomes clear to me that little to no revision has occurred in the manuscript itself, while the query has been polished to a shine, I have to wonder why. Why is more emphasis being placed on the querying process than on the revision process? Why are we more and more concerned with submission than with creating the best novel we can?
Learning how to properly rewrite and revise will be a boon for you as a writer, not only in getting an agent but further down the road, after possible book deals, getting serious edit letters from editors, being on deadline, etc. There are extremely good reasons to know how to tear your book apart and rebuild it besides just getting an agent. And I’m looking for a writer’s ability to do just that, because I know that writer is going to be more suited to the traditional publishing process if they have those abilities.
On social media, on publishing sites, when you’re talking to your friends, I would love to see more emphasis placed on honing one’s craft before querying. Finishing the book is just one part of the process. Rewriting and revising is another. Querying is just one step in a long list. Knowing how to pitch your work is important, but it’s meaningless if a book isn’t ready.
The takeaway here is: writing a book is exciting. Finishing that first draft is a huge thrill. You have a brick of a novel in your hands! Your words, all coalescing into one cohesive story. Learning how to get past that excitement and make your work truly sparkle is what writing is all about. And that’s what I’m looking for. A great query is just that; but a great, polished book is obvious, query or no query.
Let me know what you think about the query conundrum in the comments! Do you agree? Disagree? Why or why not? I’m excited to hear from you!