An author was lamenting that she’d sent out her query and had a number of requests for fulls. Blink blink. What’s so bad about that, I asked. The problem was that she’d begun tweaking them further after she sent the fulls out and wanted to ask the agents and editors to please toss the older version and read her updated version.
wish I could report that this is an anomaly, but it isn’t. I’ve been halfway through a full and received an email from the querying author with an attachment to their “new and improved” full, and would I please discard the one I’m reading (she said in a very yelly voice) and read the new one instead.
I will stamp my little feet and groan, but I won’t read a re-tweaked manuscript (unless I ask for it). It sounds grumpy, but this isn’t amateur hour, which means I assume those querying are professionals. One thing a professional would never do is tweak once their manuscript is out the door.
The Marination Process
It’s exciting to complete a manuscript. I remember crying like a baby when I typed “The End” on my novel. But it was only the beginning. The real work came in the rewrites. The first draft is you telling yourself the story and is, by no means, the end product.
But in writers’ exuberance, they may make a few passes at their rewrites and feel ready to shove it out the door. What they didn’t do is let their book marinate – meaning they write the book, put it away for awhile, find the warts, rewrite, put it away for awhile, find the warts, rewrite…repeating the process until their soul can’t wring out anything more (or better). That marination process is vital because it’s the only way we can see the warts. Fresh eyes are a writer’s best buddy.
What happens with the Query-Tweak is the author finally confronts the marination process that they avoided during the writing process. They’ve been so busy writing a great query letter and shoving it out the door, then waiting for responses to come in asking for chapters, that they’ve put the manuscript on ice by necessity. When they get requests for fulls, they eagerly send them out and pray. That praying leads to, “Hey, let’s take another look at my brilliance,” which then leads to, “HOLY GREAT JUMPING JELLY BEANS!!! This is a hot mess! Must. Fix!”
Let the tweakage begin.
So they tweak and re-tweak (again not taking time to let those tweaks marinate), and send out a panicked message to the agent or editor reading their full. The idea is to do all this BEFORE you query.
An example of a successful marination process just happened a couple weeks ago. The book proposal came to me back in September of 2011. I was intrigued with the story, but felt it needed a huge rework. The agent wrote back saying the author would send me the tweaked work in a month. Whoa there, Eager Beaver…a MONTH? I replied that it takes far longer than a month to do major tweaking. I never heard anything back, so I forgot about it.
Nine months later (hmm…interesting gestation period), I received an email from the agent with the tweaked manuscript attached. I read that puppy in a couple days, LOVED IT, signed her two weeks ago. This is what marination does. There was a vast difference between the author’s first showing and the one I just read. It was obvious she had done the spin and rinse cycle numerous times, and that sucker had very few warts.
How Many Bites of the Apple Do You Get?
The thing with Query Tweakage is that you decrease your bites at the apple. If you caused me to have Reader Interruptus by asking me to read your tweaked version, then I instantly peg you as a Noob. Not only will I say no to reading your tweakage, but I’ll probably reject the work because it’s really hard to work with a Noob author (someone who doesn’t know what they don’t know – and doesn’t care). If you repeat this with everyone who is currently reading your full, then you’ve not only used up a bite of my apple, but possibly many others as well.
The idea is to increase your bites of everyone’s apple, and this isn’t the way.
Thou Shalt Not Query Before You’re Ready
So what happens if you’re horrified with the full you sent out? My recommendation is to grin and bear it. And you learn from the experience. Hopefully, your original version is strong enough to get an offer of representation or dialog with an editor. If you get nothing but rejections, you lick your wounds and move on to the next batch of agents/editors.
The next thing I recommend is to pull the manuscript off the market, do the tweaking, then begin anew. I suggest that you query different agents/editors and not the ones you already queried. Maybe it’s just me, but I have yet to ever offer to re-read a manuscript after I rejected it on the first go-around. Then again, since our company is so specialized, I don’t get the massive piles of queries agents do, and I remember when I’m seeing something for the second time. Others may forget seeing it last year, so your mileage may vary.
Of course, the best medicine is to re-tweak before you begin the query process. Give yourself the gift of time and don’t rush the writing process. This isn’t a race, after all.
You can’t stuff this particular genie back in the bottle, so the smart thing is to not let her out until you’re ready.