Sending Out Your Full: Resist Query Tweakage

May 30, 2012

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.

Double Meh.

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.

Successful Marination

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.

Here it is…no, wait, not that one…this one!

May 1, 2009

I’m talking about submissions here. If I ask for pages or a complete proposal, I go on the assumption (yah, yah, I know all about “assuming”) that I’m being sent the FINISHED VERSION. I am not a member of the “oops, I made some edits, so can I send that one instead?” club. I feel those who are members should be drawn and quartered with a rusty exclamation point because one “whoopsie” revision can turn into three or four.

It’s especially irritating when I begin reading the work and the author slaps me with a new one the next day. I make copious notes when I read, and I have no idea if those those notes still apply to the new revision. This means I have to start all over again.

This makes me want to kick authors in the asterisk because it’s unprofessional. If I’m sent a couple “whoopsies,” I lose faith that the author knows what they’re doing. If I begin reading, are they going to send another one tomorrow, making today’s reading efforts Bandini fodder?

Normally I wouldn’t bother. I would just shit-can the whole thing and recommend that the author be dead sure their work was submission ready BEFORE they send it out so as not to waste everyone’s time [translation: my time]. But if I see a story that really grips my kidneys, then I have a choice; stick to my guns and reject it, or read the new revision and be one cranky pants editor that even the beagle’s margaritas can’t soothe.

Indecision doesn’t make authors look good. Or professional. Send no pages out before they are properly aged. Gee, I feel like a wine and cheese commercial. Or is that whine and cheese commercial?

First draft-itis, meet premature submissulation

March 23, 2009

“I did it!” he squealed like a little girl whose piggy tails had been dunked in beer batter. “I finished my first draft. I’ll give it one more go ’round before sending it out to query.”

Whoa, kimosabe. One more go ’round? No, no, no, no. These literary grapes are still too green. As Terry Pratchet said, the first draft is just you telling yourself the story. It’s getting the characters, and plot down on cyber paper, so it has a bigger sense of reality. A lot goes on from brain to paper, and that you got it down is a huge accomplishment. Celebrate by setting it aside for at least two weeks. Let it ferment a bit, so you can come back to it and read with fresh eyes.

The fermentation process is the second most important process to writing a lovely, full-bodied story. There have been any number of times I spent a day writing only to look at it a week later and wonder what alien inhabited my body in order to write such swill. If I want wine fermented last Tuesday in a two-liter plastic Pepsi bottle, I’d buy it. But I want the good stuff. The stuff that slippy slides down my throat like rich, red velvet.

And yet, many of the pages I read make me wince because they are premature – green – and there is nothing that sours my chocolate martini faster than the author who writes in his query, “I just finished this!”

Their idea may be good, but these hot-off-the-press works always end in rejection. I understand the desire to get out there among the query-iers, but you have to stay focused on your real intent. Is it to be published, or be a writer? “I wanna see my work between a cover” overrides better judgment every flipping time. Besides, premature submissulation shows the author to be a noob. Don’t be a noob. Exercise patience because you rarely get a second chance to make a first impression.

Most works undergo at least four or five rewrites over many months – depending on the writer’s talents because, face it, we simply aren’t that brilliant on the first couple go ’rounds. The writer who grants his writing a number of revisions knows better than to rush the fermenting process. Besides, what’s the rush? Rushing increases your chances of lining your bathroom walls with rejection letters, and that does little for your self esteem, yanno?

Give yourself and your writing a chance. Recognize your first draft for what it is; you’ve told yourself your story, and now you’re going to refine and rewrite a number of times so you create that soft, velvety wine that makes me able to turn down the beagle’s margaritas.

Be a good Girl Scout

February 17, 2009

Yes, that goes for you gents, too. Be prepared because you never know what is going to slam up against your melon. Being prepared means that your manuscript is ready to go. You’ve rewritten and edited no less than a thousand times, your query has been finessed over and over again until you see the letter in your sleep. And your synopsis is complete.

You want to be prepared because you want to be the shiniest fishing pole trolling our pond. It shows organization and professionalism. I don’t give a swamp donkey’s hiney if you’re a new writer, but I do mind a newbie writer. Newbies give me wrinkles, and at forty twelve I hardly need an excuse for creases on my mug.

The newbie writer is the one who says:

  • This isn’t my final draft, so can you wait for me to rewrite this? (If I ask for pages, I assume you are READY to submit, and that means submitting only your best work, not your half-assed attempt)
  • I don’t have my synopsis written yet, can you give me a few days? (Sure. No problem. Take all the time you want ‘cos I probably will have moved on)

Sure, I realize I sound like I’m a cranky pants, but if authors could see how cluttered our desks and inboxes are with hundreds of queries, I’m sure there would be a parting of the clouds. Since we are inundated with so much talent, we have the luxury of looking at the very best. It takes a shiny fishing rod with the coolest hooks to attract all us fishies, and that means selling yourself by using the best stuff in your arsenol.

Can you imagine going to Restaurant de la Fussy and paying fifty bucks for a lobster dinner only to disover that that clarified butter came from ol’ Bessie whose claim to fame is cranking out cottege cheese, and the lobster used to be the hit man for the Shark family? You go to fine restaurants expecting the best ingredients. The same holds true for queries. If you aren’t a good Girl Scout and aren’t prepared, then I know you aren’t using the best ingredients. And using the best ingredients takes time and practice. If I want McDonald’s, I’ll send the beagle for takeout.

The full manuscript…Oh, you want it now?

October 23, 2008

Dear Ms. Price: Query, query, blah, blah, blah, bittity blah blah…

I like this, methinks. I want pages. Please send…

Dear Ms. Price: Here are my first 30 pages. Blah, blah, blah, bittity blah blah…

I like this, methinks. I want the full. Please send…

Oh. You want that full manuscript, like, now? Like right, totally, now? Um. It isn’t written.

(This is where the needle scratches across the record.) Waddyameanitsnotwritten? You queried me. You got me all excited like. Now you tell me you need time to write it? How long will that take? Wait a minute…I don’t care how long it takes. I’m an editor with the attention span of a gnat. I want it now.

And this is the crux of the problem. Fiction must be complete. Only in rare cases have I ever heard of an agent accepting and selling an incomplete first-time novel. Why this aberration? Well, it’s fiction, and we have no way of knowing how the story will unfold, how the characters will play off each other, whether the plot will hold up, or whether there is a satisfactory ending. Too many unknowns equals too much risk.

I can get it to you in four weeks.

There’s a problem with this. Do I believe a quality piece of work can be cranked out in four weeks? No. This doesn’t allow for rewrites or secondary editing. Smart writers write like the wind and then walk away from it for a while so they can return to it with fresh eyes. I’ve seen the results of the “four week wonders,” and I have rejected every single one of them. Their literary grapes are still too green.

But you loved my first three chapters, so you should be willing to wait however long it takes.

Look at it from my perspective. It takes time to actually write the manuscript. Then come the months of rewrites and heavy editing. It’s easy for six months to pass before the manuscript is submission ready. By that time, chances are fairly good that I’ve moved on and no longer interested.

This is a “you snooze, you lose” issue. I have a certain number open slots for each year’s publications – as do all publishers – and there are more submissions than I have slots. Sure, most of them will be rejected, but I’ve had months when it seemed the Submission Gods love me, and everything I receive is wonderful. If you aren’t an established writer with a big readership, I won’t wait.

Sure, you’re free to take your chances, but you’ve already irritated me by whetting my appetite with what feels like a bait and switch, so what do you think your chances are of redeeming yourself? I’m already cranky.

Do your writing career a huge favor and complete your fiction BEFORE you submit.

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