Query Quagmire

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13 notes

A query letter that consists of nothing but endorsement quotes for the author’s manuscript from mid-level writers is not an effective query letter. It tells me nothing about your damn book except who else has read it.

Filed under query letter slush pile

1,780 notes

Anonymous asked: What are some things you think a writer should keep in mind before beginning revisions on their manuscript?


This is a great question! I’m surprised nobody has asked it yet.

Revision is not for the faint of heart. It takes a lot of courage, chutspah, and balls/ovaries of solid granite to rip something to shreds after you slaved over it for months. But it is a necessary part of the writing process and to skip it is to say good-bye to your dreams of publication. Why?

Because first drafts blow.

Seriously. There is no such thing as a perfect first draft. It is a mythical creature native to the magical land of Wishfulthinkia. I don’t care if your name is Virginia Woolf and you can spout better prose in your sleep while wearing a mouth retainer than most authors will write in their lifetime. Your first drafts still suck.

And that’s why we revise. So stop arguing with me and just do it. Now, without further ado, here are some things I think writers should keep in mind before they dive into their revisions:

  1. No change is permanent. You can try a particular scene nine different ways before deciding on which way works best. You can change a character as many times as you want and eventually go back to the first iteration. So if you’re terrified that something new will actually be worse than what you had in the first place, fear not. You are not locked into any changes you make. You have no excuse not to try something crazy or experimental.
  2. No one is reading over your shoulder. It’s just you and the words on the page. So don’t be afraid or embarrassed to try something freaky. If it doesn’t work out, no one has to know it happened. No one has to know that you named a character “Dr. Sexy” for 78 pages before you picked a name for him. 
  3. Save each draft as a separate document. Not only is it smart to make back-ups, but if you delete something that you end up wanting to keep, you will have only to go back and pluck it from an earlier draft. Some authors even start writing the next draft from scratch, rather than copying and pasting from the original.
  4. Join a workshop/get a writing buddy/hire an editor. Outside feedback is essential to the writing process. If you’re writing in a vacuum, you will have no idea if your story actually works for an audience, or if it’s just an echo chamber of stuff you like. Writing buddies will also help identify flaws that you never noticed because after reading your own work seventeen times, it starts to look like ancient Aramaic. Don’t make the mistake of hiding away in your basement for draft after private draft. Get feedback after every draft, or even after every chapter of a single draft.
  5. Don’t ignore feedback just because you don’t like it. In fact, if you recoil in horror at a particular bit of advice, that’s a sign that you should probably examine it further. Question why you react to certain advice. And if you find that you only accept advice that sounds nice, well then you’re a spineless coward who should have her word processor taken away.
  6. Work on a schedule. Writing and revising is work. Act like it. Schedule regular breaks and commit to set time periods in which you will work on your writing. Not only will this make you more serious about the revision process, it’ll help you avoid needless procrastination. 
  7. "Kill your darlings." If you’ve ever read a single blog or book about the art of writing, you’ve heard this one. For the uninitiated: it means you need to be willing to sacrifice parts of the story that you love or that you worked really hard on in order to benefit the story as a whole. Really like that random flashback you wrote about Dr. Sexy’s time in med school, but it doesn’t actually provide any insight into the character or further the plot of the book? Cut it. Just love that plucky sidekick who is actually pretty useless and only serves to muck up already dense conversations? Give ‘em the axe. Then forget about them. Your story will be better for it.
  8. There’s no such thing as “perfect,” only “good enough.” You’re never going to get it exactly right. That way lies madness. But you can get close. And that’s what you should be shooting for. If you embrace perfectionism, you’re never going to get the damn thing in the hands of a publishing house. You’ll just be revising till the day you die.
  9. There is a difference between revising and copyediting and you should not do them at the same time. I know it’s hard to ignore typos in your work. You want to correct them as soon as you come upon them. To resist is painful. But you know what? Don’t. The process of editing naturally flows from the macro to the micro. Start with the big-picture editing: rewriting scenes, adding characters, revising whole conversations, changing the ending. Then work your way steadily down to the nit-picky edits: consistency of character names, making sure you’ve got your timeline straight, making sure your geography makes a lick of sense. Next work on your prose: making it sound pretty and poetic, using your writing tone to reflect the mood of a particular scene. Then and only then can you start editing for spelling, grammar, and syntax. If you start out by copyediting you’ll be wasting time in two ways: 1) You’ll be spending extra time reading line by line to catch errors that you could spend reworking the meat of the story, and 2) You run the risk of perfectly editing a chapter only to realize you need to rewrite 90% of it. So resist the urge to copyedit when you start revising.
  10. "But that’s how it happened in real life"/"But that’s how I first imagined it" is no excuse for shitty writing. The truth is stranger than fiction because fiction has to make sense. So if the plot seems far-fetched, or if it strains belief, or if your readers say it just doesn’t make any fucking sense, don’t be afraid to change it. In fact, you must change it. I don’t care how sentimentally attached you are to the original version. The exception to this rule is of course nonfiction, in which you should never deviate from the facts because that is called lying.

I now open it up to the whole class: what do you guys keep in mind before you start revising your manuscripts? How do you prepare for the arduous task? 


I’m always amazed when one of my old posts suddenly blows up with 1000+ notes. What happened?! Did someone more Internet-famous than me reblog this? I demand an explanation. Why are you all (wisely) taking my advice and spreading it around like the gospel that it is?

… It’s not because of the Supernatural reference, is it?

Filed under queryquagmire writing advice revision

15 notes

Anonymous asked: I've seen some people say never to query agents who live outside of New York City. I've seen some people say it doesn't matter. Where do you stand?

In my office, currently. (Admit it. I’m hilarious.)

Ignore these people. They are publishing industry snobs who erroneously believe the world revolves around NYC and that meaningful books cannot possibly come from anywhere else.

I see their gross elitism and raise them Quirk Books in Philadelphia, Chronicle Books in San Francisco, and the many agents I work with in London, San Diego, and Chicago.


17 notes

Anonymous asked: Hey QQ! I definitely don't want to badmouth other authors when I query - I've heard more than a few agents mention that they don't like it when authors knock vampires, etc. Still, I want to point out that my fantasy novel avoids the typical high fantasy trappings of a homogeneous (eg. all-white, heterosexual) cast. Is there a way to mention this without sounding rude towards my fellow writers? Thank you thank you and good luck.

"I’m not like those other girls. I’m smart and interesting and not taken with frivolous girly things. That’s why boys like me better! Because I’m deep and quirky and I don’t wear makeup/enjoy shopping/aspire to a traditionally feminine career.”

Do not be the Taylor Swift of aspiring authors. There is absolutely no reason to badmouth other authors in your query letter, and it’s ludicrously easy to avoid doing so.

Step one: Don’t badmouth other authors in your query letter.

Step two: Talk about what makes your book great, outside of its relation to other books in its genre.

Just tell the editor/agent about your book. Tell them it has an ethnically and sexually diverse cast. Tell them it takes place in a world reminiscent of ancient Mesoamerica. As a breed, we editors are generally able to read between the lines and deduce that therefore, your book is not the stereotypical formulaic high fantasy novel with a whitewashed cast. And an editor who is looking for that will be excited and impressed with your professionalism, because let me be clear: badmouthing your fellow authors is not fucking professional.


6 notes

Anonymous asked: If a publisher said she really liked my writing, asked for a full, then said no because of a closed list only, should I mention those things on other submissions? If so, should I mention the publisher (one of the big six/five)?

Nope. The fact that you got to second base with another publisher (no matter how big, prestigious, or mind-blowingly awesome they are) has little to no impact on my decision about your book. I don’t give two mouse farts in a hyperbaric chamber why someone else rejected you. To include that information in your query letter would not only be a waste of valuable page space, but it would annoy me. See here

If you say “S&S liked my book so much they asked for a full and only turned it down because they weren’t taking any more projects for that list!” What you’re implying is “I’m worried you won’t get how awesome my book is, so I’m going to tell you that another publisher really liked it in the hopes that you’re feeble-minded enough to bow to peer pressure.” It’s vaguely insulting and definitely unnecessary.


13 notes

Since I last queried you about [Title of Book], I have completed the ms and been offered a publishing contract, but with a company not nearly as prestigious as [my publishing house], so I am running it by you one last time.

Now that you have been offered a contract with another press I can see the error of my ways. Come back to me! I never should have rejected you in the first place! What was I thinking? Will you ever forgive me?

Oh wait no. I just remembered that your book still isn’t a genre that I acquire. Get out.

Filed under slush pile query letter queryquagmire Query Quagmire

20 notes

I’m an author, columnist, blogger, talk radio host and former candidate for Congress in [state] where I ran against [prominent democratic senator] in 2004. I have been a regular guest on hundreds of radio programs and I know many colleagues in the business.

I’ve noticed that “talk radio host” has become a euphemism for “frighteningly bigoted political extremist who suffers from the delusion that anybody gives a shit what they have to say” in query letters.

Filed under query letters slush pile queryquagmire Query Quagmire

23 notes

Anonymous asked: You have the best icon of all. Ecapsulating your magnificence is not an easy feat, oh great QQ.

Why thank you. Here are a few other options I considered whilst choosing my Tumblr icon:







5 notes

softdomme asked: QQ! I'm getting closer and closer to the day I start querying (as in, if everything continues as is we're talking the end of June) and I'm excited and nervous at the same time. A quick question-in my novella one of the characters is seen as a god by everyone, including the MC. As such everyone uses capital letters ("Yes, He is wonderful, I am happy to be a citizen of His country.") to refer to Him-should I do so in my synopsis?

After thinking about this one a bit, I think that could be intriguing! Make sure you mention early that the character is considered a god by everyone, and then all their pronouns to follow can be capitalized. But that’s a great way to introduce your editor or agent to an interesting stylistic aspect of the book.