I made a lot of mistakes when querying my first book. We’re talking Mt. Everest-during-monsoon-season sized mistakes.
Go big, or go home, right?
Of course, if you’d asked me at the time, I would have assured you I knew precisely what I was doing. Because I’m always right. (If you don’t believe me, just ask my husband).
So here’s some unwanted, unasked-for advice so none of you have to climb up Everest during monsoon season, with altitude sickness.
1. “Genius is eternal patience.” -Michelangelo
(I’m going to ignore the fact that this quote sounds terribly pretentious, even if it does come from Michelangelo).
I am neither a genius, nor patient. In order to keep from rocking back and forth with an apron over my head while querying, I felt the need to send out oodles and oodles of queries.
(Imagine the scene in Harry Potter where Privet Drive is inundated with owls and you’d be pretty close).
I tore through my list of agents in record time. This was not a good situation to be in when I’d finally gotten the book in agent-ready shape.
2. Find beta readers who write your genre (or at least read it).
Seems obvious, but I had a number of beta readers who wrote MG, YA, or fantasy. They were all amazing writers, but I ended up taking some advice that was the opposite of what I should have done for historical fiction.
Case in point: a MG writer suggested I scale back all the world-building details because they dragged down the story. True for a MG book, but those details were critical for adult historical fiction. But I slaughtered all of them mercilessly.
3. Find critiquers who are MUCH better writers than you.
I had numerous requests from agents, but they all came back with the same comment:
“I just didn’t fall in love with the writing.”
*stabs eyeballs with forks*
It wasn’t until I had a published author, and then an agent, slash every word I’d written that I realized how un-wonderful I was. I owe those two humans an arm and a leg, and my first-born child. (Fortunately for them, I can’t send any of those items FedEx).
I ended up re-writing my book (amidst much whining and chocolate pretzels) before receiving my first offer from an agent. (I didn’t accept the offer, but that’s a story for another post). The point is, I really needed an expert (or in my case, two–I’m a stubborn nut) to ream my book up one side and down the other before I could see what was wrong with it. By then, it was almost too late.
Fortunately, my story has a happy ending. I set aside Book #1, wrote Book #2, landed a fabulous agent, and am now working on Book #1 for what I hope will be the last time for the foreseeable future.
So let’s all laugh at ourselves today. What mistakes have you made while trying to get published? (And if you’d rather not share, feel free to make fun of me instead).
All great advice that I'll have the pleasure of following before I start querying.
My first two books aren't up to par, yet. I'm waiting for that one that will be. Fingers crossed for the third time.
I promise to actually query this time. I'll even go back and fix the first two. Nitokerti's story needs to be told eventually. lol
I think my biggest mistake is giving up too soon. And, like you on your first novel, not getting the right kind of feedback from people who write in a similar genre.
So excited for you and the fact that both of your books will be going on submission. :))
Not learning to format correctly was my biggest mistake. Computer knowledge back then was not my strong suit and it showed. Literally. One very nice agent suggested I take a remedial pc course. Yikes.
It'a hard to know what advice to follow…in the end you have to trust your gut, I think.
Love the Privet Drive reference!
I've certainly made the mistake of querying too soon. I've had agents not fall in love with my main character. That's a harder one to deal with, because some stories just beg for certain characters. I was lucky enough to have an editor give me some feedback a couple of years ago that had me rewrite my entire book and made it so much better.
I made so many mistakes when I first started. I knew NOTHING because I'd written the ms for myself – absolutely no thoughts of attempting to publish. Thankfully after a few weeks I stumbled onto Agent Query Connect and saved myself from further embarrassment 🙂 (So far!)
While working on my novel "Trueborn," I changed a critical element in the book that I thought would better the believability of the story, but as a result, it forced me to scrap some 20,000 words… I would say that my mistake was not properly planning out my direction before just writing.
I can relate to these mistakes.
I queried for books that were too long, books that could've used more editing, books that didn't pass the eyes of beta readers (had no idea what those were)…so many things. We live and we learn.
Sometimes we have to learn the hard way. Just think – now you DO know enough to be dangerous!
I've made plenty of mistakes! One example: my first ms was a picture book, and it had WAY too many words. Live and learn, right? 😉
Wonderful post. I will be keeping your experiences and words of advice in mind when I start querying! Glad it all turned out well for you 🙂
I appreciate reading advice from people have "been there, done that, have the battle scars". Your 3 points are well taken, especially #2 and #3. If I want to improve my writing, I want no-holds-barred criticism from the right people.