Teens Can Write, Too!

Changing the world's opinion… as soon as we finish this math homework

Beginning Querying: A Horror Story

Hi, readers! I’m so thrilled to be joining the Teens Can Write, Too blog with my archnemesis John and the lovely people of Ch1Con, and I’m super pumped to write our first post! I’m Mark O’Brien, and I’m going to tell you a horror story: my first querying experiences.

I was fourteen when I began querying, but it was a small, naive fourteen, and I was no prodigy. Not that I knew that. My first novel (which, I kid you not, was a “literary YA” that was about as literary as a sack of potatoes and was entitled Cream and Sugar at the time of querying—it’s now affectionately referred to as the more accurate Words That Burn) was perfect and gorgeous and I didn’t even need to edit, I just needed an agent to read my query, recognize the genius, and offer me representation because it was so freaking great. I didn’t look up how to write a query because I didn’t need to, what with a story as good as mine.

So I queried maybe three to five of my top choices, which seemed like the best strategy ever. My query letters were full of compliments about how many sales the agents had made and how I was certain I could be their next. I did not summarize the book; instead, I talked about its themes. The email I used was not my full name with “books” at the end; I used my personal one, an address that referenced dying balloons. And had numbers. (I’m not kidding.) (I wish I were.)

Thankfully, I got no responses, positive or negative or anything else.

This book sucked. My next book sucked, but I didn’t know that, so I queried it anyway—and even got a full request! For this one, a dystopian I wrote in 2011 (again, I wish I were kidding), I actually went to the trouble of writing, you know, a real query letter, getting it critiqued, and developing something of an online presence.

The third book was eh, but it got a much better reception. Around the fourth book, I figured out how to write coherently (thanks, critique partners), and soon I didn’t have one request out at a time, usually more like five or six.

What I’m saying here is that I was not ready to query before my fourth book. I just wasn’t. My writing wasn’t there; my attitude was far too high-and-mighty. I’m now working on Book 6, and you bet your bottom dollar I’m going to put my manuscript through quite a few rounds of revisions before I query.

But how do you know when you’re ready to query? Good question, hypothetical person! This varies from writer to writer and book to book, but a good rule of thumb I like to use is: you’ve edited your manuscript so much you don’t know what to edit anymore. You’ve read all the way through it, start to finish, probably half a dozen times (or more!), looking for everything and anything you could make better, and you’ve made those things better. You’ve had critique partners and/or beta readers rip it to shreds, and you’ve pieced those shreds back together into something good. Something you’re proud of, even through the self-doubt.

If you’re not proud of your book—like, not at all—ask yourself why. Do you not love the story? Is your writing not where you’d hoped it would be? If your gut tells you something’s wrong, there’s no shame in taking a while—two weeks, three months, a year—to determine why. No one is forcing you to query right now, except maybe yourself.

Take your time. Breathe. It’ll be worth it in the end.

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About markobrienbooks

I’m an eighteen-year-old writer currently working on my seventh novel. I’m a fan of junk food coated in cheese dust, contemporary YA, everything about Taylor Swift, and your face. When not on Twitter (@mobrienbooks), I can be found solving crimes or saving the world; unfortunately, I am always on Twitter.

17 comments on “Beginning Querying: A Horror Story

  1. That does sound like quite a horror story. Nonetheless, it was a helpful one. I am a bit younger than 14 and working on a second novel for NaNoWriMo, and I am considering querying, so this was very helpful.
    Glad you’ll be a regular contributor to TCWT! I love this blog so much, and I’m happy that more people will be posting.

    • markobrienbooks
      November 15, 2014

      Yay, so glad this was helpful! And if you’re just younger than fourteen and already on your second novel, you’re waaay ahead of the game in my eyes. 🙂 Good luck, and thank you!

  2. Heather
    November 15, 2014

    I have to admit, actually writing a query letter is one of my writing fears—and fortunately I’ve never had to think about it, because I’ve never gotten through one yet. Nonetheless, if I want to see my name in print someday it’s something I’m probably going to have to work on… But at least I can console myself that I have a little time yet. Thanks for posting this—you’re right: it will be worth it in the end.

    • markobrienbooks
      November 15, 2014

      I’ve totally been there – but I also think writing queries gets a million times easier. Sometimes nowadays I write them for fun (gasp!) before I start a manuscript. It’s one of those inevitable things if you want to be published, but it’s really nothing to worry about. Let me/us at TCWT know if you need any helpful resources for writing your query, okay? 🙂

  3. Kira Budge
    November 15, 2014

    LOL, this sounds like my first querying experience too, Mark! 🙂

    • markobrienbooks
      November 15, 2014

      Kira, it was HORRENDOUS. But I didn’t know that until, like, three books later. 🙂 Glad we’ve advanced out of that stage, at least!

  4. I haven’t started querying yet because I’ve only written one first draft so far and I haven’t yet edited it. I’m not sure if I’ll query my second book either. Like you said, your first book is probably not going to be the one that gets replies from agents. Or your second. Or your third. Luckily, I’m not in a hurry so I can take my time learning how to write a good story before I start to query.

    • markobrienbooks
      November 15, 2014

      Ana – yes, you’re right! That said, some writers DO write a first (or second, or third) book that has the potential to get an agent and a deal. Just because I wasn’t one of them doesn’t mean you won’t be! But I will say that taking your time is super, super important, especially if you’re on the first draft. I wish I’d taken my time! 🙂

  5. magicandwriting583
    November 15, 2014

    I haven’t even dreamed of starting querying yet. I know my writing isn’t quite there…but it is a lot closer than it used to be! Boy, if I’d tried to query my first book, I imagine the agents would be laughing at me.

    • markobrienbooks
      November 15, 2014

      That’s excellent! “Take your time” is like the #1 piece of advice I give when people ask me about querying. And fortunately, I think agents are pretty used to getting queries that are a little…out there, so I doubt they’d really have laughed. (Unless I’m wrong, in which case they were on the floor when they got my first queries.)

      • magicandwriting583
        November 15, 2014

        Yeah, definitely.

        Mmm, I suppose so. They probably get a lot of queries like that, I imagine…

        Anyway, thanks for the post!

  6. Hawwa
    November 16, 2014

    I haven’t even written more than 32K words in my life yet. *sigh*

    • markobrienbooks
      November 17, 2014

      The good news is there’s no rush! You’ll get there if you keep writing. 🙂

  7. bandersontps
    November 17, 2014

    Reblogged this on worldpen and commented:
    Very good points. I had a very similar story–lots of no answers. And frankly, I didn’t deserve answers. But I did recently get a “fix it and resubmit it sometime” and so I’m working on revising and rewriting–and next time hopefully it’ll be more positive.

    • markobrienbooks
      November 17, 2014

      Oh, how cool – an R&R! One of those can be a great sign. Best of luck!

  8. Pingback: Beginning The 2nd Draft | Teens Can Write, Too!

  9. Pingback: Writing Advice, Agent Interviews, Teen Authors, And More | Teens Can Write, Too!

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