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