I last queried my aviation mystery, Pilot Error, in 2003. A New York agent requested the full, and I’ve never forgotten the thrill of that moment.
A week later he declined to offer representation and told me why. I asked if he’d be willing to look at a revised version and he agreed. After a marathon effort at the computer over a period of about three weeks, I submitted the full again. Three months later, he again declined representation, but for entirely different reasons.
Without asking, I revised to address the new issues. When I offered this version, he declined the opportunity. Since then, I have learned two things: one, agents apparently have an unwritten rule never to take a third look at any story, and two, no writer I know has ever had an agent accept a manuscript after suggesting changes or agreeing to look at a revised manuscript. I have no idea if that’s a universal experience.
At that moment in the life of this novel, I faced a dilemma, whether to try that manuscript on more agents or seek outside editing assistance. I’d used a local freelance editor on earlier versions and submitted a large portion of the novel to the Novel-in-Progress Group in Austin, but the time had come to reach farther afield.
I researched “book doctors” and chose DZ in New York City. We collaborated for about two years off and on due primarily to financial considerations (he wasn’t running a charity for struggling writers). He taught me a great deal and the novel is all the better for his influence.
When I finally decided I had a manuscript good enough to submit again, I began researching the query business and discovered a brand-new world out there dominated by the Internet. Not only had the submission process changed, but agents were blogging out a constant stream of advice about how to write good query letters. I spent the better part of two months compiling as many different source references as I could find and began drafting queries. The original query that resulted in a request for a full became v1.0. I tried a new one and labeled it v2.0, and keep track of minor changes to that version by adding a .1, .2, etc.
Over the course of many months, I tried them out on anyone I could hogtie and force to read the things. I also joined QueryTracker.net, a website dedicated to writing and submitting good queries. Among other tools, the Query Review forum allows you to post yours and receive feedback. It didn’t take long to realize that just like critique groups, the quality of review depends upon the reviewer, and certain screen names began to stand out as being worthy of close attention to what the reviewer had to say.
I haven’t even begun to use all the tools on the site, and the small fee for a year’s membership has been justified many times over. As a side benefit to improving the query, I began corresponding with another QT member about writing, and she became one of the most valuable manuscript reviewers I’ve ever had the privilege of using. Combined with participation in a smaller writer’s group, the manuscript improved to the point of my thinking I can’t do much better at this point. I need to get this novel out there and see what happens.
My objective from the beginning of the Query Wars has been to stop major revising only when I could read one a few days later and maintain the same level of satisfaction I had immediately after writing it. My current query is v21.1, and with minor tweaking, this may be the one. The next task is to learn how best to utilize the additional tools on QueryTracker for organizing an agent list and keeping track of queries.
Not unlike going into combat, as I approach D-Day and engage the “enemy” in the Query Wars, I realize this battle comes with its own special case of the butterflies.
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