Apr 3, 2009

Query vs. Manuscript

I had a partial request earlier this year. I take this as success on the query front, because the agent didn't reject the query. The problem is, the agent rejected the partial.

I did receive good feedback, though. The agent thought I was a talented writer, and that my premise is clever, but the narrative had too much exposition / backstory and not enough forward momentum. Some of the feedback paralleled comments from my critique group, but the agent had a better way of pointing it out. After receiving that feedback, I read through the manuscript again and I had to agree.

Truth of the matter is, this is my first novel, and by the time I finished draft 1 my storytelling improved, my plot thickened, and my writing style matured. That meant the whole first half of the book was sub-par, even though I revised it twice already.

But a revision, to me at least, is editing what was written. What I needed was a re-write. Completely new content for the first third of the book, at least. (Insert f-bomb here).

I took to the keyboard and started again from scratch, something I've dreaded for months, but in the back of my mind I knew it would be necessary.

Tell me: Are you sure your manuscript is ready for the next step, or is there a chance you are querying prematurely?

Where do you turn for manuscript critiques?


scott g.f. bailey said...

I think you'll find most agents will say that the majority of mss they get aren't ready to be published yet. Even mine, for which I have an agent, is getting a pretty heavy revision from me right now. I have a small group of select readers who have sworn to be brutal and specific with comments, and I have a big enough ego to withstand their vile, mistaken lies...or, rather, their accurate critique of my ms's weaknesses.

Here's what I think happens too often: we set down and write a story, and by the time we get through the first draft, we've figured out what the story should be like so the ending is usually pretty solid, but the first third or so is weak because we really didn't know where we were going when we started out. We then sit down to "edit" and we do a line-edit for spelling and grammar but we don't stop and say, "Okay, so what, really, is this story? Who is it actually about/when or where does it really start/why am I reading it/where am I going?" So the beginnings remain a sort of vague mess with polished prose that fails to actually tell the story. Yeah, it's a relief to have actually finished the first draft: hey, I wrote a whole book! What's not to love? But you have to mercilessly go back and make the beginning fit the end. Just today, with the novel that an agent is going to put on submission when I get my revisions back to him, I realized that I need to make a radical change in my first chapter, from my first page onward, because I Was Doing It Wrong. I'm on draft number five, by the way. There will be further drafts once we find a publisher, I have no doubt.

Deborah said...

Ouch. That hurts. Having the publisher ask for complete rewrites three different times hurt worse. Taking time is really the best way.

The Screaming Guppy said...

Sorry to hear that.

As far as manuscript critiques, I've done a writing group (five authors and we all swapped novels with each and critiqued in a preset order). I've had a non-writer beta read for me, and I'm on my second one on one novel swap with another writer.

Out of all these, right now I feel like the one on one swap is doing the most for me. Unlike a group, where I think everyone is focused on moving on to the next person, the one on one swap allows for a lot more personal back and forth discussion.

Rick Daley said...

It stings some, but it's not debilitating. The feedback I received served as a wake up call; it inspired me to keep at it, but made me realize I wasn't there yet. plus, getting rejected on partial is better than begin rejected on a query...it's forward progress.

Scott, you totally nailed the experience of the first novel. I'm on revision 3.

I've had a couple non-writers beta for me. Once I finish this revision, I'll be looking for a 1-on-1 swap, that's a great idea!

Lady Glamis said...

Rick good questions here. And writers rarely succeed with the first novel they've ever written. Scott is correct. By the time we get to the end of the book, the beginning looks like crap. Yeah. Happens every time to me.

I know that MONARCH is not ready yet. It's a second draft, for crying out loud. My first novel is in its seventh draft and still not ready. I think we get antsy as writers. But it's important to remember that this is a slow business and craft and patience are everything.

I'm not planning on seriously querying for at least another year for either novel. Unless I'm uber-lucky and this partial I'm sending out gets picked up. That would be nice. :D

Jeanne Ryan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jeanne Ryan said...

I just finished my first draft of my first novel. Reading chapter 1 is like going back in time.

Since then:
I've written many many more words
I've read books/blogs/articles on writing
I've taken workshops and gone to conferences
I've critiqued others and been critiqued
most importantly, I've grown as a person.

Chapter 1 is no longer representative of me as a writer. A big part of the rewrite is correcting this.

I think a lot of manuscripts agents get are from people who go "whew, I'm glad that is over. Let's make sure grammar and spelling are okay and then send it out." They don't take what they learned writing the book and apply it to the book.

I think that is one of the biggest mistakes we newbie writers make.

scott g.f. bailey said...

"I think a lot of manuscripts agents get are from people who go "whew, I'm glad that is over. Let's make sure grammar and spelling are okay and then send it out." They don't take what they learned writing the book and apply it to the book."

And then we get pissed off when agents aren't impressed with stuff even we can't read anymore. "Hey, I went through all this effort!" we complain. "Did you read the last bit? It's great stuff!"

T. Anne said...

I don't think you can ever really know. As long as you write, you will continue to grow as a writer. It's nice they included critiques that can help you further polish your novel. Good luck to you!

ElanaJ said...

What a great, thought-provoking post. I definitely think you need to have other people (who are willing to be honest with you) read your book before you send it out. I'm currently in the solicitation stage--where I've asked my writerly friends to please read my book and tell me what's wrong. And the things they come up with aren't line edits. It's more like, "Why don't they just use the teleporter rings to get where they're going?" And I'm like, "Hmm...yeah, why don't they?" LOL.

Your betas make you look at your work like it's the first time you're reading it. And that's never bad. Because that's what an agent is doing. And the editor after that.

Litgirl01 said...

That's definitely a success Rick!!

I am so glad that other writers think their beginnings suck when they get to the end. That totally happened to me.

Dawn said...

I sat down and wrote a story. Then I sent a copy to an online friend. She loved it! Later I sent copies to three none writer friends. I heard back from two...I think the third gave up which tells me a lot. I believe I got honest feedback. I did some more writing and gave it to a writer friend. She loved it too, but made some suggestions about ramping up the tension near the end, so I did.
Then I had it professionally edited, made those corrections, and read much more about grammar and punctuation.
Yikes! Next I went through the manuscript, adding 5,000 words and making it flow more smoothly.
Now it's out with three friends. Two have not read it before and one has, so she'll be able to see where it's changed.
I've lost count of which revision I'm on.

Rick Daley said...

It may seem disappointing, but the experience was positive for me.

The re-write is much better than the prior version, and I feel much more confident about its marketability. I really think that when I choose to submit again, I'll be able to close on a contract for representation.

The biggest impact is on my timeline to publication, but it is also a good learning experience on the waiting game that is so pervasive in this industry.

I feel fortunate that I have a good day job to get me by while I work through the re-write. So maybe 2010 will be the year I get my Stephanie Meyer-sized advance ;-)

NOTE: That is a size reference to the dollar value of the advance, not the author herself.

OTHER NOTE: I am halfway through TWILIGHT now, and I am going to start a drinking game where I take a drink every time Bella sighs, or Edward's eyes are mentioned. If I die of alcohol poisoning, you will know I completed the next chapter.

Eden said...

I decided to do a pretty major rewrite on one of my mss, eliminating a major character. It was the best thing I could have done. I thought the book was ready and I was querying it (got lots of requests for fulls and none paned out). I'm working on getting the book out there again and I have a lot more confidence in the ms this time. My advice is to do that rewrite.

As to readers, I read my mss like an editor (and then the writer me doesn't like the comments b/c I think "how can I do that?" and the editor me doesn't care ;)). My husband reads. He's not a writer but he's an avid reader. I also have writer friends read b/c they can make specific suggestions.

I would suggest joining a crit group, either IRL or online, or at least finding a crit partner willing to exchange mss. Some online writing comunities will allow you to "advertise" for readers. You could also post snippets of work where you think there might be a problem. You might be able to use the feedback on the sample throughout the piece.

DebraLSchubert said...

Rick, This is my first visit here. Glad I found you!

Scott - OMG, that is SO the situation I'm dealing with! Of course, I've already queried widely. I've received five requests for partials so far, but haven't got any further than that. I'm sure that's because the beginning's not strong enough.

I'm working on a new WIP but you've made me realize that what I really need to do is go back to my "last" book (the one I'm querying) and rewrite the first third of the book. Thank you so much for opening up eyes!!!

Rick Daley said...

Hi Deborah,

I'm glad you find this blog. I'm really happy with how it's coming along, and the more people that join in, the better it will be for us all.

Carley said...

LOL!! Rick, you nailed just how I felt reading the Twilight series. And yet, I read them all. However, my teen was begging me to, so we could drool over Edward. She was very disapointed, as I didn't fall deeply in love with him! Have fun reading, it just gets better. ;)

Judy said...

I liked the Twilight Series. I thought the mixture of the world's perfect guy with being a vampire hit the nail on the head.

As far as having a partial requested, grats to you. Though it did not get picked up, I think that is quite the accomplishment.

As for my ms, I do not even have the slightest clue how many times I have rewriten it, but I do know I am close to being done. The mistakes and taking out words while adding others in is becoming less and less. I figured when I could read through the ms and not change anything (does such a thing exist?) than it might be as good as I am going to get it.

I think within the next month or two I might be ready to query. I hope.

Good luck!!