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Wednesday, June 17, 2009


Dear Liana,
I've been sending out queries for months now and nothing. No bites at all!
I'm not even getting feedback on my query, just the kiss off "Not right for me."

What's that supposed to mean anyway? How isn't it right? Why isn't it right?
At this point I'm ready to call it quits and try self-publishing. I have the money, so that isn't an issue. But I want a second opinion.

Can I tell the agents that old-fashioned publishing is "Not right for me?" Ready to be in Print

Dear Ready,

Let me tell you a little story....

Several years ago I picked a book off the shelf at a major bookstore chain and took it home. It was a good book, for the genre. Not really stupendous or stand out in any way. Not particularly memorable. But not a bad book.

The only problem I had was that there were some obvious errors, and not just print errors. There were inconsistencies in the text. Little things that suggested the editor really hadn't done their job with this book.

And it made me mad because there I was, struggling to edit my first novel, and someone was publishing junk!

I checked the inside cover for acknowledgements. Nothing. I checked the back flap for ads from the publisher. Nothing.

I checked the spine.... iUniverse.


I was still mad, but this time at the author. All that book needed to be excellent was a little time and patience. A little more editing, another pair of eyes. I was disappointed.

Now what's the moral?

Well, on one hand I did pick that book up at a major store. So, yes, you can obviously self-publish and get your book on the shelf.

On the other hand, that book still bugs me because it could have been so much better. I'm not sure how the author feels, they have no website, and never published a second book, and never made the NYT bestseller list. So maybe they were disheartened too.

In the end, you need to do the check-list:
- Have you sent over 200 queries? If not, keep going.

- Have you done your homework? You're sending out queries? Are you sending them to the right agents/editors? Are you sending the agents/editors what they request? Are you being professional about the work?

- Have you been doing this for over a year? Publishing is not a fast industry. If you've only been querying for a few months it isn't enough.

- Have you worked with a beta-reader or critique group? If not, stop querying and let them see your work. And your query.

- Have you done the 10 draft minimum? Personally, I bet the pros finish their novels in under 10 drafts but for a new writer on his/her forst manuscript I recommend not giving up until you've done at least 10 major drafts. A lot of that is making mistakes and learning to edit, but that's what first novels are for.

- Have you given your novel space? If this is your first novel and first draft you need to put down the queries and take up surfing for a month. Then come back and edit. In fact, if you've spent more than 4 consecutive months doing nothing but slave over this manuscript, give yourself a week off.

- Have you started your next book? If not, why not? If this manuscript is ready to query than you don't think it needs more editing. So send queries and work on your next Great American Novel.

Do a quick self-evaluation. If you have indeed done everything you can than look at the manuscript. Just guessing, but what reason (besides agents and editors not seeing your natural talent and flair) do you think is keeping your book from being published?
- Is there a market for what you're writing?
- Is it too similar to something already published?
- Is it fan fiction of any kind?
- Is it written in crayon?

I'm betting you have a great manuscript, you just need to be patient and give yourself time to find the Great Agent (or editor) who can make your literary gem shine.



  1. May I add to your list: are you making mistakes you don't know are mistakes. Publishing runs on some odd and counter-intuitive practices.

    Agent blogs are a good source of info. Book Ends LLC and Nathan Bransford and Kristin Nelson all keep very informative blogs.

    Also, check out QueryShark.blogspot.com for actual queries submitted to an actual agent for real feedback.

  2. Wow - how cool Janet Reid is lurking, Liana!

    And, I would add my personal experience (not that you asked, but still...)

    While I was querying my novel, and getting some response, I kept writing.

    In the end, it was that WIP that turned out to be the stronger work to lead with. It was that WIP, now finished, that got me to the next step of securing an agent that was a great fit for me.

    Great post!

  3. This is a wonderful post! Truly great advice for us first timers.

  4. Great advice. How about that... Janet Reid is reading your blog.

  5. 0.0

    *gets all fluttery and excited*

    Now if only Ms. Reid repped sci-fi!!! *sob*

    *waves hi and offers Janet an avocado*