"No matter how terrified you may be, own your fear and take that leap anyway because whether you land on your feet or on your butt, the journey is well worth it."
-- Laurie Laliberte
"If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough."
-- Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage."
-- Anais Nin

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Are You Done Yet?-OR-Why I Don't Read Queries

Carnival of Cryptids
is currently available on Amazon for $2.99.
All proceeds benefit the
National Center for Missing and Exploited Children
I've upset more than one writer lately with the statement, "I don't read queries." Therefore, I thought I would explain my position. First, I should explain my own definition of what a query is and my own definition of what my job is.

Traditionally, a writer will complete the first five chapters, or a full outline, of a novel. They will send it, along with their resume or bibliography and a query letter, to literary agents and/or publishers. That's where it sits until it is (maybe) read by an agent or an acquisitions editor. If the reader decides the idea has merit and may be sales worthy, it begins the slow trek through the meat grinder that is the traditional publishing industry.

Far too often for my taste, I am mistaken for that type of editor. One who will tell you whether your manuscript is worth writing before you even write it. Far from it. I actually edit your work. I aid you in taking it from a polished manuscript to a finished novel. Therefore, I have no interest in seeing a query asking me whether it's worth finishing. If you are unsure whether your work is worth finishing, the answer is a very loud, "NO." If you are iffy or unsure about any of your writing, you are not ready to be an author. You need to man-up and grow a thick skin. Own your work and stick to it. Learn how to take criticism for what it is: one person's opinion; and then learn whether to change based on that criticism or press forward in the direction you've already chosen.

THAT, my friends, is when a writer is ready for my type of editing.

Still, I receive incomplete, timid, queries from writers who may or may not know they aren't ready yet. They want validation. They want someone to tell them that they're good enough before they finish writing their novel because they don't want to waste all that time writing it only to find out it sucks.

If you're that needy that you must be told you don't suck before you've even shown what you are capable of, then the answer is clear: you suck.

Now I've never read your manuscript or partial manuscript, but if you don't believe in yourself, then me telling you that you don't suck is not going to do you any good. Here's the scenario:
A writer sent me his first two chapters last May. He told me his intent was to get started with his editing some time in July or early August. Based on his sample and word count, I quoted him a price and made sure I would have time to work his piece when he sent it. I also followed up a few weeks later only to find out he hadn't written a word since he contacted me initially. My "validation" had made him so nervous he couldn't write. He was afraid that he couldn't live up to the praise I'd given him.
It could have gone the opposite as well. I could have hated it and told him so and he might never have written again just because one person disliked his style or didn't think he had what it takes to be a writer. Well, maybe that first manuscript doesn't have a ton of merit, but you learn from it, and you hone your craft, and you write a second manuscript, and a third, and you still don't edit or publish any of them because you know in your heart you're not ready. But that fourth manuscript ... that's the gem. Having someone else tell you the first one is terrible and then not writing anything after that without even trying is the biggest disservice you can do yourself and you are definitely not cut out to be a writer because you don't have the stick-to-it necessary to get you or your writing anywhere. Here's another one: 
A writer contacted me in late September. She wanted to know my rates and whether I was available. I told her the earliest I'd be able to take in a manuscript from her was possibly November. I suggested she take a look at my website and send me the information I needed and I would get back to her. She said she wasn't ready yet but she'd already made up her mind about wanting to work with me and would contact me when she was. Meanwhile, I could find her work on Amazon. Then nothing. [I'll stop the story here to tell you that I don't check out a writer's work on Amazon. I want to see a sample of what we'll be working on, not what you've already edited and published.] 
She contacted me again some time in November and asked if I was ready for her. Huh? I told her she needed to send me the information I asked for and make sure her manuscript was ready and maybe I'd be able to fit her into my schedule after the Holidays if I thought we could work together, but I wasn't making any guarantees until I'd seen her work. She said she'd be in touch soon, when she was ready. 
Around mid-January she contacted me again. She told me she was putting the final touches on the piece she wanted me to edit and was I available? Again I asked for the information on my website and explained that I was crazy busy and maybe could squeeze in a first edit around the 7th of February because another author I work with regularly was running behind. She told me to "pencil her in." I explained that only a select few authors with whom I work get "penciled in," and that's only because I know their work so well that I can often squeeze in their edits in mere hours rather than days. I explained (three times before she finally got it) that I still hadn't seen her work and would NOT give her an estimate until I had done so, and I needed to know that her manuscript was DONE before I would even look at a sample. 
She told me she would get me all the information and finish within the next day or so. 
As it turned out, I found myself overbooked by my regular clients by the 7th of February. I was also pretty ill and still struggling to keep ahead of the pace (a losing battle--I finally had to force myself to take some time off). Meanwhile, we are now nearing the end of February and I still don't have her sample, her information, or a finished manuscript from her.
Now you may argue that if I had "penciled her in" I would not have ended up overbooked, but I know full well that it's my nature to accept more work than I have time for, so I always make sure I can finish by an author's target date even if I can't finish by mine. So when I say I'm overbooked, it means I can't finish a project by the day I want to finish, not necessarily by the day it's due. I currently have one project that's truly behind (from my end -- I have plenty of projects behind from the writers with whom I work, but that's the business), and the author knows why, and he and I are working together.

So, if you are a writer, and I have ever insulted you by telling you I don't read queries, or to take a look at my website, perhaps you should check out my website and find out what it is I actually do.

Happy Writing!

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