“I’m sending My Novel Out to Query.” Are you sure you want to do that?

I just got an email that really disturbed me.  No, it was not from one of those creepy guys on Facebook who friends you and then sends you scary PMs… This was from someone I actually know.  Well, cyber-know at least.

This person is a critique partner. Someone working on their first book.

What did the email say that disturbed me so much?

“I’m going to send this out to agents. Can you look at my query and synopsis?”


Was I worried about helping with a query and synopsis?  Nope. Not at all. I do it all the time.

So what was it that drove a jagged, rusty bar through my heart?

“I am going out to query.”

I feel incredibly thankful for that little angel on my shoulder who whacked me upside the head two years ago and said “Don’t do it. Your novel sucks.”

Some people, unfortunately, do not have a little angel. Or if they do, they’re not listening.

A quote from Dan Blank keeps coming to mind.  It’s something like: “Writing a book for the sake of writing a book is a worthwhile experience. Not all books should (or need) to be published.” (I totally paraphrased that)

Anyway. I’d like to remind everyone that a sizable number of first novels should be placed in a drawer and never thought of again. Call them a learning experience. A small portion of these can be resurrected, but should be used as an outline and completely rewritten. I would guess that less than one percent are worthy of publication.

But does it hurt to try?

Jury is out on that.  If you have countless hours to waste researching agents/editors and then have even more hours to send a manuscript out that has no chance at all at publication – more power to you. The chances of them remembering you and instantly deleting your second or third manuscript are slim, right?

(Did that last paragraph seem slightly jaded?  If so, GOOD. It was meant to.)

My other big worry is that after a few rejections, instead of shelving manuscripts that are not ready, authors will turn to self-publishing. [Cringe] The thought makes me shiver.  You think critique partners can be harsh?  Try a review from someone on Amazon who is angry at you for wasting their time or money.  Have you read those kind of reviews?  I feel so sorry for those authors!

(Aside: For the record, I think self-publishing is great… If you are ready and have received professional line editing and copy editing)

It took me 17 drafts of my first novel before I decided to shelf it.

Two years of work, sitting on a shelf collecting dust.

Was it worth it?


Totally!I learned tons from the experience.  I took what I learned to my NEXT novel.  And when that was done, I took what I learned from writing my second novel into my third novel (all the while pumping out novellas and shorts and getting professional feedback) And I took all of that experience and dove into my fourth novel.

Each. Got. Better.

And even after I thought “maybe my novel is good enough” I was STILL shy of certain agents, and ESPECIALLY my target publisher.  It was not until agents or editors started saying things like:

 “Your writing is strong, but I do not have a place for science fiction right now”

or things like:

“This is not for me, but if you have another book in “xxxx” genre please send it directly to me at [insert email address]”

… that I started sending out to the agents and houses at the “top” of my wish list. And by the way – They ARE NOT reviewing my first novel. That is still safely sitting on my shelf, waving and smiling at me every day.

My point is, don’t feel pressured to publish your first novel. If you are serious about writing, and you are unsure, just move on to the next one. I guarantee novel #2 will be better.

But if you do decide to go for it, good luck!  I wish you all the best, and totally hope you are in that one percent of shining stars.


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24 responses to ““I’m sending My Novel Out to Query.” Are you sure you want to do that?

  1. I completely agree, Jennifer. First novels are usually crap. I was so proud when I completed my first novel, but when I joined a writers group, they shot it down in so many ways. It’s still on my shelf, unpublished, along with novels 2 & 3. When I finally got the thumbs-up on my fourth novel, I concentrated on getting it ready for query. I had one publisher interested in it almost immediately, but they relied on government grants because their main authorship was Metis. It didn’t matter that my main character was Metis, I had to be as well. So, 10 years later, after sending it out to publishing houses across the nation, I finally found the perfect fit. If self-publishing had been an option, would I have gone that route after the comments my writers group gave me? No. I still go back to those first novels to think if there is any way to make them better, but haven’t the time or patience to fix them, yet. My advice to first time authors: make sure you get good feedback from experienced writers or find yourself a good editor before contemplating sending out your novel.

    • Good sound advice. And not just one editor. A content edit and a line edit. And prepare to get what you pay for.

      • That’s true, Jennifer. One must also develop a bit of a ‘thick skin’, too. Don’t be afraid of criticism or get mad at the person giving the critique. Most aren’t saying that stuff to be mean, but to help improve your writing. Be prepared to accept their suggestions and rewrite many, many, many times before sending it off into the world.

  2. Even though I write only short fiction at this time, I think some points remain true. With each story–I hope–I become a stronger writer. I take what I’ve learned from the previous story and write it through the first draft [or subsequent drafts] of the next.
    Great post, Jennifer. Thanks for sharing. ~Victoria Marie Lees

  3. Well, as I rebuild my first novel, only a few bits of place description and a dash of an opening scene have come over to the new file. And that’s all I see making the cut. I didn’t even reuse the original Scrivener file. I started a new one. While the basic concept behind the story remains, most everything else will be new. We’ll see if this takes it to a level that’s appropriate for publication.

  4. You have to start some place. You have to learn somehow. It’s all a learning process – I did laugh over your “not all first book should be published” So true – but those baby steps – and the skinned knees- are so important. Nice post

  5. Sorry to hear some people don’t listen to advice. It’s a lot of work editing to the best polish. Maybe the writer is tired of working it.

  6. Reblogged this on khrystleraineduste and commented:
    Sage advice from a pro… TAKE IT! (Or use it…?)

  7. My first novel I destroyed. Shouldn’t have but I did. Long story. My second novel is sitting in Draft 1.5 in my closet and there it will remain until the end of time (it was very purpley prosey). My 3rd one was destroyed along with the hard drive it sat on (It was showing alien code, not human text), which is probably a good thing because in retrospect, it sucked. My 4th…well…it’s my baby. I’ve been at it for a very long time, mostly due to procrastination and feelings that it’s not good enough. (I’ve been told by others it IS good enough and I need to let it go out there, in the sea of agents and publishers.) I’m still working on it.

    In the meantime I’ve had 2 shorts published, one more about to be published and a novella a publisher is interested in, so do I think all those works 1- 3 were worth it? Heck ya. Like you said, each round gets better and better.

    I feel for the person who doesn’t want to listen to citique partners or beta readers. We all want to think we’ve written the next Great American Novel, but in reality, we’ve probably written the gazllion, million trillionth attempt at the GAN. With every book or story I write, I tell myself: Thomas Edison did not fail 120 times at making a light bulb. He merely found 120 ways not to make one.

  8. My first novel didn’t even get to two drafts. It was…horrible. I’ve since reused a couple of ideas from that first book and not much else.

    Very good post, this. Definitely agree with your point about gaining experience: I wrote on-and-off for about five years before producing anything even remotely decent, and it’ll probably be another five before I write anything publishable :).

  9. Thanks for this. It’s really good, strong advice. I’m actually finding that my second novel is much stronger than my first one (which you probably remember!) and I would feel much more confident sending this one out. Thanks for saying what needed to be said.

  10. I call the novel I had published my first novel, but it’s really my second (second completed one anyway). My first one, like yours, is tucked away, never to be seen by the world in its current state. It’s full of everything that it shouldn’t be–telling, adverbs, cheesy dialogue–but as you point out, it’s good for us to have that learning curve. Sure, I could tidy it up, and maybe I will some day. But for now, it stays hidden in my computer. 😉

    • Yes, I’ll get back to mine some day too. I love the story. But I will use what I have as an outline, and start from a blank page. I know I would NOT have been one of those gems who makes it the first time out of the block!

  11. Good post! It’s great for writers to get a healthy dose of reality once in a while. 🙂 I was one of those writers who self-published her first completed novel. *Gulp* Needless to say, it’s been taken down for a while now.