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View Full Version : "Don't revise the query. Revise the book then work on the query."



Purple Rose
09-10-2013, 03:15 PM
Earlier this year, I decided to be supremely brave and sent my query to the very scary Query Shark. I believed I had a good story and a decent query.

I was overjoyed to get my query picked, with very helpful comments from Query Shark and her contributors which I then applied (or thought I did) to my revision.

After the first revision, Ms Great White said:


"I'm thinking the problem here is not the query, it's the book. Don't revise the query. Revise the book then work on the query."


My immediate reaction was "Hrrrrmph!!". It only lasted a few seconds before I knew that Query Shark was right.

Ever since then, I have worked on revising my novel and am very happy with the progress. Many parts have been re-written and I now have a much better story. It will be months before I finish it but I just wanted to say how helpful it has been to be told that the problem lies with the story.

For those who are regular contributors on QLH, perhaps you would have told me the same thing had I posted my query on QLH. I read Query Shark's archives thoroughly. I read the winning queries several times. I never thought I'd be told I got the story wrong.

Has anyone had a similar experience? I am sharing mine in the hope that anyone who has trouble with the query, might consider reviewing the story itself.

My query #241 is here. (http://queryshark.blogspot.sg/2013/03/241.html)

Bufty
09-10-2013, 03:23 PM
That's not uncommon and it's often the reason folk have trouble pinning down the crux of the story when wording the Query.

dolores haze
09-10-2013, 04:03 PM
Has anyone had a similar experience? I am sharing mine in the hope that anyone who has trouble with the query, might consider reviewing the story itself.

I always work on my query after I've finished my first draft. Once I get the query perfect (or as close as I can get it) I then revise the manuscript. Having that query down really helps me focus on what revisions are needed.

heza
09-10-2013, 08:37 PM
I've seen the same thing happen in QLH. Someone will struggle through pages and pages of a query that still seems off, and then people will start asking deeper questions: "But why is he doing this? What does it really matter to him? What's going to happen, ultimately, if he doesn't do this? Why can't anyone else in the world be the one to do it?"... which, frankly, are the questions you're supposed to ask yourself when you start writing the query.

But it'll eventually come down to the fact that the character's motivations that drive the entire story just aren't strong enough, the problem he faces just isn't that overwhelming, or the tough choice he makes isn't actually much of a choice because there's really only one real path....

Sometimes the weakness really is in the character or the plot.

GinJones
09-10-2013, 08:43 PM
It does happen regularly in QLH, for the writers who are really serious about their work. They'll come into QLH, and in the course of trying to focus on what the story is really about, it will become obvious that the manuscript is fatally flawed, and they'll go back and fix the manuscript, and then the query will fall into place.

The query is sort of a testing ground for whether the author really knows his/her story and can point to some basic core of the story. If not, it usually means the story itself is flawed, although sometimes it may just be a blindness on the part of the author, but, personally, I think that type of blindness is extremely rare, so it's usually a manuscript flaw.

Little Ming
09-10-2013, 09:57 PM
I think some writers underestimate how much their queries reveal about their books. There's a reason experienced agents can reject a MS on just the query.

And yes, we do see this in QLH, though it usually doesn't get called out until a few pages into the thread. Personally, I try to give the benefit of a doubt that it really is just the query, but if after half a dozen revisions the same plot and/or character problems exist in all the different versions, well, it's time to start considering the MS.

And good for you Purple Rose, that your "Hrrrrmph!!" only lasted a few seconds. :) Some writers do not take the news so well.

DanielaTorre
09-10-2013, 10:13 PM
I can totally vouch for this. I started working on my query around the time I had my first beta(s). I kept thinking "well, what's the story ABOUT?". I knew that was the reason I was struggling with my query: the goal and the stakes weren't high enough.

It wasn't until a wonderful super duper awesome and kind person here read my ms and told me to raise the stakes. I pondered, and after some revisions on the ms, I got to the gist of it (hopefully) and was able to revise my query to be almost agent-ready.

I haven't started to query yet. Gotta give the manuscript one last polish (if I find one last person to give it a final read-through). I've been pretty private about the the query after getting torn to shreds in QLH, but you can find something similar in the beta sub-forum where I just posted a solicitation for a beta. Everyone's welcome to lend a hand. :D I don't know where all the MG people went. :(

Sorta-query: http://absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=277157

AshleyEpidemic
09-10-2013, 10:50 PM
It totally happens. One of my favorite WIPs was conceived as one massive book. I split it in two because what agent would take a debut author's massive work. As I wrote the query for the first half I struggled with nailing it down. People kept asking about the big event of the second novel. At that point I realized, it needed it's other half. Sure, it will be a bit large now, but It will be the story it was supposed to be.

If it wasn't for the query, I never would have known the novel was stronger as one piece.

ZerosJourney
09-10-2013, 10:56 PM
I was fortunate enough to discover Query Shark about the time I finished my rough draft of my current project. I read through about 100 queries/critiques in the two weeks I was forcing myself to stay away from my manuscript before revisions. Naturally, I started thinking about how I could apply what Ms. Reid says in her critiques to my own query. It pointed out a number of problems with my novel that I wouldn't have realized until much later on my own. It meant that my first revision fixed a lot of the problems (and fairly easily, all things considered) making my manuscript much stronger off the bat.

Jamesaritchie
09-11-2013, 03:19 AM
A bad query can make a wonderful book sound horrible. It happens routinely. I'd definitely get a second opinion.

Purple Rose
09-11-2013, 05:06 AM
Thank you, all, for sharing.


If not, it usually means the story itself is flawed, although sometimes it may just be a blindness on the part of the author, but, personally, I think that type of blindness is extremely rare, so it's usually a manuscript flaw.

I had that type of blindness.


And good for you Purple Rose, that your "Hrrrrmph!!" only lasted a few seconds. :) Some writers do not take the news so well.

Thanks, Little Ming. Admittedly, they were very painful seconds but blind as I had been to my story, I could clearly see the help that was being given.


I haven't started to query yet. Gotta give the manuscript one last polish (if I find one last person to give it a final read-through). I've been pretty private about the the query after getting torn to shreds in QLH, but you can find something similar in the beta sub-forum where I just posted a solicitation for a beta. Everyone's welcome to lend a hand. :D I don't know where all the MG people went. :(

good luck with the query, Daniela! And the manuscript, of course :-)


I was fortunate enough to discover Query Shark about the time I finished my rough draft of my current project. I read through about 100 queries/critiques in the two weeks I was forcing myself to stay away from my manuscript before revisions. Naturally, I started thinking about how I could apply what Ms. Reid says in her critiques to my own query. It pointed out a number of problems with my novel that I wouldn't have realized until much later on my own. It meant that my first revision fixed a lot of the problems (and fairly easily, all things considered) making my manuscript much stronger off the bat.

Yup, I'm doing all that fixing now. Now and again. And again.

James D. Macdonald
09-11-2013, 06:25 AM
See also Slushkiller #12 (http://nielsenhayden.com/makinglight/archives/004641.html): Author is talented, but has written the wrong book.

Zombolly
09-11-2013, 06:55 AM
I found Query Shark right when I was done with my first draft. I had already realized I had a lot of problems with the story, and writing the query helped me get perspective. I revised my novel. Worked on the query. Revised. And so forth.

For my new ideas, I write a query when I'm done outlining. I hope it saves me some work down the road...

Atalanta
09-12-2013, 12:34 AM
I always work on my query after I've finished my first draft. Once I get the query perfect (or as close as I can get it) I then revise the manuscript. Having that query down really helps me focus on what revisions are needed.

I'm going to try this, as I'm in between drafts right now. In fact, this whole thread has been extremely helpful. Thank you. :)

DLacy
09-18-2013, 04:35 AM
I always suspected something was 'off' with my MS, but I attributed it to just being one of those perfectionist writers who doesn't want to call anything done. I had revised it, had let betas read it, but didn't get as much feedback as the MS needed. I had been through many versions of my query and I was getting requests, just not very many (even full requests). I wasn't getting as far as I wanted and something still felt wrong.

Then earlier this year I decided to finally brave QLH. I'm just now recovering from the impact that had on me. Maybe before the end of the year I'll feel like writing again. But I did learn the same thing you did - it's the story, not the query. I only wish I'd trusted my gut and not jumped into the query trenches so early. I wish I'd learned sooner and easier, and had more writer friends helping me with the MS to start with. Hindsight's always 20/20, but once you know, you can improve.

Ferret
09-18-2013, 04:43 AM
I like to start writing my query when I start writing my book. I find that it really helps me get to the core conflict and motivation.