I made a lot of mistakes when querying my first book. We're talking Mt. Everest-during-monsoon-season sized mistakes.
Go big, or go home, right?
Of course, if you'd asked me at the time, I would have assured you I knew precisely what I was doing. Because I'm always right. (If you don't believe me, just ask my husband).
So here's some unwanted, unasked-for advice so none of you have to climb up Everest during monsoon season, with altitude sickness.
1. "Genius is eternal patience." -Michelangelo
(I'm going to ignore the fact that this quote sounds terribly pretentious, even if it does come from Michelangelo).
I am neither a genius, nor patient. In order to keep from rocking back and forth with an apron over my head while querying, I felt the need to send out oodles and oodles of queries.
(Imagine the scene in Harry Potter where Privet Drive is inundated with owls and you'd be pretty close).
I tore through my list of agents in record time. This was not a good situation to be in when I'd finally gotten the book in agent-ready shape.
2. Find beta readers who write your genre (or at least read it).
Seems obvious, but I had a number of beta readers who wrote MG, YA, or fantasy. They were all amazing writers, but I ended up taking some advice that was the opposite of what I should have done for historical fiction.
Case in point: a MG writer suggested I scale back all the world-building details because they dragged down the story. True for a MG book, but those details were critical for adult historical fiction. But I slaughtered all of them mercilessly.
3. Find critiquers who are MUCH better writers than you.
I had numerous requests from agents, but they all came back with the same comment:
"I just didn't fall in love with the writing."
*stabs eyeballs with forks*
It wasn't until I had a published author, and then an agent, slash every word I'd written that I realized how un-wonderful I was. I owe those two humans an arm and a leg, and my first-born child. (Fortunately for them, I can't send any of those items FedEx).
I ended up re-writing my book (amidst much whining and chocolate pretzels) before receiving my first offer from an agent. (I didn't accept the offer, but that's a story for another post). The point is, I really needed an expert (or in my case, two--I'm a stubborn nut) to ream my book up one side and down the other before I could see what was wrong with it. By then, it was almost too late.
Fortunately, my story has a happy ending. I set aside Book #1, wrote Book #2, landed a fabulous agent, and am now working on Book #1 for what I hope will be the last time for the foreseeable future.
So let's all laugh at ourselves today. What mistakes have you made while trying to get published? (And if you'd rather not share, feel free to make fun of me instead).