Frequently Asked Questions From Writers
Q. I have this great idea for a romance novel and I've already written the first three chapters. Should I
start sending out query letters now?
A. No. Not yet. Hold on. Finish that whole novel first, then finish any rewriting and polishing it needs. After it's the very
best you can make it--still don't send it out. Instead, do some good market research, making sure it's the right length
and style for which publisher you have in mind, and picking out a specific editor to address it to. You might even decide
to send out query letters to agents instead--don't forget that research first. You can also enter a few writing contests,
like the ones that many of the RWA chapters have. Maybe you can even join a critique group.
Why wait?, you ask.
It's not a good idea to send out query letters on unfinished work because so many writers start manuscripts that they
never finish. Editors, nor agents, like to get burned by putting in the time and effort of reading a query, or chapters, and
send a request only to have to learn the work isn't done. It's a good way to cut the supports on a bridge that isn't even
behind you yet. Don't count on the request being slow in coming either, or just keeping the editor or agent waiting. Most
requests take forever it seems, but just as sure as you don't have that story ready to go, that request will come in record
time, sometimes in less than two weeks. You don't want to be caught in the spot of having to send a letter saying that
the manuscript won't be ready for months, or even weeks. And you don't want to rush to turn it in, giving it less that your
best effort in the hurry.
The truth is that many editors don't want to see anything from a manuscript that isn't finished unless you have already
had a book published by one of the bigger houses. Many don't want to see unfinished work until you have sold that
second manuscript. And if the work you are trying to sell is a romance novel, then that means the already published
work should also be a romance novel.
Q. Can I send out query letters to lots of publishers at once?
A. Most publishers ask that you not submit work to them that other publishers are considering. That's why it can be so
important to get to work on that next manuscript as soon as you send a query off. If you are going to offer the
manuscript to more than one publisher, then you should say so in your query letter. Don't forget that agents and even
editors from different publisher, do get together and talk.
Q. I was wondering if I could send your a few pages or maybe even a couple of chapters of my
manuscript for you to critique or to just give me your thoughts on?
A. Sorry, but I no longer do critiques for others through the website. I did for years, all for free, most for people I didn't
even know who just found my site and wrote me, but it began to take up too much time. Plus, some people don't take
critiques well, and there's always the legal tangles. The good news is that there are lots of great critique groups out
there for every genre of writing. All should be free. Some on line, some face to face. Find one that will work for you, and
jump in. If the first one, or even the first few, you try don't work out, try some more. It can take a while to find the right fit.
It's worth it though. Most new writers are amazed at what they learn just from reading the critiques that others do in such
groups. If you write romance, I do have a large on line critique group anyone is welcome to join. You can find out about
Q. I've seen a lot of books that are over 400 pages long, some double that. Is longer better?
A. Not with what the cost of ink, paper, and postage is in today's world. Stick to whatever word count the publisher
listed in it's guidelines. It's better to come in under the count by a few words, than to go over. (And make sure that
manuscript if formatted in standard novel formatting, and that you are using the right form of word counting. I have
details on both on my Manuscript Preparation page.)
Q. I queried an agent and she rejected the MS, recommending an editing service that she felt could
really help me. She said she would look at the MS again afterwards, but I can't really afford the editing
service. What should I do?
A. Toss that letter in the trash where it belongs and mark that agent off of your list. Any agent that works with an editing
service, recommending work to them, isn't one you want to deal with. Check out some of the articles and agent info
Q. What are the chances of my work be stolen?
A. Between my website and the critique group I run, I get this question all of the time from new writers. Some fear
entering any contest, joining any critique group, even doing one on one critiques...because they just know someone is
going to take their work. I've even gotten messages from some who are afraid to send work out to an agent or
publisher, because they fear that agent or editor will copy it too.
First, I've never heard of a story being bought that hasn't ever been seen by someone else. (Smile) Second, plots and
ideas aren't under a copyright, and I don't think there is one left out there that hasn't been done a million times at least.
We just all do them a little differently. And lastly, actually taking a novel from someone and passing it off as your own, or
passing it on to another writer to then pass off as her own, is as one of my characters says...about as rare as hens
teeth. (Smile) After all, nothing ventured, nothing gained.
Q. I noticed when I look at sample query letters, that they all include stuff about the author's writing
training, writing contests' wins, are some other kinds of writing credits. What should I add if I don't have
anything like that to add?
A. Then just skip it. Don't lie for sure. There are important things you can add, like that your story is complete, everyone
needs to be able to add that. Maybe you've taken part in a critique group, or have a skilled critique partner, maybe
you've completed three other novels, yes, even if they aren't published. Maybe the hero in your story is a policeman,
and so is your husband, or maybe the heroine is a firefighter, and so are you. Maybe your story is a paranormal, and
you've taking some on line classes on the subject. Add what you can that connects to your story and your skills, and
then don't worry about the rest.
Q. Can I send out query letters to a number of agents at once?
A. As long as it's only a query, yes. Once an agent request to see the manuscript, then you need to send it to them
alone, or let them know up front that other agents are also considering the work.
Q. Is it better to try and get an agent before I send out work to publishers?
A. That can be a catch twenty-two. Many of the better agents want you to have sold a manuscript first. Maybe of the
better publishers want you to have an agent first. I know lots of writers that tried both at the same time. Note that once a
manuscript has been around to the publishers though, many agents don't want to see it. They say it's already been
"shopped around". The correct answer to this depends on each writer and where they are in their career, and where
they want to go.
Q: I actually have two questions. I’m getting ready to enter my first contest. The rules give formatting
details to follow, like font and size and even margin width. Does it really matter if I don’t follow all of
the formatting suggested? Also, the contest says I can enter the first twenty-five pages, but my first
chapter is only twenty-one pages long, and the twenty-fifth page would end at kind of boring spot. Do I
have to send in the whole twenty-five pages? Or, along the line of my first question, can I use a
smaller font and margin so I can get more of my story on those twenty-five pages?
A: If a contest says to use standard MS formatting, that’s what you should use. If you don’t know what the standards
are, I have plenty of info on that on my Manuscript Preparation page.
If the contest’s rules give you a choice of a couple of different types of formatting, but list a font and size they prefer or a
margin width they expect, make sure you stick to what they ask for. By doing so it proves you can follow rules. You
would be surprised at how many people seem unable to.
As for using a smaller font or some other trick to try to get by the rules and get more writing into your submission. Don’t.
First, judges don't get paid for their time, so if they agreed to judge twenty-five pages, they expect to judge twenty-five
MS formatted pages or less...not more because someone used a smaller font or more lines per page or a smaller
margin. Judges are usually writers and readers as well. They already have tired eyes. (Smile) Do you really want them
to have to struggle to read your entry? Or do you want them wishing it would end all ready because they know—and
they will know—that you either didn’t know what you were doing or you deliberately stuck them with crowded text just so
you could get a few more words in?
Lastly, where to end your entry is up to you—as long as you don’t go over the page limit. You don't have to end your
entry at exactly the last page allowed. In fact, it's better to end a few pages short and leave the judge wanting more,
than to push it. It doesn't take twenty-five pages to know good writing when you see it. And yes, you should have a
good story way before page twenty-five because few readers, much less agents or editors, are going to read that far
waiting to get to the good stuff. I've heard many say they give a story three pages or less to decide if it's worth reading
more. If a good agent or editor can make up her mind about a manuscript in three pages or less, I think a judge can do
the same about most of your writing weaknesses and strengths in twenty or less. (Smile)
Copyright © by Charlotte Dillon.
All rights reserved.