First, let me say that the key is getting QUALIFIED and OBJECTIVE feedback on our writing before querying.
Some feedback is neither qualified nor objective, and thus we should never rely upon it as a true gauge of our writing skill. Sources of untrustworthy feedback include:
- Postings on blogs. Most of the comments we receive are positive. Whether we share an excerpt from our books or just write something touching, our readers are always "nice." If you're like me, you'll usually find some way to encourage the blogger, and if you can't find something positive then won't say anything at all. It builds our egos, which is great, but we should never trust blogging feedback as a true measure of our abilities.
- Well-meaning relatives. Our husband may pick up our manuscript and gush over it, claiming he couldn't put it down until the last page. Or perhaps our daughter or mother read it for us, and declare it to be the next best-seller. The fact is, most of the time our relatives aren't qualified, and even if they are, they don't want to hurt our feelings by telling us the truth about our writing.
What, then, are ways we can gain qualified and objective feedback that will increase our chances of having a successful querying experience?
1. Hire a freelance editor. Yes, this is a controversial and expensive option. But I used a freelance editor and it was one of the best investments I ever made.
When you pay a trained, professional editor, you want to get your money's worth. So the more they find to help you improve, the better. They don't care if they hurt your feelings with their brutal honesty. It's what you're paying them to do.
2. Enter contests. Contests are a fairly inexpensive way to get feedback from published authors and editors. Of course, not all judges are qualified. But at least the score sheets give the judges direction, and the unanimity of the entries prevents bias.
When I entered the Genesis contest last year, I was able to compare and contrast the feedback from my three judges. When all of them noticed the same issues, I gave it greater weight in my revisions.
3. Join a skilled critique group. Notice I said "skilled." If we hope to benefit from a group, then the other writers must be at our level or beyond. Otherwise, the group functions as beta readers and not much more. They'll be able to give feedback, but more from a reader perspective than out of knowledge and experience that can help us improve.
While a critique group can work if the other members are qualified, they must also remain objective. As friendships form within groups, the objective quality may start to wan. It's hard to be completely honest when we know the truth will hurt our friends' feelings.
4. Keep learning and put it into practice by writing another book. I'm amazed at how many writers keep spitting out word count and new books, but never make an intentional effort to grow in their writing skill from one book to the next.
I firmly believe with each new book, we should find several areas where we need to improve. And we should actively and consciously look at how we can practice those skills in our first draft. How will we grow if we always put off incorporating a skill until the editing stage?
5. Research and learn industry standards. The internet makes agent and publishing house standards easily accessible for all of us. There are more writing blogs and websites than we could ever read.
We have no excuses for ignorance. We can learn all of the details about everything in the industry: guidelines, page formatting, and hot genres. If we're really desperate, we can even find out what agents are doing via twitter and why they're not reading our manuscripts.
When my manuscript sat in Rachelle's slush pile for eight months before she read it, I worked on doing the above points--I hired an editor, entered a contest, wrote another book, and learned industry standards. I even tried a crit. group for a very short time.
I should have done them before querying. Maybe then I wouldn't have had so many rejections. Perhaps I wouldn't have had to wait in Rachelle's slush pile quite so long. As it turned out, I redeemed myself by working hard during my wait. When Rachelle pulled my manuscript out to read, thankfully it was ready.
Don't make my mistake. Take the time before you query to increase your chances of success.
What do you think? Do you agree or disagree with anything in my list? What else do you think increases your chances of having a successful querying process?