QueryTracker Blog

Helping Authors Find Literary Agents

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Curing The Query

All right people. I’m going to expound a profound truth about publishing.

It’s slow.

I know many of us want to rush things. We want to “hurry up and get the book done.” Then we have to “hurry up and have people critique the book.” Then we have to “hurry up and write the query letter.”

Believe me, I’m a hurry-ier. But I’m here to tell you to stop. Or at least slow down. I think it’s pretty common knowledge that after you finish a novel, it needs to go through a “curing” stage where you don’t open it, read it or think about it. It just sits quietly on your hard drive while you do something else.

I’ve heard and read different amounts of time for this "curing", but I like to leave mine for about a month. Sometimes less, sometimes more depending on a myriad of factors. But it cures. Then you can open it up, and really edit the heck out of it, because it’s fresh as you’re reading it.

The same goes for a query letter. I’ve seen so many examples of talented, lovely people who post their query letters for critique. They get said critiques and come back in, literally, hours with a revamp.

To me, that’s a #queryfail.

You need to let the query cure, just like you let the manuscript cure. I learned this with my very first query-critiquing experience. Janet Reid was doing a query-critiquing activity called Query Roulette, way last year. Mine was chosen. She thrashed it. But part of the deal was that we could do revisions and send them back to her. So I did. And she gave me some of the most valuable advice I’ve ever received.

“MUCH better! Another polish or two, just the kind of thing you'd do after you let it sit a week and go back to it with a fresh eye, and you've got a good letter. Good job!”

Here are the words that stuck out to me: “…after you let it sit for a week and go back to it with a fresh eye…”

Ah…so the query needs time to cure too. In fact, now I usually write my queries in stages, in completely separate documents. I lump the hook and the setup together and work on them first. Then I lump the conflict and the consequence together and work on them last. (Don't know what I'm talking about with the parts of a query letter? Click over on the right where it says "Writing Query Letters".)

And I always, always, always let at least 3 days go by before opening any part of the query and working on it again. After I put the whole thing together, I've mandated that a week go by before I look at it again. THEN I post it for critique. And after gathering those valuable crits, I wait again, really digesting their comments and questions and impressions, before diving back in to edit.

Because, just like your 90,000 word manuscript, your query letter needs time to cure.

By the way, if you want to see my query and Ms. Reid's full comments, you can click here. I posted it in the QueryTracker forum when it was all going down.

What do you think of this "curing" process? Dare I say that it should be applied to synopses as well? Do you think you have a keener eye on something you haven't read for a while?

Will you try it on your query letter and see if it helps? It might at least make the query writing process go smoother. Well, we can hope, right?

Elana Johnson writes science fiction and fantasy for young adults. Besides a serious addiction to the Internet, she can never get enough reality TV, Dove dark or reasons to laugh. Click here to visit her blog.


Stina said...

Great Post, Elana! I now write my query early in the editing stage of my novels, that way it has plenty of time to cure. It also lets me see the story condensed in a few sentences, then I can tell whether some serious rewriting of the story is necessary. If the query sounds boring and confusing, chances are so does the ms.

That's a great suggestion to do the same with the synopsis.

Unknown said...

Great post. Thanks for being so open and sharing your query letter (along with Janet's comments) with us. It was great to see an example of a query revision that's in the same genre as my own. :)

Rick Daley said...


Great post, I'm going to link to it over at the Slushpile. I've had days where a query has been revised several times in a single day. Sometimes there is a marked improvement, but the longer the revision takes, the better it usually is.

I "won" a query critique by Nathan Bransford earlier this year. It took me about 2 weeks to mull over his feedback and re-write the query. I sent it to him and got a partial request, but he declined to go further. I did get great feedback, which I mulled over and then started re-writing the MS (from scratch...ugh!). It was a difficult choice, but I'm glad I made it because my book is 1000% better this time around. A re-write is wholly different from editing and revising, it takes time, but it's worth it.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you about the curing time for novels and, especially, queries. Here's my concern, though. When I'm a Real Writer, I'm going to have deadlines. I'm not a fast writer. It takes me about a year to get a complete manuscript written and ready to go. I'm hoping to shave that time down to six months because I'd like to have two novels published every year until the day I die. How can I reach that goal if I let my novel 'cure'? Is this something only newbies have to do? Do published authors have the luxury of setting their manuscripts aside for a month when they have deadlines to meet?


worldofhiglet said...


It's a horrible truth but it is just that - the truth. The pressure to complete, move on and DO SOMETHING is intense and it's very hard to take a step back and consider that actively doing nothing is the way forward.

And if, like me, you read this and other articles and still persist in trying to rush things then go ahead and send that query off. When you get the form rejections you will then hopefully take the time to take the time, revisit all the great information you read and decided to ignore, and then produce the query letter that will take you further.

I'm in the process of taking the cure at the moment :)

Melanie Hooyenga said...

I think this makes perfect sense. I wrote my query after my fourth draft, while it was out with a couple betas. I knew the odds were good that it would be the final pass of my MS, so I wanted to get a jump-start on the query.

About a month later, after I worked on my beta edits, I went back to my query and posted it for critique. I got some good suggestions, let them sit a couple days, and wrote my final (I hope) version.

I'm querying now and so far have had one nibble.

Alyssa Kirk said...

Wonderful advice. It's amazing how much better you can see the flaws and fix them after you have stepped back.

Writing the query and synopsis is so different from the manuscript. You're going from detailing your story in the MS to a 'big picture' view in the query and synopsis. It's a different mind set, so stepping back and getting perspective is sound advice.

Alyssa Kirk said...

I just checked out the critique from Janet Reid. Isn't it interesting that in your first query you don't mention that Jonathan is a ghost? You say he doesn't have a beating heart (and yes great line) and that the wizard can make him human but don't say what he is.

The story is so clear and imbedded in your brain that you just think it's obvious to everyone that he's a ghost.

I did the same type of thing when I first started writing my query. Thanks so much for sharing your query and the critique. You did a great job on the revisions.

Scott said...

I'm all about the curing thing with my manuscript and the query letter . . . as you well know. ; )

I've recently been braving The Public Query Slushpile for critiques on my query. I'm probably one of the few who lets a week or so go by before I repost with minor/major changes.

Perseverance and Patience are the keys to writing.

Great post!


MAGolla said...

A very timely post, Elana!
I've written about four versions of my current query (waiting a few days between each version to digest the suggestions before rewriting the darn thing). I had a very real fear that I had written my voice out of the 4th version--it was confirmed by my CP--so I went back to #3 and compiled a new version, ultimately #5, but I call it 3B.
Sometimes it is better to walk away and query a few 'test' agents instead of tinkering and removing your voice.

Tara McClendon said...

I think it's important to take a look at everything you write with fresh eyes. And if you don't have time to let it cure--seek help from writers or editors you trust.

Rachael said...

Great post! I've always had severe difficulties with letting my manuscripts cure. I finish one, and then right away I want to jump into editing. Once I tried to let my novel cure for a week between edits. I think I lasted about four days.

Queries though, I have no problem letting them cure. But that's probably because I dread coming back to them.

Violet said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Violet said...

Amen. Great post.

Bethany Wiggins said...

Crap! I am so impatient. I guess this makes total sense, but yeesh! So much waiting in the writing world. As always, your advice is exactly what I needed to hear. Thanks for sharing your query with us. You are the query guru, Elana.

ali cross said...

Haha! I agree! Maybe this is why my queries and synopses suck so dang bad ... because I try to hurry through them and then don't let them sit and "cure" as you said.

Great advice ... thanks Elana!

Elana Johnson said...

Wow, guys, great comments! I'm glad you enjoyed the post; sorry I didn't check in sooner, I've been geysering it up in Yellowstone! :)