The Novel: To Query or Not to Query

As this entry posts to my blog, I am wrapping up my third year at the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers retreat. This is a wonderful annual event held at a Franciscan Retreat Center in Colorado Springs. The center is in the perfect location, easily accessible from Boulder but far enough that I really do feel like I am getting away. The mountains are all around, making a quick hike or trail run easy to fit in between stints of writing in one of the quiet, cozy nooks of the residence hall. It is remarkably inexpensive but the rooms are so comfortable and they feed us three delicious meals a day.

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And how much progress did I make on my novel while I was there? Well, none directly. My novel is in its third draft and sits at 51,370 words, which is a bit short. But word count alone isn’t a good indicator of how much work has gone into it. My original goal was to have the novel agent ready by the time of this retreat, but the whole process is taking much longer than I anticipated. I’ve completed revision after revision after revision. Some scenes I’ve written six different times, trying to figure out exactly what direction they need to go and how my choice tied in to my overall theme and message. In my last iteration of my novel critique group through Lighthouse Writers Workshop, I submitted around 20,000 words for critique, all the way through the final chapter. I’ve received excellent, useful, and actionable feedback through the workshops, but submitting the last chapter left me lots to think about before diving into the next draft. I need to spend some time analyzing the weaker points of the plots and the inconsistencies in the characters’ motivations and decisions. All this effort is worthwhile because I’m going to have a book I’m really proud of at the end. I already have a book I’m proud of!

My new goal is to have the novel agent ready by the time I leave for a hiking and running trip to Yosemite in May. But even though it’s not agent ready right now (and everyone has told me not to send query letters until you have a ready-to-ship manuscript because you don’t want to miss an opportunity if someone loves your pitch and wants to read the whole thing right away), I stuck with my plan to write my query letter during the retreat.

To query or not to query. That is not the question. It’s simply not a question. Obviously I have to query. Why else am I writing a novel? The question is whom to query. The Writer’s Market is an excellent resource but is overwhelming. Another option is to check out the most popular contemporary YA novels from the last few years and look at the acknowledgements pages. Who were those authors’ agents and editors and publishers? But all of these questions aside, if I don’t have a good query letter, I won’t get anyone’s attention. So that’s what I wrote.

I also worked on six blog posts, revisited some ideas I had for another blog or blog series, started an essay for That’s What She Said, and did some abstract contemplation about my characters’ motivations and goals. I’d say I was highly productive! And I did a lot of trail running. It was sunny and in the 50s all weekend in Colorado Springs, a welcome respite from the bitter cold and snow in Boulder. Being outside in a tanktop at last, moving my body through field and forest was invigorating. And now, as they send me out the door Sunday morning with a belly full of bacon and eggs, I’m going to finish up my weekend with a brutal climb up the famous Manitou Incline. Physical exertion empties my brain, flushing it out and preparing it for more. A writing retreat is not necessarily about getting a bunch of work done on your work-in-progress. I needed this break and now I’ll be ready Monday night after work to tackle my manuscript once again.

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