When is enough feedback enough?
I’m going to use the Query Letter Hell (QLH) forum on Absolute Write (AW) for my example today.
Someone posts a query. It gets critiqued. They revise and post it again. It gets critiqued. They revise and post it again. It gets critiqued. They revise and post it again. It gets critiqued.
I’ll stop there, but you can see my point. I’ve seen people (seriously — plural) with over 50 versions of their query in Query Hell. And the sad thing is, not all of these people are terrible at writing queries. Parts of the query will be great and they’ll rewrite the whole thing from scratch because one person doesn’t like it.
Queries, like stories, are subjective, people. They are NEVER going to be perfect. I mean, I thought Catching Fire was perfect, and I can still find a lot to pick at (going back to the games, kissing Gale, the inconsistency of Finnick’s personality, and don’t get me started on the movie–which I also thought was perfect). Another thing is, you’re never, ever going to get everyone to agree. The most you can hope for is a consensus. At some point you have to stop working on the query, and the story for that matter, and send that sucker out.
Sometimes it’s like the longer people obsess over their work, the worse it gets. I’ll use myself for example. Let’s take a look at a probably never going to get finished sci-fi story. The original opening chapter is this subtle thing full of personality. It’s very telling. I can get across right away who she is and what her relationship with her parents and step-father and friends are like. You get a hint of the supernatural things to come and people are immediately pulled into the story. And all these great things continued as I moved through the story. About 7 chapters in, however, I realized there were some components that didn’t belong…also, I needed to do some research, which slows me down because I procrastinate so much.
When I picked it back up some months later, I started thinking…aren’t funeral openings frowned upon?…nothing exciting is going on, she’s just sitting there, thinking. It’s interesting, but it’s not very exciting, and I don’t want people to roll their eyes because she’s at a funeral, so let’s start with some action and move this chapter to chapter two. WRONG. I wrote a new chapter one and while it was exciting in theory, it was not nearly as interesting, and I was bored. I also lost a lot of her voice. And I finally realized, the way I started the story to begin with was fine. It needs some tweaking of course, but that setting is the exact right place to start. This is, of course, if I bother picking it up again at all.
You don’t always have to start with explosions, you know. Sometimes it’s best to show the reader what the MC’s life is like before everything goes to pot so the impact you want to have will, well…have an impact. Sometimes it really is best for the story to start with them waking up from a dream. Or eating breakfast. Or running from someone or something. And all those things “they” say are cliche or overused. If you need to start the story that way, start it that way!
But my point is…you can overwork a story and get it to the point where there is absolutely nothing good you can do it. Where everything you do only messes it up.
Whenever I’m working on a query letter, I always get to the point where I’m just like, “this is interesting and interesting will have to be good enough.” They’re never going to be perfect. We’re going for a consensus. If the vast majority of the people I show it to say they think it’s interesting, it doesn’t matter if one sentence could stronger. We can tweak sentences to death. You can collapse an entire Jenga tower by removing one block.
It’s the same with editing. I have to get to the point where I tell myself “this is the LAST pass” or I will drive myself to the nut house (not actually made of actual nuts).
But it’s like, when do we reach this point? For me, personally, I know I’m at this point when I start staring at sentences for several minutes, CONVINCED that this one sentence is ruining my entire story or my entire query/blurb or whatever. That’s when I know this pass is the last pass, and it’s time to throw it off the roof and sees if it goes splat or not. Hopefully not.
Be the mother bird who kicks your baby out of the nest. The strong ones will fly…we, um, won’t talk about the others.