Editing,  Writing World

Enough is Enough?

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.


  • Crystal Collier

    I’m smiling because I’ve totally been there. Truthfully, for queries I find it best to grab someone who writes your genre and have them do an intensive back and forth to get it right. Everyone has an opinion and the value of works comes in targeting the people who are your intended audience. I no longer toss things to critique groups, but select individual readers I know will improve the work.

    At any rate, let’s not over edit, eh? I’ve seen awesome stories get torn apart so bad they could never be put back together. It’s not a pretty sight.

    • Krystal Jane

      Right! I feel so bad for people when they fall into an editing hole. It gets to the point where you have to give up or start over from scratch. >.<

  • Tonja Drecker

    Ask two people for advice and get three answers. No one will ever find anything perfect. I agree with Crystal, find someone (or two or three) you respect in the same genre and have them give their two-cents. But the most important CP is probably your own gut. When it says ‘this is good enough’, believe it. Over editing is worse than over baked brownies. Yuck.

    • Krystal Jane

      Over baked brownies are such a waste. 😛 I’ve been getting a lot of signs lately that it’s time to start getting a second (or third) eye on my work. Ha,ha…I’m working up the courage. 🙂

  • Sunflower Michelle

    I was just reading a post over in the IWSG Facebook forum–one member has apparently written her book 18 times.

    I’ve never ever written the same story 18 times. I revised the Keegans four times and then decided that was enough. It was best I could do with that particular story at the time.

    My problem might be in finding a CP of the same genre. There aren’t a ton of hist fic writers out in the blogosphere.

    • Krystal Jane

      18!! That is so ridiculous! I hate to see stuff like that. I want to smack them…in the helpful kind of way. Lol! I usually stop myself around three or four revisions, too. It gets to the point where I know it too well to find any more flaws.

      Maybe you could find a CP that just reads a lot of historical. That might be even more helpful.

  • Thea Landen

    I decided to accept long ago that when it comes to writing (or any art, really), it’s impossible to please everyone. Accept and move on. Especially when it comes to bad reviews of published work, 😉

    Also, my new sci-fi project may or may not start with an explosion….

    • Krystal Jane

      Lol! I haven’t started with an explosion yet, but I want to find a way! Someone is always going to hate our books for no reason. 😛 Might as well love it to pieces ourselves. ^_^

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