New & Improved!
When I saw the words, proud and red, on my faithful foundation—the one that perfectly matches my skin tone (because it's "smart"! For Pete's Sake, It's right there in the name, and the commercials SAY it "transforms into your perfect shade." Commercials can't lie! Right?), the one I’ve used for a few years--I automatically did a whole-body shoulder slump.
I’ve gone through “New & improved!” with my hairsprays and shampoos and my once-signature and coveted raspberry hair dye. Every time, I’ve gone in with an open mind but ended up cutting the ties.
Still, I plunked my money down and proceeded to wait until the dregs of my old and unimproved tube were squeezed out. I gave the thing one last hard tap on the counter and begged it to give me just another day of my familiar, GOOD makeup. It sputtered and farted out an infinitesimal spray before it gave up. Defeated and absolutely doubtful, I squirted a drop of the new stuff onto my makeup sponge. It looked the same, white with microscopic grey beads that are the stuff of miraculous custom color matches. I pressed it to my face in my usual quick stipples. Did it do it's smart thang in a New & improved! way? Oh, it transformed in an entirely new way, alright. Into tiny white polka dots. Still willing to give it the benefit of the doubt (i.e.: I had no other choice), I lightly swiped at the dots. White streaks. Harder swipes and more stippling. With double the effort, I achieved an even distribution and stood back from the mirror.
Baby Jane looked back at me, beauty mark, curly hair, thin eyebrows, and all.
"Okay, KC," you're saying. "Your makeup sucks now. That has NOTHING to do with writing."
Au contraire, mon frere. It does. Stay with me.
If there's one part of writing that I'm a bonafide expert at, it's unsuccessful querying. I've done it all. True story.
--Tried to catch agent's attention by starting out with imaginative prose about myself and what itchy muse drives me to write? Check.
--Taken on the persona of my MC with a quote? Done it.
--Asked a rhetorical question? Yawn.
--Addressed an agent as a Ms. when he was a Mr.? Of course.
I could go on. I have several years of bad querying under my belt (but don't tell my agent--she's supposed to think I sprung fully-formed and ready to go from the head of Zeus. Yeah, right). The mistake that's a less obvious no-no to those in the query trenches, though, is the "I know you're busy, but I've made significant changes to my ms since I sent my query/requested pages. Would you mind switching?" email to agents. AKA, The NEW & IMPROVED! email.
Don't get me wrong, it has its place. Sometimes it really does make a positive difference. Usually? No.
"But right after I sent out my query and first chapter, I found three typos, an extra comma, AND I figured out a REALLY clever rewrite of my last sentence that's TOTALLY going to grab Dream Agent! She won't be able to say no, and if I don't try, I'm going to obsess about it and never forgive myself if she rejects what she has!"
Deep breaths. Let's talk this through before you send that sufficiently humble and self-deprecating email asking for a do-over that you'll "never, ever in a million years ask for again, promise!" I wrote that email, sometimes in the middle of the night, more than a few times. Correction: more than a few unsuccessful times. Kind agent graciously accepted the new pages; in that aspect, I was successful. Those new pages didn't matter though, and looking back, I know why. Most of the bumps and bruises in my long querying career had to be experienced to be learned, but I'd love to point out at least one pothole before you hit it, yourself.
Before you hit send, make sure you actually made the changes you think you did. Once you tell Dream Agent you've made significant changes, you've set yourself up to deliver. She's taken the time to read your (second) email, respond to it (not always, don't get me wrong), and swap something she may have already read (for all you know, it's sitting in her "maybes," or perhaps she's a no-response-means-no agent and she's already let go of it, but she's giving it another shot). If the changes you've promised are actually nothing more than punctuation reworks and cleverly re-worded sentences that (probably) only you notice, and they aren't global changes/character changes/pacing changes, you've just shown that agent that you don't truly know how to handle the real, big picture changes of revision and editing. Ruh-roh.
Changing a character's name or his outfit on pg 13, so he can swing his cape in the face of his nemesis, instead of stomping away, isn't a significant character change. Combining three minor characters into one larger character who becomes a foil with more depth and bearing on the MC's overall story arc, THAT is a character change. Cutting/combining whole chapters that aren't moving the story along and re-arranging others to fill in the gaps those extractions made, THAT is global change.
In other words, make sure that your NEW & IMPROVED! manuscript really is before you put the spotlight on yourself for something that's the same...or gah! the opposite of improved. Don't put lipstick on the problem and shoot it into the world again. Fix the problem (even if it means getting that dreaded R while you do). That first query and its pages are already out there. If your gut is insisting that you aren't putting your best foot forward with the manuscript you have now, value your dream and your craft. Allow yourself time to make the down and dirty changes that will land requests--or better yet, offers! Your goal is to achieve that custom-match (see what I did there?).
Making promises you don't deliver only guarantees that you end up in the trash.