One of the most difficult parts of the querying process is deciding when to query. How do you know if your manuscript is ready? If your query is ready? You don’t want to waste your one opportunity with this agent, but you also don’t want to waste time. So how do you decide you’re ready to take that step?
Unfortunately, I don’t think there’s any one right answer to this question. There’s no magical moment when you realize your MS is perfect (because it’s never perfect). But it’s also important not to jump in too soon and send out something that isn’t ready. The best way to prepare yourself to query is to evaluate your manuscript and submission materials carefully.
So, here are some questions you should ask yourself before you begin querying:
- Have you made your story as good as you can make it?
This is the most important question you should ask. Your MS should be as good as you can possibly make it before you begin querying. Even if you’ve revised once, you probably need to revise again. If you reread your manuscript and still find major issues, it’s not ready. But if you’ve reread several times and haven’t found anything more to fix than word choice and typos? You’re probably ready!
- Have you received feedback from trusted critiquers?
Some writers never seek out feedback from other readers before sending their MS to an agent, but it’s impossible for the writer to know which aspects of their work are being conveyed clearly to readers unless they seek out feedback! It’s crucial to work with critique partners and beta readers while revising your MS to make sure it’s truly as good as it can be. And if you’ve sought out feedback and are still struggling with revision, it might be beneficial to hire a freelance editor to help you. But if you’ve received feedback and revised accordingly, you’re probably ready for the next step.
- Do you know what your story is really about?
A crucial aspect of writing a good query letter is being able to condense your story down into a simple pitch. In order to do this, you need to understand what your story is. You should be able to tell someone what your book is about within a few sentences. Sum up who’s involved, what their goal is, what the conflict is, and what’s at stake as concisely as you can.
- Have you researched how to write a query letter?
Query letters are very specific to the publishing industry and have a very specific set of standards. Before you attempt to write a query, make sure you’ve researched how to write one and looked at plenty of examples. I’ve written several posts about querying on this blog, and I highly recommend checking out the examples on Query Shark as a starting point.
- Can you name comp titles?
As I’ve said before, comparison titles aren’t an absolute necessity in your query. However, the right comp titles can help you considerably. And even if you don’t include them in your query, it’s good to have an idea of where your book fits into the marketplace so you know the best way to pitch it. Research and read other titles similar to yours so you know what’s already out there and how your book compares.
- Have you researched agents?
It’s important to research agents before you begin to ensure both that you’re querying agents who are legitimate and that they are a good fit for you and your work. While it’s good to query widely, there are many agents out there, and not all of them will be the right match for you. For more about how to research agents, see this post.
- Did you read the submission guidelines?
I’ve talked about this one before too, but I’ll say it again: Follow the submission guidelines before you query! Different agents have different guidelines, and it’s crucial that your query follows them. Make sure you check the sub guidelines for every single agent you plan to query before you send it. Most agents will make these very clear somewhere on their website.
Finally, I’d like to refer you to this great post by author Traci Chee, who has created a fantastic flowchart on this topic. If you can answer all the questions posed both here and in Traci’s post, then you’re probably ready to query!
And if you’re feeling daunted by all of this, don’t worry. The point here is to make sure that you’ve done all you can to make your MS and submission materials as good as they can be. It will take time and effort to get there, but in the end, you’ll have a story you can be proud of.
What do you think? Have you followed these steps? How do you determine if you’re ready to query? Let me know in the comments!
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This post is part of my Submission Tips series. For more info about submitting your work to publishers and agents, check out the other posts in the series here, and follow the blog to see future posts!