How do you know if you’re ready to begin the querying process? It’s an exciting time for a writer and one that many rush into. So I put together a list of things to consider before you begin the journey that is sending out your novel for consideration.
So here it is, a five step checklist to see if you’re really ready to query. (Bonus points for saying that five times fast!)
1) Have you finished your novel?
Yep. This is real. I’m going to assume this doesn’t apply to most of the writers reading the blog. But it surprises me how often I do meet writers who think they can query an idea, and that, if they get an interested response, they will somehow churn out the project before the queried editor has totally forgotten it. Don’t do this. It won’t work out the way you want it to. And it’s not courteous of the professionals you’ll be querying to send them an idea that hasn’t become a reality yet.
Imagine the man of your dreams asked you out on a date, and as soon as you pull yourself together and respond with an enthusiastic “YES!” he tells you it was just a hypothetical question. Okay, the situations aren’t identical, but you get my point.
2) Has your novel has been beta read, critiqued, and a final draft?
It’s a bad idea to have the agent or editor you’re querying be the first person to read your novel. You need a beta reader. Someone who is a dedicated fan of the type of book you’re writing, and can give you feedback.
So who is a good beta reader? Well, it’s not your Mom, or your best friend, or your roommate. People who know you on a personal level can’t be relied on to give you the most industry relevant review of your work.
It is someone who reads and perhaps writes the same kind of books as you, and who is invested in giving you honest feedback based on typical reader expectations for your genre. Does your roommate only read science fiction and thrillers? Then why would you share your regency romance with her? That’s like asking a vegetarian who makes the better burger, McDonalds or Burger King.
There must be about ten thousand writing groups and resources on the internet. Don’t do yourself the disservice of sending out the manuscript before it’s ready.
3) Have you researched the Agent or Editor you’re querying?
You’re probably already on top of this one since you’re using this website! But it doesn’t hurt to know your target, and personalize your pitch to them. I can attest that reading a personalized pitch makes me take the project more seriously than a generic one. I get that personalizing every single pitch is time consuming. But I’ll be frank, from this point on there’s a lot about the publishing industry that’s difficult. And besides, you’re not doing this because you thought it would be easy. You’re doing this because it’s your passion!
4) Do you know the audience for your book?
This is a big one, because many publishing decisions are based on the idea of comparative titles. Meaning is there another book or author out there that is similar to you? How many people bought that book, and is there a good reason to think they will be a similar title again? I love to read a query where the author clearly lays out comparative titles or authors that they feel are similar to hers It gives me a much better sense of the project itself, as well as the author’s sense of the market.
5) Have you already sent the same exact query to fifty other people without getting a response?
This one is a tricky, because we have all heard those stories about the 200th query being the one that got the million dollar deal. And publishing is a numbers game. But if you’ve sent your query to ten or more people without getting any interest, then it may be something in your letter that is turning people off. It could be a typo in the second sentence. It could be the synopsis of the project is falling flat. It could be your comparing your project to a title that is a known flop. But the chances are it’s something. At this point, it’s worth going back to and reviewing or reworking your letter before pressing send again.
So there was the preliminary checklist. Querying is an art, and not something easily mastered. I hope this list is helpful, and helps ease the pain for aspiring writers out there.
If writing is your passion, then keep doing it, and Happy Querying!
Elizabeth May is an Editorial Assistant at Kensington Publishing Corporation where she works primarily with Editorial Director, Gary Goldstein on genre fiction, including mysteries, thrillers, romances, westerns, and select nonfiction. She recently acquired Cynthia Tennent’s Truhart contemporary romance series for Lyrical Press. She is seeking fiction in the genres mentioned above, and particularly enjoys books that walk the line between upmarket and commercial, as well as historical women’s fiction, and mysteries where the characters are as important as the crime, as in literary suspense. You can find her on twitter @LizMay05. Or send a query to firstname.lastname@example.org.