Tuesday, August 09, 2011

How Do You Know When You're Ready to Query?

Working Stiffs welcomes guest blogger, editor Kristen Weber. Welcome!

How do you know when you're ready to query?

It can feel like you've been writing and revising your manuscript forever. But eventually it's time to step away from your computer and start a process that can sometimes seem even more daunting than writing your book - finding an agent.

Before you decide to start offering your manuscript to agents though, you should have had three or four unbiased readers critique it (ideally through all the phases of revision). It's impossible to see your own work for what it really is. It's like walking past the same spot in your house one hundred times before you realize your spouse moved something that was always there - your head will fill in the blanks because you expect to see it. That's why you need to call in fresh eyes to help you. Ideally those readers will be familiar with published books that are similar to yours and can offer constructive comments that aren't formed by their own opinions of what your work should be.  And after you make all of those suggestions, you should still put your manuscript away for a month or so and then come back to it with completely fresh eyes (barring that, you can also change your manuscript's font or the size of the font - sometimes that will make it look different enough and you'll be amazed at what you missed now that you're seeing it in a new way).

After you have the perfect manuscript and a perfect query letter, you can start sending it out. I recommend trying five agents or so first and seeing what kind of reaction you get. You don't want to try every agent you could possibly ever want to go with immediately and then have someone point out a tremendous flaw in your manuscript you might have missed. If you're not getting the kind of responses you want - which could be anything from hearing complete silence back on your query or getting rejections on the full manuscript - it's important that you can make changes and still have plenty of people left to try.

Finding an agent is a numbers game. It might take a lot of no's, but in the end you only need one yes. It's just important to hear what people are saying to you as you submit and be flexible and ready to make changes to your work. And rejection does not mean you should automatically self publish - instead it might mean that you need to call in a professional editor to help you get to the bottom of what is keeping you from publication. And then - even if you decide to self publish after that - at least you'll know you're going out with the very best product possible.

Kristen Weber is currently working as a freelance editor in Los Angeles after over a decade of experience as an in-house editor in New York. Please visit her web site at http://www.kristenweber.com/ for more information about the services she offers.


Joyce said...

Thanks for being here today, Kristen.

I think too many writers rush the process. They've spent a year or more on their book but expect to get an agent in a week. It rarely happens that way. Sometimes it takes months for an agent to even read the query, let alone your manuscript. My advice is take your time, writers. Take a deep breath and try to enjoy querying. It's not so bad!

Jenna said...

Good advice. Especially the part about not querying everyone at once. I see SO many beginning writers exhaust their list of agents before their manuscript is ready. By the time the story gets into the kind of shape that it probably should have been from the start, there's no one left to query.

Thanks for visiting with us, Kristen.

Kristen said...

Thanks for the warm welcome, and it's a pleasure to be here! And good advice to take a breath, Joyce. You really need to dedicate yourself to the agent process almost as much as you dedicated to writing your manuscript - which can be a hard wake up call. But it will be worth it - and once you find representation, you'll forget how hard that battle was!

Mercey Valley said...

So necessary to have those fresh eyes, and especially the objective proofies.
Kristen, you legend :) I'd follow your advice anywhere.

Patg said...

I don't believe ePublishing is a last resort after being refused by NYC. And considering current events, I do not think NYC or agents are going to be very receptive to 'good, quality writing' no matter how good the query letter.
ePublished authors have a different need. They want a consistancy/line edit. Do you do those?

Kristen said...

Hi Pat,

I understand that ePublishing isn't a last resort for all authors, but I'm talking specifically about authors who give up on querying too early. An author shouldn't self publish - and ePublishing is self publishing - just because they're facing rejection. It might mean they need to take a look at their manuscript first. I have so many clients that come to me sure their books are perfect and confused about why it's being rejected. I can tell in 1-2 chapters (or even just a few pages!) what the problem is - and many of them have gone on to agents and book deals after working with me. There's almost another level a book has to be at to catch the eye of an agent or editor and this level is where you should aim to push your writing whether you want to publish traditionally or on your own.