Are you ready to query?
Querying your novel can be daunting and exciting all at once. Perhaps you’re dying to get started; perhaps you’re hesitant to finally hit “send.”
Remember, DO NOT RUSH INTO QUERYING. This isn’t a race, and publishing is SO SLOW. When you start sending queries, it’s likely you won’t hear back from agents for at least six weeks–or maybe not at all.
Take your time. It’s so much better to go slow and know that your book is at its best than to query a project before it’s ready or, even worse, before it’s even finished.
If you’ve edited, primped and prepped, check out these questions, and who knows? You may be ready to dive into querying.
ARE YOU READY TO QUERY? Check out these questions first.
- Is your book finished?
Please don’t pitch or query your book if you’re still revising, if you’re waiting back from a beta, or if you still have some chapters to write. If this is the first draft, don’t query that, either.
- Has your book been read by other people?
Critique partners and beta readers are hugely important. You need to make sure your book has been self-edited and then viewed by other people. While finding cheerleaders is important, you also need people who can give you good, honest feedback on your project, people who will point out confusing or poorly-written elements in your book. Implement feedback that you find aligns with the vision of your story, even if their critiques are a tough pill to swallow.
- Have you read through your book?
Read through one more time, out loud, if you can. It’s a great way to do one last check through for typos and awkward sentences.
- Have you written your query?
This seems obvious, but yes, you do need a query to send a query 😉 There are lots of resources for writing a query. The best queries I read answer the following questions:
–Who is your character?
–What do they want?
–What will they do to get what they want?
–What stands in their way?
–What happens if they fail?
–How many words long is your book?
–What is the genre and age category?
–Why are you qualified to be the author of this book?
- Have you written your synopsis?
Most agents will ask for a one-page, single-spaced synopsis. Synopses are BORING. They are just meant to list the events of the story. Yes, that includes “spoilers.” I find the easiest way to do this is to make 1-3 sentence summaries for each chapter, squish them together, and then cut out any unnecessary bits. I also help edit and shorten synopses for $10, if that is of interest! You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Has someone else read your query?
As before, it’s a great idea to have someone look over your query to check for awkward sentences or confusing or vague language.
- Do you have GOOD comp titles?
“Comp titles” are titles that you compare your own book to in your query. There are some ground rules for picking comp titles:
–Pick one to three titles, with two being the sweet spot
–Don’t compare your book to The Hunger Games, Harry Potter, Stephen King on the whole, Twilight, or Lord of the Rings. Those titles are overdone and you will look a little overconfident!
–While you can use movies, comics, TV shows, video games, or the like for your comp titles, at least one of your comp titles should be in your age category, genre, and written in the past five years. So you can get away with saying “My book is SHARKNADO meets WILLY WONKA” for your sci-fi Young Adult novel as long as you also include a Young Adult sci-fi published in the past 5 years.
- Is your word count appropriate?
If your Young Adult novel is over 100k words, that word count is too high. If it’s under 10k, it’s way too low. There are lots of sites that tell you which word count is ideal for each genre (you can get away with lower word counts for Contemporary YA and higher word counts for YA Fantasy).
“But Catherine,” you say, “Author So-and-So published her novel and it was 120k words!”
So-and-So is the exception and not the rule. You will make it SO much easier to find an agent if you keep your word count within the standards of the market. The more words you have, the more pages publishers have to print, the more expensive your book will be. Publishers are taking a gamble on you. When you have an agent, if you’re still passionate about the super long version of your book, talk to them on how to proceed.
- Is your book standalone?
Standalone is just what it sounds like — can your book be read and sold on its own, even if there were never any sequels published? I know what you’re thinking, “But the twelve sequels are NECESSARY to my story being told!” Unfortunately, it’s very rare for an agent or a publisher to want to pick up a twelve-book series (sometimes you’re lucky to even get two). While you can have plans to write a sequel, it’s easier to sell your book if it can first stand alone. Then, once you prove to your publisher that you can sell, or once you get an agent, things may change and your sequels may come out after all!
- Is your book in MS format?
Here’s a resource on that. In short, your file needs to be double spaced, in Times New Roman, 12 point font, and with page numbers. Also include your name, your email, and the MS name in the header.
- Do you have a list of GOOD agents?
Make sure the agents you pick are a good match for your genre and age category. Don’t submit your alien erotica to someone who is known for selling picture books. Don’t submit your book to any Joe who has a website and claims they’re an agent. DO YOUR RESEARCH. Publisher’s Marketplace costs money for some information, but a lot of information about agents or agencies can be gleaned from their website or from some old-fashioned snooping. In my opinion, if you don’t see any book covers or titles or authors listed out in the open on their website, that’s a red flag. Find proof of their sales.
Keep in mind also the goals for your book. If you want your novel to be published by a big publisher and distributed internationally, find out if the agency has sold to big houses before. If you’re okay with small publishers or ebook-only publication, keep that in mind as you search for your agent match.
- Do you have a WIP waiting in the wings?
Working on another project is great for your sanity and for your career. It’ll keep your mind off of waiting and give you another option to query later OR a book that could sell with your future agent. There have been several authors who got an agent for their next-option book and then published their first “book of their heart” book once they already had an agent.
- Lastly, do you have a support team?
Find a group of writers who are also querying. I found my #llamasquad just by asking Twitter if someone would like to join a group with me. Writers will understand the struggles of waiting and rejections and revising more than your non-writing friends will. Trust me–this step is super important. Querying is a trying time, and having people to be there for you will make a big difference.
All set? Pick no more than ten agents from your list (save your dream agents for a little later, once you’ve proven that your query and materials get you requests). Follow those submission guidelines and hit send. WELCOME TO QUERYLAND!!