Saturday, December 10, 2011

When Is My Manuscript Ready To Query?

One of the excellent contributors to #AskAgent yesterday asked about what state a manuscript must be in before being sent out to query agents. My response is this: you should feel like the book could go to print tomorrow.

And, of course, everyone feels like their book is perfection. That's why they wrote it that way. But an astute writer understands that a whole team is involved in sending a book out into the world. Agents and editors edit and write kickass pitches to sell first the editor and then the sales team on the book.

So, not having HarperCollins' editorial staff on hand (unless you do...and if so call me), you have to do your best to replicate that team. So having beta reader feedback is essential. Using available resources to perfect your pitch (query) is essential. In short, yeah. You put some work in beyond typing "The End." A skeleton model of this looks thusly:

  1. Finish the book.
  2. Let it sit for a week
  3. Reread the book, correct inevitable glaring things.
  4. Send to beta readers.
  5. Consider reader feedback and incorporate. This take humility, which you will need in spades.
  6. Let it sit for a week.
  7. Reread, re-edit. Perhaps send to your most trusted Beta.
  8. Reread one more time.
  9. Query!
Time away from a book is really important in the editing process so that you don't get buried in knowing how it's supposed to read. Fresh eyes.

Take these steps and you'll not only be querying a damn fine manuscript, but you'll be leaps ahead of the people who don't do this work. Don't you want that? 


  1. It's always disheartening with this kind of advice - because not everyone has beta readers. I've even tried bribing, flattering and emotionally blackmailing people to get them to read my manuscripts. Yet I consider myself lucky if I get two people to read my story - once. I've been to writing classes, participated in writing groups, connected with writers online... I always repay with critique (if they want) and I never argue the crit I receive.

    So what do I do? Do I assume my writing is so abyssmal that no one can stand reading it?

  2. Thanks for another great post! It's good to know I'm on the right track (somewhere around step 6). :)

  3. Great post, and awesome advice.

    Malin- I think beta readers are difficult for everyone to find. It should definitely be people that read the same genre as the book. Suggestion: You might twitter your question and see if anyone has some ideas.

  4. Just wanted to add that Absolute Write and Ladies Who Critique are both excellent (free) sources for crit partners and beta readers. AW even has a "Willing Beta Readers" thread where people list themselves as ready and willing to beta. I've also found partners through the AW Share Your Work board, by approaching people who seem to offer spot-on advice consistently. As far as my in-person crit partners, I found those through SCBWI.

  5. 'Let it sit for a week', this sentence is the one I used to never listen to. I thought, "Pft, forget it. I don't need that." But my editor once told me, "Let it sit for three days, someting magical happens when you return."

    You know what?

    SHE WAS RIGHT. The fresh perspective can teach a writer so many things. It allows your mind to really start the creative process all over again. She was right, it was extremely magical.

  6. Malin, there are also excellent critique groups for writers of all genres on

  7. A week is never enough for me. Try working on two projects at once, so one can sit for a month or more before you see it again. You'll get all sorts of new ideas to improve it, and find plot holes and unclear descriptions and.... Or maybe I'm just slow on the draw.

  8. Agreed with Charley. I prefer to wait six weeks to give myself some distance from the project and to start on another story in case the one I'm working on needs extensive revisions.

  9. Agreed! Working on another project while the other one simmers works great for me. Having something completely occupy my brain and then returning to the rewrites helps immensely.

  10. Kate and Angelica,

    how advanced and personal is the crit on those sites? Most of the crit I've received in all the other sites I've been on (and what I got through Twitter etc) is not deep enough. On the personal bit, I find it difficult when complete strangers crit my work because I don't know how to evaluate their crit (which relates to the next blog post here) and because they aren't interested in clarifying the crit or re-read to tell me if the problem was solved.

  11. Hi Malin--it definitely varies, and you have to exercise some judgement and common sense. I tend to read a lot of responses on the Share Your Work forums to get a feel for who I trust to give genuine thought to their comments, and to respect my style, before I see if they're interested in trading pages off board. A deeper read for me requires an in-person crit group, but that may just be because I've found fantastic partners through SCBWI and I've stuck with them. And that's a more lasting relationship, so I'm able to follow up with clarifications and so on. Hope that helps; good luck!