When to Query

This week, I’m sending out some queries. I’m as sure as I can be that these are queries I need to send, and that my project is where it needs to be to show to an agent. I know, though, that this is a big question I hear lots of writers asking–when is the right time to send that letter?

The answer is, I believe, not until your book is done. Or, if you’re writing an nonfiction book proposal, not until the proposal is done.

There are two things about this answer–first, it might seem obvious. Actually, though, I hear a lot of writers talking about sending queries out before they’ve finished revising their projects. I think they figure that there will be time, while their letter is making its way to the top of the slush pile,  for them to finish that revision. Alert: I sent one email query out at 3:00 in the afternoon and got my reply back at 6:00 that evening. No, it wasn’t a request for more pages, but I’d have been ready if it was.

Why set an agent up to want your book, if you aren’t ready to show them the whole thing? Why risk frustrating them, because you queried too soon? Wait until the book is done.

Which takes us to the second thing about my answer–another question. How do you know when your book is done. Completely done. Beautifully done. Seamlessly done.

You’re never 100% sure. At least I’m not. But you can go through a basic checklist and test your gut reaction to the questions on it. Here we go:

  • Have you written the book from beginning to end?
  • Have you rewritten that book several times?
  • Have your revision passes made substantial changes to plot, character, voice…all the biggies?
  • Have you shown your book to other people, preferably a well-read, deep-reading, serious critique group? More than once?
  • Have you incorporated the feedback of those people into you book? Yes, again, more than once?
  • When you read your project, does it feel cohesive, a complete, seamless entity? Does it feel like…a book?
  • Are you not avoiding thinking about a passage, a scene, or a chapter that jumps out at you as not fitting? Denial about not needing that next piece of chocolate is okay. Denial about fixing your project is not.

Yes, this is a lot of work. And it takes a lot of time. There is no way, though, that this time and energy is a waste.  Nothing that makes your book more ready to hook an agent could be.

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12 thoughts on “When to Query

  1. Becky,
    You’re giving some great advice here. I was at a conference last year and there were writers pitching to agents even though their books were no where near being done. They said that wanted to see if the agents liked the concept of the book. If the agents didn’t, the writers were going to change what they were writing. I think the guidelines you’ve offered in this post are excellent.

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  2. beckylevine says:

    Thanks, Mary-Frances,

    I understand everybody’s (including mine) need to test out what they’re writing, but I just don’t think that’s the way it works. I think good agents really want to see our work, as strong as we can make it.

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  3. Gottawrite Girl says:

    Oh lordie, I know the right thing to do is wait until the ms is completely finished, but OH what restraint!

    Thanks for posting, Becky, very informative!

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  4. free2cr8 says:

    Congrats on your submissions. Love the checklist too. I’m nowhere near complete. But, it’s nice to know what I should be doing to make sure that my manuscript is truly completed and ready to be let loose.

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  5. Congrats also on the submissions.

    A book is never complete, but merely as complete as our current writing ability will allow.

    It seems there is always more to learn.

    Your last suggestion is what I’m working on now. Hopefully they’ll all be addressed before I attend a writers conference in February.

    Keep us apprised about your queries!

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  6. beckylevine says:

    free2cr8–thanks! Fingers crossed. There’s always a judgement call and a gut feeling, but I think those extra passes and lots of feedback are necessary. 🙂

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  7. beckylevine says:

    Andra–thanks!

    That last part is the hardest to push ourselves to but, in some ways, the most amazing part of revision–it’s when things just get clean and beautiful and polished! Everything comes together. Good luck!

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