I haven’t posted in a while. It’s been upward of what…three weeks? It’s egregious—yes, I am well-aware. I could start rambling off trivial reasons and pitiful excuses, but it really all boils down to one malefic factor.
I really didn’t feel like it.
There. I said it. I didn’t feel like writing a blog post, so I didn’t. There are a number of tumultuous things running around in both my personal and professional lives right now, and I just couldn’t muster the emotional energy to write about writing.
Bizarre, eh? That’s how you know there’s something really wrong.
However, I am not at liberty to tell you about the wrong thing, so you’re just going to have to give me the grace I’m trying to give myself. I’m knee-deep in the book of Ecclesiastes (among many others) right now, and the chorus of the third chapter still tolls in the back of my mind:
“There is a time for everything,
And a season for every activity under the heavens.”
Death, life. Laughter, tears. The sweet taste of triumph—the gall of defeat. Writing your manuscript and sending out your query…
What a wonderful bait and switch! This post isn’t actually going to talk about my personal life. I just used that as a clever ploy to transition into queries.
Like the seasons, a decent Michael Bay movie, or the literary joy that once illuminated my heart, the time of the query waxes and wanes. I can guarantee with all confidence that your time in the trenches will not be as expeditious or lucrative as you envisioned, for the question I’ve been getting the most recently is this one:
When am I ready to query?
Well, the answer is “NEVER,” but we can’t go about being realists in a world of fragile dreams, can we? Your manuscript will probably never be truly ready for the trenches, but it can be aptly prepared. I know that you’re gung-ho and itching to blaze through the gates with hooves all a-clatterin, but before you send that first email, I would advise you to take a careful look at the following checklist.
ARE YOU READY TO QUERY?
A Quasi-Comprehensive Questionnaire by Author H. Kates
- Is my manuscript FINISHED?
- This is an absolute must. The last thing you want is to be caught with your pants down, rushing through the last chapters of your manuscript because you weren’t patient enough to give it the time it deserved. Think about it this way: What if you send your query and the agent replies that she wants a full read. Like—right now. How embarrassing for you.
- Is my manuscript READY?
- I’ve made this draft the absolute best it can be. I’ve done copy and line edits to the best of my own abilities.
- I let this draft sit for AT LEAST six weeks before going back to edit it AGAIN.
- It is formatted LEGIBLY and is free of errors to the best of my knowledge.
- It has been beta read by several knowledgeable parties. (I recommend at least five.)
- If I’m really concerned about grammar and spelling, I’ve hired a reasonable freelance editor to give me cursory proofs.
- Have I written a proper query letter?
- I’ve spent ample time researching what a query is and how to write one. I did my research on trusted, professional blogs.
- I’ve researched successful queries in my genre.
- I’ve been to blogs like Query Shark to explore what does and does not work so that I don’t make stupid, simple mistakes others have already made.
- I’ve emailed my query to other authors or posted it on query commentary forums to get professional feedback.
- Do I have all the necessary components?
- I have a one-paragraph, one-page, and full summary ready to go.
- I have an author bio on standby.
- My sample chapters are ready.
- I have considered relevant comp titles.
- Have I researched agents in my genre?
- I have a list of at least three agents.
- The agent markets my genre.
- I have researched the agent’s recent sales.
- I have a specific reason for querying the agent.
- I have checked, double-checked, and triple-checked the agent’s requirements.
- I have researched the agent on social media and am in tune with what he/she likes or gravitates toward artistically.
- I have researched the agent’s #mswl.
- I have personally addressed the query letter to the agent.
- I spelled the agent’s name correctly.
PRO TIP: DO NOT SEND OUT A MASS “DEAR AGENT” EMAIL!
- Am I organized?
- I have a place to record who I’m querying, when I’m querying them, and how they respond.
- I am actively forming a living list of new agents to query.
- Do I have a strategy?
- I know I’m playing a long game. I have reflected and decided on what works best for me, whether that be shooting out dozens of queries at once or sending out five-or-so at a time, waiting for the results, and adjusting accordingly.
- I’m keeping an eye on social media platforms (Twitter, Writer’s Digest, #mswl, etc.) for interested parties.
- I am actively networking in the literary world and teaming up with other authors to promote one another.
And there you have it. Now, this list is by no means comprehensive, and if you’ve already sent out letters without crossing and dotting a few of these steps, you are by no means doomed. Querying, like marriage and the game of Monopoly, is something you get better at over time. Believe me when I tell you that your failures will teach you far more than your successes.
 If I’m wrong and you’re over 21, I’ll buy you a beer. If you’re under 21, I’ll get you a juice box.
 If the book is finished, this should be an automatic yes.
 This is an EGREGIOUS mistake. Agents hate this, and you would, too. Make the letter somewhat personal. Tell the agent why you are reaching out to him/her, and for the love of Loki, spell his/her name correctly!
Photo credit to Klara Avsenik. Check out Curry and Love.