SavvyAuthors Blog: Deciding When to Query

There are few things more rewarding than receiving paralleled excitement about your manuscript from someone who has just read it, hence the sharing addiction that many writers often fall into. Once we as writers have overcome our writerly sensibilities of “I don’t want to share my writing with anyone,” next comes the please-read-and-love-this phase.

The writers who continue after their publication pursuits must at some point share their writing with other writers and have it “workshopped” (or critiqued by several writers). Sometimes, we as writers get so excited about the story that’s unfurling on the page before us, we want to skip the editing and workshopping step and go straight to submissions. (Trust me, I’ve been there, too.)

However, there is an ideal time to submit your manuscripts for consideration by a literary agent or editor.

For fiction manuscripts, only send a query once your manuscript is completed (and polished). This is one of the first mistakes I see writers make when I’m reading queries on behalf of the Corvisiero Literary Agency: writers querying literary agents either before their manuscript is done or right after they completed draft one.

Don’t do this.

Addressing the first mistake, query letters should only be sent when you have a completed (fiction) manuscript and not when you’re still in the process of writing it. Agents’ jobs are to pitch completed manuscripts to editors at various publishing houses (in the hopes of getting it onto the shelves). They can do nothing with an unfinished manuscript.

For nonfiction projects, however, many literary agents prefer that you submit a book proposal and sample chapter to them prior to completing your manuscript. This is largely due to the fact that agents tend to have more hands-on involvement with nonfiction, as it’s a pretty different ballgame than fiction.

Jumping back to mistake number two, don’t send a query after just completing your manuscript.

As the famous Terry Pratchett quote says: “The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.”

Your first manuscript draft is a time to be creative, make mistakes, get to know your characters and setting, and see where the story takes you. It should not be the final draft. In this first draft, you are simply putting what’s in your head onto the page—recording the story as you see it.

What most people write in the first draft, as was also the case with me, doesn’t convey well to the reader. Think about it—you have all this awesomeness bopping around in your head, and it may not always be conveyed similarly to the reader. They can’t see what you see, what’s in your brain. That is why editing your manuscript and then workshopping it with fellow writers is a must to make sure the readers are able to be as fully immersed in your story as you are (and can see the story unfolding the way you see it).

Now, there are those mythical creatures who rumor claims finish a nearly perfect manuscript on the first draft. I’ve heard of them, and perhaps you have too. However, it’s never a good idea to get in the mindset (especially as a writer) that you are the exception to the rule. Most of these unearthly wizards who compose a perfected first draft are writers who have been writing novels for years and have dozens of first drafts they had to scrap or edit the shnockers out of.

When queries say something to the effect of, “I’m writing today to submit to you my recently completed novel…”, 99 percent of the time those sample pages need a lot of editing (which results in an automatic pass from the agency).

And, as many literary agencies only allow you to submit one project to one agent at an agency only once, you don’t want to waste the one shot you have submitting something that isn’t ready (and not being able to submit to that agent again later once you’ve thoroughly edited your story).

So, when is the ideal time to submit a manuscript to a literary agent or editor? After you have completed your fiction manuscript, edited it several times on your own, and have workshopped it with critique partners.

As much and as often as you can, get eyeballs on your work and ask for feedback. You never know how much a scene, chapter, or entire manuscript can improve with some due diligence and persistence.