Seven Things to Do Before Querying Your Novel

Finished your book? Starting to query agents and editors? Wondering how you can stand out from the slush pile? Check off these seven steps before sending off your manuscript, and you’ll be well ahead of the game.

1. Edit. A book that has not been edited by a third party is not your best book, and working with a critique partner or hiring a professional editor is always a smart move for your manuscript. You can connect with thousands of other writers online or in your local community and even find folks in your genre who are willing to read your work and provide notes. A second set of eyes can provide invaluable feedback and catch those pesky typos that you’ve overlooked.

2. Write the pitch. When querying agents or editors, you will need to have a strong pitch to get their attention. Your pitch should follow these basic guidelines:

  • The hook: One or two sentences that explain the importance or uniqueness of your book. Think of it as the tagline for a movie—you need to draw readers in with high stakes, interesting comparisons, or brand-new information.
  • The story: One or two paragraphs that highlight key elements of your book without giving away the ending.
  • The author: A brief paragraph about who you are, including previous publishing credentials.

3. Write the synopsis. Synopses are not easy to write, but they are well worth the effort. A synopsis captures the full plot of your book in 2-5 pages. Some editors will ask for a shorter or longer page count, but all of them want to know who your key characters are, the main plot points, and the ending.

4. Put together a proposal. Many agents and editors only require a query letter and sample chapters when reviewing a manuscript. However, some prefer to see a fiction proposal (learn more about creating one here). And even if a proposal isn’t necessary, it’s a great exercise for you to go beyond the text of your novel and think about platform, marketing, readership, and competitive titles.

5. Create an online home. You may not need to have a Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, blog, website, Tumblr, and a Wattpad account, but you should probably have one or two of those. Agents and editors will definitely look you up, so make sure whatever you have out there online there is relevant and professional.

6. Research your market. I always recommend writing the book of your heart, but it’s doubly nice when the book of your heart is read by other people. Before you send your manuscript into the great unknown, learn more about your target audience. Is there a demographic your story will reach? Are you writing on a topic that is trending in the marketplace? Have books like yours sold well in the past? Understanding who your reader is will make it that much easier to reach them.

7. Make the time. There will be time spent researching the right agent or publishing house. There will waiting time as you anticipate a response to your query. If you’re lucky, there will be revision time. If you’re less lucky, there will be research time toward a different agent or publishing house. Plan ahead and make the time for your book. If you’re entering a busy stretch in your life, consider waiting to move forward with your manuscript until life slows down. The more time you can dedicate to improving your book and sharing it with others, the more likely you are to find success.

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