Knowing the Right Time to Query

Hello wonderful people! I’ve been working hard on my latest round of revisions, and now, I’m almost at the point I’ve been so excited to reach: the query phase!

I’ve often asked myself the question I’m sure all writers are familiar with: how do you know when your story is ready to query?

For my experience and from watching and talking with other writers, there isn’t a single way to know. Some of it comes down to a gut feeling, but there a few signs writers can consider on their way to feeling more confident about querying.

For one, most agents tend to request the first 5-10 pages, and nearly all have agreed that the first page has to be SOLID. It needs to show a compelling voice, the main character’s basic goal, and kick off the story in the right place. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve revised (or completely scrapped) this beginning page/first chapter in order to nail it. I shared my first page/chapter with several trusted readers in various iterations, and once I stopped getting major suggestions or critiques, I knew it was on the right track. If you’re looking for a resource about nailing the first page, check out author Alexa Donne’s YouTube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NZSTcBRp8gg (You’ll find a lot of amazing resources here!)

Next, your query letter should go through multiple rounds of edits in order to be a compelling, succinct pitch for your book. In short, it needs to encapsulate your main character, their goal, what’s standing in their way, and the stakes. I’ve revised my query even more than my first pages, which I didn’t think possible! And while not all agents will request a synopsis, many will– this is a brief summary of your entire story, including spoilers and the main character(s) arc. Both queries and synopses are tough to write and even harder to nail, so for more resources, check out Susan Dennard’s site: https://susandennard.com/for-writers/

While the first pages, query and synopsis are some of the absolute most important pieces when querying, they’re still only pieces of the larger puzzle. The rest of your story should be completely ready to send, so if an agent requests more pages, you’re ready to go. The last thing you want is to make an amazing first chapter, and have the rest of your story not be ready yet. 

What I’ve focused on most recently is making sure my characters feel built out, that they have a clear arc, that the voice feels unique, that the pacing doesn’t lag, that there’s enough worldbuilding to paint a clear picture, that I don’t overuse certain words or phrases… this is a LOT! And it’s why my book has gone through several revisions focusing on different portions. I’ve also had several rounds of beta readers to help me catch such things, and now, I’m working on one final round with my critique partner before querying.

This is all well and good, but I still ask myself: am I ready? Have I done enough? Would one more round of revisions after this one be better? Do I even need this final round of revisions?

That’s where some of the gut feeling comes in. With every round of revisions, I’ve had this deep sense that the story has gotten stronger. Beta rounds have helped massively, because some of the issues I had in early drafts are no longer being brought up, which means I’ve likely fixed those issues. My first chapter has been strengthened many times over, and thanks in part to RevPit, I got some incredibly positive feedback for my early pages. My last two readers loved the story and offered some great suggestions to make it better. So while I have final tweaks/points to clarify, my gut says I’m nearly there.

Perhaps the biggest question I’ve asked myself: is this my best writing to date?

I can say, without a doubt, that it is. At a point, I’d just be tweaking words for no real reason, other than to have something to do. And that’s the thing: I can revise this book forever if I want to. It’s not due anywhere, no one is forcing me to turn it in. So I have trust myself and my readers to know I’ve done enough.

I wrote a book before this and spent five years on and off with revisions. I wasn’t as serious yet about my writing, and there came a point where I had done the most I could at the level I was capable of doing. I consider it a ‘trial’ book that taught me so, so much, from what to do and definitely what not to do. And though I eventually queried and shelved it, at the time, that really was my best writing. I’m glad I queried when I did, because the experience was invaluable, and it kicked off everything to come with this story. 

Having trusted readers (I try to have a mix of fellow writers and non-writers so I get various opinions) was perhaps the biggest help. I did have a couple beta readers for my first book, but it was a brand new experience for all of us. And there was so, so much I still needed to learn.

Querying is also a long road, and I’ll be doing it in rounds (I’m aiming to have about 10 queries out at a time). This is hugely important, because if I end up getting a bunch of rejections at once, I may go back to my materials and see what might need to be altered. If I’m getting tons of form rejections, it’ll mean my query isn’t where it should be. If I get a lot of requests and then rejections after sending my pages, it’ll mean my query is good but the pages likely aren’t strong enough.

The last bit I’m reminding myself is that there are no guarantees, even if I feel ready to query. My goal is to do better than I did for my first book, to get some partial requests and full requests. I’m also focusing on handling the process better emotionally–rejections felt devastating on my first book, but I’ve learned (hopefully!) to take it less personally, and to keep going. I would be over the moon if this book earns me an agent, and it would be a dream come true if it’s published. But since I can’t control those things on my own, for now, I’m simply making sure *I* am ready, no matter what happens next.

If you’re on the query road or are about to be, let me know! I’ll be rooting for you!

~Valerie

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