Run Through This Checklist Before Querying a Publishing Agent

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“Plant a tree, have a child, write a book.” That was the advice, right? It’s no surprise they said nothing about getting that book published because it can be more difficult than actually writing it. 

Publishing a manuscript takes much more work, time, and effort than just finishing it (an impressive feat in and of itself). There are a few things you need to do before you start querying publishing agents, which can be a daunting and time-consuming task. It may feel discouraging to realize that you still have a heavy workload to tackle before your book hits the shelves, but this is all part and parcel of the industry. 

Fortunately,  you don’t have to do it alone. To increase your chances of getting published, check out our targeted lists of agents and publishers and query packages

Now, let’s start at the beginning. 

1. Finish your manuscript

Too many emerging or first-time authors start querying agents before their manuscript is even finished, which can only lead to problems down the line. In some cases, these could prove fatal to your book or at least dramatically impair your ability to bring your story to the world.

First, you know how much a story can change from beginning to end, how things evolve during the writing process, and how the ideas you were so certain of when you started writing can suddenly seem immature or incoherent. So, give yourself enough time to finish your manuscript before you start writing synopses and query letters—don’t trap yourself by defining your story before it’s ready. You may end up with one you don’t like and aren’t proud of, if you even manage to muster up the gusto to finish writing it. 

Second, if the agent likes your pitch, they’ll ask for a full manuscript, which you obviously can’t share with them if it’s not ready. That’s a guaranteed way to make a poor first impression on someone who could become your business partner, so don’t set yourself up for failure. They may not be willing to wait around for you to complete the manuscript, meaning you may have to look for a new agent when you do finish it.

Also, keep in mind that when we talk about complete manuscripts, it’s understood that they have been professionally proofread and edited. The last thing you want is to send off a manuscript full of typos and errors to an interested agent. A mistake-riddled manuscript signals to the agent that you’re lazy; even worse, if your writing hasn’t been edited, it may also be full of clunky, awkward sentences or ambiguous structures that confuse the reader. Even the best authors need the professional guiding hand of an editor. If you have finished writing your manuscript but haven’t had it edited by a professional, check out our proofreading and editing services

2. Build a contact list

Most of your time will be spent finding potential agents you can work with. There are plenty of places to look for agents but finding a legitimate one is the hard part, especially if you’re new to the publishing industry. Sure, you could fire off a generic query letter to every literary agent you happen across, but you definitely shouldn’t. You almost certainly won’t land an agent that way—you’ll just end up disheartening yourself.

There are several things to consider when choosing your prospective agents, from their experience in your genre (don’t pitch a romance novel to a children’s book agent) to their reputation (you want someone with a successful track record), their clout in the industry (will they get you into book fairs and events? Are they well-connected and proactive?), and even their personality (you’ll be spending a lot of time together, so it’s important you get along). You’ll also want to keep an eye out for any suspicious behavior from a potential agent because there are bad actors out there who prey on unsuspecting budding authors.

If you want to skip the hours of scouring the internet and beware lists, we can deliver a targeted list of agents specifically tailored for you. 

3. Put together a query package

Once you’ve picked your top agents, it’s time to put a query package together. As mentioned above, most agents will only ask to see your full manuscript after they’ve gone through your query package, which is basically a sales pitch that describes your project and introduces you as an author. This means the query letter is effectively your only chance to sell the agent on your manuscript. 

The main elements of a query package are the query letter and the synopsis. You should take as much care in writing them as you did your manuscript because they’re your introduction to a prospective agent: If you don’t impress them with your query, they will never get to read your amazing manuscript. Since these are such important elements, we suggest hiring a professional to write your query letter and synopsis.

These three steps are essential when you’re starting your publishing journey, so take your time with each of them before you make your first pitch. Most importantly, don’t give up! Some of the most successful and prolific authors today faced hundreds of rejections when they started out. No one ever said getting a book published would be easy—it takes perseverance, confidence, and lots of work—but with the right tools and attitude, you can make it happen.   

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