5 Ways To Avoid Querying Too Early
As a “serious” writer for only a few years, there’s much I still need to learn. I’m hoping to be traditionally published, which comes with its own suite of exciting and nerve-wracking challenges. Though I’ve only queried two books, I’ve learned several (painful) lessons about querying too early. Every writer’s path differs, but I’d like to share what I’ve learned in hopes it will help someone else. Below, I’m sharing five ways to avoid querying your manuscript too early.
Mistake 1: Pitching it when it’s not complete.
I see this advice from literary agents all the time — and while at first I thought it was an obvious suggestion, I soon realized the temptation of pitching a half-finished book in a Twitter contest when your favorite agent is liking pitches.
Don’t. Do. It.
Though many unpublished writers (me included) feel a desperate urgency within the traditional publishing industry to get their story out the door, I’ve learned from personal experience how damaging that can be to your chances. I’m not going to admit the number of times I decided to send a query to a promising agent and two weeks later a beta reader came back to me with a plot hole or pacing issue I definitely should have fixed.
You may rationalize participating in pitch contests as “testing the waters” or “gauging interest.” I’ve been there too. It’s a good excuse — but it’s not valid. Do yourself a favor and stay away from pitch contests until you can swear you are 100% truly and completely finished.
Mistake 2: Finishing your first draft and thinking you’re ready.
Here’s a hard pill to swallow: Even if you’re the reincarnation of Emily Bronte or Jane Austen or Mark Twain, your first draft isn’t query-ready. Heck, even Terry Pratchett said “The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.”
Let yourself enjoy your first draft. Meet your characters. Understand their motivations. Build their world. Don’t put pressure on yourself to impress other writers by having an “uber-polished” first draft. You’ll either burn out, fail to tell a genuine story, or lose a great opportunity by querying before your story is ready.
Complete at least a few drafts before sending out your first query. After all, it is a truth universally acknowledged that a writer in possession of a first draft must want a second, and a third, and a fourth…
Mistake 3: Failing to use alpha and beta readers.
This is a tricky mistake to avoid, especially if you’re just starting out in the writing community. Meeting other writers you vibe with can be hard, especially if you write in a specific subgenre and age group. However, I promise at least a few of your kinspeople are out there, willing and able to read your manuscript. If you can’t find any, family, friends, and co-workers are great options.
Having another set of eyes on your work — especially from several readers within and outside of your genre — can make all the difference. You know the story, but they’re coming into the world with fresh eyes. They can tell you if your magic system makes sense, how the pace feels, who the most likable and relatable characters are, and why they would or wouldn’t keep reading.
Mistake 4: Not taking time away from the manuscript.
I admit, this is my most frequent (and most egregious) mistake. Remember when I suggested “don’t query after your first draft?” I may not query after my first, but after six or seven rounds of cursory line edits, I’m too impatient and antsy to get this story I love so much out the door that I tend to query a “good enough” manuscript instead of a “I put everything I have into this” manuscript.
I’m about a year out of the querying game since I decided to take some time away from my manuscript. As I’ve dipped my toe back into revisions, I can tell how the time has helped me gain distance from the story. While there’s no set amount of time that’s perfect to be “away” from your book baby, I’d suggest at least a few weeks. You need to get to a place where the book doesn’t usurp your every thought so you can soak in the other art around you and come back to your novel with refreshed eyes and a clear mind.
Mistake 5: Not understanding the market.
This is another hard mistake to avoid — and one I’m still trying to navigate. For some reason, I feel like finding and following publishing trends is really difficult. Maybe it’s because publishing is so slow, or because agents and houses acquire titles months and years into the future.
I’ve come across a few handy tricks for understanding the market and marketing your book to its highest advantage:
- If you use comps in your query, pick well-known but not “blockbuster” titles (like “My book is perfect for fans of Circe and Everything I Never Told You” instead of “Fans of the Game of Thrones series will love my book’s political intrigue.”)
- Pepper other media into your comps, if it fits. I’m using a recent anime release in my current query.
- Do your research and browse the deals your target agents are making. If they’re selling a lot of chick lit and you write immersive sci-fi, understand that agent may not pick you up based on their current list, interest, or relationships with editors.
I hope these tips were helpful to you! If you need a second pair of eyes to tell you if your query is ready to go, I’m happy to help! DM me at @iamgirlofwords on Instagram!
Written by Katarina Betterton
Katarina Betterton is an aspiring adult fiction author. She works for an editorial content agency and specializes in SEO outlining writing and editing. She's also a part of Scribbler's editorial team. When not reading or writing her hobbies include cooking learning new languages and crafting. Follow her writing journey at @iamgirlofwords on Instagram.