Monday, October 12, 2015

Preparing to Query

My urban fantasy manuscript is revised and edited, and I've started the querying stage. I'm definitely better prepared this time because I've learned so much in the last year.

For those new to this phase, a query (as defined by the dictionary) is an inquiry from a writer to an editor of a magazine, newspaper, etc., regarding the acceptability of or interest in an idea for an article, news story, or the like: usually presented in the form of a letter that outlines or describes the projected piece.

Sounds simple doesn't it? If only it were.

Before you think about querying, make sure you have a completed manuscript. This means you have finished revising, editing and proofreading. You believe it is polished to the best of your ability. You have had others (beta readers) read it and give their thoughts. If you can find a critique partner, have that person read it and give their honest feedback.

Once you've completed that step, celebrate. Seriously. It's hard to write a novel then go through the months (or years) of editing and revising. You have accomplished something many people only talk about doing.

Next step, before querying, is check your word count. If you're shopping a 120,000 word romance novel, that number alone will get you turned down. Word count is important because the more words in a story, the more expensive it is to print and the more time the reader has to invest in reading the book. Some readers will not pick up a book that is thicker. You probably have a lot of stuff in your manuscript that isn't needed. Is there too much back story? That's often the biggest problem. Does the manuscript start in the right spot? We are all guilty of starting a story with lots of set up at some point. Start as close to the first major turning point as possible and back fill the essential details as you go.

To check if your word count is in the acceptable range here are a couple websites:

Writer's Digest Guide (you should bookmark this site in general. Lots of good stuff here)
Literary Rejections Guide (this is a good site for many reasons)

The best comment on word count I saw was to look at the Harry Potter series and compare the length of the first book to the others. You have to earn your extra words.

Got your word count? Great.

Make sure you know your genre. There's lots of genres and subgenres out there and some books can cross genres. Know where yours fits.

If you poked around on the Literary Rejections website, you may have found their page on genres. If not, you can find it here. Writer's Digest also has a list here.

Now are you ready to query? Almost.

You've spent anywhere from months to years on your manuscript. By now you could recite your story in your sleep. But do you know the hook?

Wait. Hook? Are we going fishing? Actually we sort of are. Your hook is what makes an agent request your work.

What is the main conflict in your story? What does the character strive for? Who or what is keeping your character from that goal?

A helpful formula I've seen is: When (conflict in your story) happens to (character), he/she must overcome (obstacle) to (achieve goal or finish quest).

I don't recommend using that in your query letter but do it for yourself to help develop a hook. Hooks need to be punchy and they help show what makes your story unique. Agents can have hundreds of queries waiting to be read and often read a bunch in one sitting. It's important to make yours stand out.

Once you've done these steps then it's time to start writing the query, which I'll cover in the next post.

Other posts in the querying series:
The Query Letter
Time To Query

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