10/28/08

Write Before You Query

I have some good ideas for books and I'm ready to start querying agents. Just curious if you can tell me about how long after an agent accepts me will I have to write the book?
Are you talking fiction? Fiction books need to be finished BEFORE you start querying agents. Or publishers. You need to write it. Then have some readers go through it—not family or close friends, but discriminating readers who know something about what's selling today. Make changes based on your readers' suggestions. When your book is as perfect as you can get it, then you're ready to start querying.

If you're talking non-fiction, if it's your first book, I'd suggest you be fairly close to done before querying. If you have a platform, do a lot of public speaking on your topic and are generally known as an expert in the field, you might be able to get by with an outline and the first few chapters when you query. But plan to be able to finish the book in 3 to 6 months—the sooner the better.

P.S. I'm out of questions. Please send more.

6 comments:

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David G. Woolley said...

Everyone who has ever lived has great ideas for terrific novels. Most of them never get written. Why? Your idea is a symphony choired by angels. Your novel in written form is often a dangly jitty with flat notes. Its not that you're idea is poor. Its that you must prove to your publisher that you can create on the page what you've created in your head.

That's why publishers don't accept ideas. They want the proof. The evidence that you have, indeed, created a terrific novel worth publishing.

Its a bummer. But then, don't all endeavors require the same? You have to produce the toy before you can sell it on the shelves of Toys R Us. You have to refine the gasoline before you can sell it at the pump. You have to cook the meal, harvest the crop, change the oil, build the house, perform the surgery, or drive the taxi before you're compensated for your efforts. Unless, of course, you're a lawyer, and advertising executive or a wall street financial banker. Then you can query your idea and get paid for it.

Tristi Pinkston said...

Just to add my two cents about not having family and close friends critique your work -- it all depends on those family and close friends. My mom is really good at finding plot holes in my mysteries and my dad is really good at finding logic errors and typos, so in this case, family is a good resource. But make sure that the people you chose *are* good resources and aren't going to give you glowing reports just because they love you.

Marcia Mickelson said...

I agree with Tristi about family being okay sometimes to critique your work. My sister reads all my novels and she's not afraid to be honest and mean sometimes. She's written comments like: blah, blah, blah. Boring! Not this again. Give me a break! This is BS.

So, in other words if you can count on them being honest, then it's okay. If they're just going to pat you on the back and say "good work," then don't use them. (BTW, she says nice things about my manuscripts too)

Stephanie Black said...

I'm with Tristi and Marcia--my family gives me extremely valuable feedback. They might not know what the market is looking for (but I think it's my responsibility to know that anyway) but they can tell me when something in my manuscript didn't work for them.

And David makes a good point--having an idea for a novel is far different than having a polished, finished manuscript. Unless you're an established novelist with a proven track record, no agent will sign on to represent an idea.

Heather B. Moore said...

Yes--if you are pitching a non-fiction book, you'll have to put together a non-fiction proposal at the very least. You'll have to have the entire book outlined and at least 3 sample chapters.