Here’s a question I’m asked a lot: how do I know when my book is ready to query?
There is no right or wrong answer, but here’s mine—I felt my book was ready once I’d received a thumbs-up from multiple qualified sources. My novel manuscript sources were two professors who are published authors (my MFA thesis committee). My query letter sources were a literary agent via a Mslexia feedback forum and Jane Friedman, a former editor and publishing industry wizard. When all of these people told me my book and query letter were good enough to get an agent, that was when I began querying. I do not recommend going off of gut instinct alone. You’re too close to the project to see it clearly, plus we’re newbies—we have so much to learn! Someone’s eyes besides your own should read your work before you send it out.
Should you hire a professional editor before querying? Eh, I don’t know. I’ve heard a range of opinions. If the editor you have in mind is a proven resource (i.e. she has testimonials from authors you’ve heard of or are traditionally published—if that’s your goal), then it could be a worthwhile investment. Be aware there are plenty of unqualified people posing as professional editors. Unfortunately I can’t give any specific recommendations as I never consulted an editor for my novel.
Below I’ve put together some resources I recommend. I want to caveat by saying the only one I’ve personally used is Jane Friedman; however, I’ve heard enough glowing reviews of the others that I feel comfortable recommending them here. Whether you’re looking for feedback on your novel manuscript or an agent query letter, the resources below will help you on that journey.
As you know from my How to Get an Agent series, I cannot recommend Jane Friedman highly enough. I went to her for both query letter and synopsis feedback, plus she helped me smooth out my one-sentence pitch. Though she doesn’t offer one-on-one consultations anymore, her Query Letter Critique plus lectures on query letters, synopses, and agent research all look informative. You can find all of those resources here.
I learned about Grub Street while in graduate school in Boston. While GS is Boston-based, they also offer lots of online courses. Had I not felt my manuscript was agent-ready when I finished grad school, my plan was to apply to GS’s Novel Incubator Program. They also have incubators for memoirs, short stories, and essays. GS has a solid track record—I’ve only heard good things. If you’re looking for feedback on publishing documents (query letter, synopsis, etc.) Grub Street offers hundreds of three-hour seminars, six-hour workshops, and multi-week classes. They also offer individual consulting services, which includes personal writing coaching, line-editing, career planning, MFA application preparation, and agency and editor submissions.
Catapult is another resource I’ve heard fantastic things about. They have a number of multi-week novel workshop/generator courses. These seem to be popular, so nab a spot quickly! They also have lots of publishing industry courses. Courtney Maum’s The Book Deal Toolkit looks particularly helpful. I read her book, Before and After the Book Deal, earlier this year and loved it. For an additional fee, she will review your logline, one-paragraph project summary, four-paragraph query letter, and one-paragraph off-the-book pitch. You can email your interest in those services by following this link—it’s about halfway down the page. Though I haven’t used Courtney’s services, she’s published several novels herself and I subscribe to her (very useful) newsletter, so I trust what she has to say. You can find more information on Catapult’s one-on-one consultation services here.
Last but not least, Sackett Street, a NYC-based program, is supposed to be a wonderful resource for emerging writers. They have about a bajillion online classes for novel writing (plus every other kind), as well as consulting services for both manuscripts and MFA applications. At AWP one year, I attended a publishing roundtable that included Julia Fierro, Sackett Street’s founder. I found myself scribbling every pearl of wisdom that came from her mouth, so can only assume her classes and consultations are just as helpful.
When I surveyed other writers on Twitter, here’s who they recommended for query letter/synopsis help:
Good luck & happy writing!