Angie Azur is a YA Sci-fi Writer.
Writer for PALEO Magazine.
Former Intern at the Andrea Brown Literary Agency.
SCBWI & COWG Member.


Sunday, December 29, 2013

Intern Advice: You are Ready to Query When...

So you think you are ready to query your dream agents. But are you, really? How do you know for sure? Let's talk about what you should have ready if you think you are ready to query.
 

I am in this boat right now. I have a completed manuscript and I've taken it to a few writer's retreats to get some outside-my-critique-group eyes on it - professional eyes - not friends or husband.

You all know by now that the first line of the first chapter is one of the most important. The next important is the first page, then the first chapter itself then the first 50, and then the rest of the book.

The first 50 - yes - the first 50. Because if you get an agent to read your query, then your first chapter, and that still hooks them, they will read to 50 pages. They know that most manuscripts fall apart in the first 50. That's right, they stop making sense, become too weird, lose the plot, characters change too quickly, voice is lost, and anything that will make a manuscript blah happens in the first 50.

Here's how I've gone about getting my manuscript ready to query. You might want to follow this path. It will help mold your manuscript into the best version of itself.




  •  First Line: First, I went to the book store and chose every book in my genre that caught my eye or was on the display shelf, and I read hundreds of first lines. I wrote my favorites down in a notebook. This not only helped me to understand first lines better, but I ended up finding some great new reads for myself. 


  • Revise First Line: Next I played with those first lines on my computer inserting my characters and actions where their characters and actions were. I changed them and molded them until I came up with my own sentence.


  • First Page: After I had my best first line. I reread my first page. I took it to my critique group and had them read it out loud. I made sure every sentence was precise. I made sure each paragraph made you want to read the next and then the next.


  • First Chapter: Then I read the first chapter. I did the same with the remaining paragraphs. And I concentrated on the ending, to be sure readers will want to turn the page to the second chapter. 


 

  • Writer's Retreat One: After I believed I had the best first chapter, I signed up for a writer's retreat and a private first chapter critique. When I arrived at the retreat I found out that I had an agent as my private critique. I was nervous, but also knew this would be the best for me to grow. She gave me a wonderful full paged typed critique. She told me my idea was unique, that she hadn't heard of it before, but I had a lot of work to do. I took her advice and revised again. (Note: Writer's retreats can be expensive...be sure you are ready before you go. If a retreat is not an option for you at this time, you can ask a teacher to help you, swop manuscripts with someone on line, apply for retreat money at SCBWI or other writer's associations.)





  • Writer's Retreat Two: Once I thought, again, that I had the best first chapter, I signed up for another retreat. There I was in two groups where they would read my first chapter and give advice. The groups had 4-5 writers as well as a group leader. One of my group leaders was the Pay it Forward writer. The other was an editor at HarperTeen. I got lots of amazing help and feedback from everyone in the group. Then I revised.

  • Revised First Chapter: After revising...How did I revise, you ask?...I literally cut up my first chapter with a pair of hair-cutting scissors I scored from a generous friend there, because I forgot my scissors...I laid out my first chapter paragraphs on the bed and rearranged some while throwing out others and then I wrote new paragraphs to link them in a new way....


  • Introduced New Chapter: Once revision was done, I took my new chapter back to the groups the next day and they all said it was much stronger. I even got the green light to query it from both group leaders. This was the first time I've ever had professionals in this field I love tell me I was ready. That was a month ago, but I have not queried my top agents yet....Why?

  • Internship Knowledge: I know from my internship that it's not only the first line or the first chapter - but the first 50. I've been re-writing my first 50, as well as going over the whole manuscript for precision and meaningful sentences. I have to be sure that this shot I take is the best shot I have. 

  • Strong First 50: Today my first 50 are strong. I believe they are ready. I have a meeting in early January with my mentor and he will give me final pointers, and then I will query. 



As you can see writing is a job. It's a job I love and one I haven't received much pay for, but I can't think of doing anything else. A novels timeline can be long or short. This one was my shortest. It took me 5 months to write the novel. Six months to revise it one time through. Two months to really work on the first chapter. One month to go through the first 50 and make them much stronger. And in a few weeks I will be ready to finally query my top picked agents.

Picking agents is a whole other animal, and I will blog about that in the near future.
But if you think you are ready to query and the following check list has happened to you....then good luck! I wish you well.
You Are Ready Checklist: 
  • Your novel is finished
  • Your first line rocks
  • Your first page makes people want more
  • Your first chapter is unique and has strong voice
  • Your query letter peaks interest and is one page
  • You've given examples of what your novel is like. Example: ANIMALIA is a completed 60,000-word sci-fi thriller set in a fantastic, yet realistic world. Think The Island of Dr. Moreau meets Uglies.
  • You've had outside readers give feedback
  • You've had a professional in the industry give feedback
  • You've revised
  • You've gotten a green light from a critique group or professional in the business
  • You've researched agents to query
  • You've taken a few months to step back and breathe
  • You've reread your entire manuscript and you love it --- every scene, every word
  • You've read WritingTeazurs Blog on how to get that agent
  • You've read QueryShark about queries
  • You love your query
  • You are ready! 


Remember this is a business. You are a writer and probably like me more emotional about your work than business minded. Do not shot yourself in the foot because you jumped the gun and queried too early. Get the proper feedback your work needs and then revise. Your idea is worth you crafting it the best it can be.
Good Luck!
And as always,
Write~on
Angie



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