5 Ways To Increase Querying Success

While there is no magic formula for knowing WHEN to query, there are a few ways writers can increase their chances of having a successful querying process.

First, let me say that the key is getting QUALIFIED and OBJECTIVE feedback on our writing before querying.

Some feedback is neither qualified nor objective, and thus we should never rely upon it as a true gauge of our writing skill. Sources of untrustworthy feedback include:
  • Postings on blogs. Most of the comments we receive are positive. Whether we share an excerpt from our books or just write something touching, our readers are always "nice." If you're like me, you'll usually find some way to encourage the blogger, and if you can't find something positive then won't say anything at all. It builds our egos, which is great, but we should never trust blogging feedback as a true measure of our abilities.
  • Well-meaning relatives. Our husband may pick up our manuscript and gush over it, claiming he couldn't put it down until the last page. Or perhaps our daughter or mother read it for us, and declare it to be the next best-seller. The fact is, most of the time our relatives aren't qualified, and even if they are, they don't want to hurt our feelings by telling us the truth about our writing.
What, then, are ways we can gain qualified and objective feedback that will increase our chances of having a successful querying experience?

1. Hire a freelance editor. Yes, this is a controversial and expensive option. But I used a freelance editor and it was one of the best investments I ever made.

When you pay a trained, professional editor, you want to get your money's worth. So the more they find to help you improve, the better. They don't care if they hurt your feelings with their brutal honesty. It's what you're paying them to do.

2. Enter contests. Contests are a fairly inexpensive way to get feedback from published authors and editors. Of course, not all judges are qualified. But at least the score sheets give the judges direction, and the unanimity of the entries prevents bias.

When I entered the Genesis contest last year, I was able to compare and contrast the feedback from my three judges. When all of them noticed the same issues, I gave it greater weight in my revisions.

3. Join a skilled critique group. Notice I said "skilled." If we hope to benefit from a group, then the other writers must be at our level or beyond. Otherwise, the group functions as beta readers and not much more. They'll be able to give feedback, but more from a reader perspective than out of knowledge and experience that can help us improve.

While a critique group can work if the other members are qualified, they must also remain objective. As friendships form within groups, the objective quality may start to wan. It's hard to be completely honest when we know the truth will hurt our friends' feelings.

4. Keep learning and put it into practice by writing another book. I'm amazed at how many writers keep spitting out word count and new books, but never make an intentional effort to grow in their writing skill from one book to the next.

I firmly believe with each new book, we should find several areas where we need to improve. And we should actively and consciously look at how we can practice those skills in our first draft. How will we grow if we always put off incorporating a skill until the editing stage?

5. Research and learn industry standards. The internet makes agent and publishing house standards easily accessible for all of us. There are more writing blogs and websites than we could ever read.

We have no excuses for ignorance. We can learn all of the details about everything in the industry: guidelines, page formatting, and hot genres. If we're really desperate, we can even find out what agents are doing via twitter and why they're not reading our manuscripts.

When my manuscript sat in Rachelle's slush pile for eight months before she read it, I worked on doing the above points--I hired an editor, entered a contest, wrote another book, and learned industry standards. I even tried a crit. group for a very short time.

I should have done them before querying. Maybe then I wouldn't have had so many rejections. Perhaps I wouldn't have had to wait in Rachelle's slush pile quite so long. As it turned out, I redeemed myself by working hard during my wait. When Rachelle pulled my manuscript out to read, thankfully it was ready.

Don't make my mistake. Take the time before you query to increase your chances of success.

What do you think? Do you agree or disagree with anything in my list? What else do you think increases your chances of having a successful querying process?


  1. I didn't hire a freelance editor. Kind of wish I could, but when I check the prices I screamed, "holy moley Batman," in excess of $1500.00. And even the ones that were $1000.00, I could not afford. Not with all the hospital trips. So...I'm having to go it alone.

    I have Beth my crit partner and a beta reader or two, but my beta wasn't in the biz, so that wasn't a lot of help.

    And I can't find any contests that are happening now for MG. SCBWI has some but they don't even judge them till the end of summer. I want mine out there, you know?

    I totally agree with all you've said here. My problem is with the synopsis. I'm trying to write it before I start querying. UGH! I have NO idea what I'm doin'. I'm wingin' it.

    Oh and love the new pic and all. You look absolutely lovely.

  2. I agree with it, especially the feedback on the blogs. Just like you said, it's not our job to discourage anyone when we leave comments. So of course they are going to be positive.

    I also agree aboutt he critting. Finding somebody at your level or above is key. The first crit group I was in was not good. The writers, all VERY nice women, were all just starting out and I didn't even know where to start with my crits. And then I'd receive very vague, "This is good" back, whcih never helped me improve.

    the one I most agree with is number 4. Learning comes through doing. Read read read craft books, study study study the craft, and write write writer. Just like you said - with the intention of growing and improving with each book.

    The minute I stop growing is the minute I should quit writing. Which, hopefully, will never happen. Growth in this arena is unlimited, I think.

  3. Very good! Agree with all points.

    Although, I do have my mother read my books, and I take her feedback seriously. While she DOES think my book is the next bestseller (ha!) she's also a very brutally honest person and will tell me everything that doesn't work for her. She's not a writer, but she's an avid reader of Christian romance.

    Another commenter mentioned beta readers, and I've heard of some that use them as well. People outside of the business, that aren't related or best friends with you, that can give you very honest, "content" feedback. "This confused me." "I don't like this character." or "I about fell asleep here."

    I am in a crit group, and it works for me. Each of the critters has their strength, and combined we make a pretty good team. I'd still love to find a crit "partner" someday, just the one person to keep me accountable and to be able to honestly tell me when my stuff is crap... and visa versa. ha!

  4. Hiring a freelance editor was worth every penny! I got such valuable feedback, and she took some time to teach me some of the writing rules that I hadn't absorbed yet. Well worth the price.

  5. Querying is pretty much like Russian Roulette - very risky with more chances of failure than success (yeah, grim analogy, sorry about that.

    In the end, querying comes down to one thing: the letter. Yeah, some agents will overlook the letter and go on to the sample pages, but some will look at a bad query letter and not read the pages at all.

    So, I guess, crafting the best query possible, after doing everything you suggested in this post, is really the best thing a person can do. Oh, and love your query letter. If you don't love it, if it just doesn't feel right to you, the author, then how is it going to feel to an agent?? : )

    Great advice. Thanks.


  6. Jody,
    Good points. I hired a freelance editor for my first two books (neither of which have been published) after an editor at a publishing house told me that was all I needed to get a contract from him. The experience was expensive, a little helpful, and didn't end in a contract. Yet I continue to use the little things the editor taught me in the process.

    You make an excellent point about crit groups. They're a great way to join a circle of friends with similar interest, but unless the members are at your level, the social experience is all the group will provide. Choose carefully.

    Thanks for sharing.

  7. These are great tips! I'm so new to this, and I find these suggestions very helpful. Thanks so much for posting them!

  8. Excellent points Jody. I totally agree.

  9. Great tips, Jody, though the family one is a little different for me. My wife has never been afraid to tell me if she thinks any of my writing (essay/blog post/etc) stinks. However, it's because of this honesty that she declines to read my WIPs.

  10. I like your idea of growing with each book. To try something different from the previous, new styles, new genres even, lends a great excitement to the learning process. And best wishes for the New Year to you, Jody :)

  11. Contests are such a good way to get read and to put your work out there. Winning a local contest last spring helped bolster my query, which I believe helped me to sign with my agent.

  12. I agree. I wish I could afford an editor. B/c I can't right now I'm having to get tough on myself as an editor and thankfully I look forward to getting feedback from my critique group.

    Great points. Spot on as usual.
    ~ Wendy

  13. I don't think you need #1 or #2... IF you have a skilled critiquer or group, and IF you have the patience to do editing yourself (setting an manuscript aside to mellow before you re-read it, repeatedly printing it out to catch typos, reading it out loud to catch issues of tone, etc.)

    #5 is hugely important, and so easily overlooked by so many!

    I love the new look of the blog!

  14. I agree...even though it makes me a little weary to do so :-)

  15. Check, check, check, check... I did most of these after all those rejections. But it's made my story a lot stronger! And now I know what to do (and what not to do) for the next novel!

  16. Yay! I feel pretty good about myself right now. I think I've tried all those qualitified feebacks except for hiring a freelance editor (though if I ever had the cash, I'd probalby try that one too).

    I have to say though, the family and blogger buddy comments help lift my spirits after a particually harsh critique; they keep me try-trying again!

  17. You are so stinkin' inspiring. One of these days I'm going to show up at your door and sit and observe you for a day. (where do you live again?)

  18. All very valid points. It's amazing how many people DON'T do all or most of these things. (I understand the editor part, but the others ...)

    Great post :D

  19. Patrice KavanaughJanuary 06, 2010 10:08 AM

    Agree with all of your points. I think trying different activities at different points in your writing career is a good idea. I've used critique groups, taken classes (I prefer that over reading books about the craft), worked on my own, hired a freelance editor, and just entered my first contest. There's not one path to publishig and I think it's important to be open and flexible to trying different methods on your journey. Patrice

  20. Your posts are getting sharper and more to the point with your experience!

    By the way, I'd love to see a list of resources -- books and links that help us learn about the industry and show us the path we should take. I've done some research but much of what I found was vague, contradicted other information (maybe even on the same site), and alluded to magical insider knowledge which is always just out of the reach of an average person.

    A writer can come away from it all so intimidated that the confidence necessary for great writing has vanished. I actually had to get away from this for a while, because it was eating a hole in my soul. I began to feel that I would never produce anything good enough for publishing and even if I did, it was such a long shot that it was hardly worth the years of work.

    Where did I get that impression? From publishers, agents, successful writers, and publishing sites.

  21. My goal is to get better with each edit, with each book. I'll take all your information and use it!

  22. Great post. Hope you don't mind but I'd love to know how that went with the free lance editor. I'm considering this but don't know what to expect.

  23. I agree with Scott. The tips provided here are absolutely useful, and every writer should follow them. But if you don't have a strong query letter, your manuscript probably won't get seen, so none of it will matter. Just make sure that your crit group, editor, or someone who knows our manuscript well reads your query (maybe even enter some query contests, too! These great rules don't have to apply just to your MS) to see if it has a chance of resulting in a request for a full.

  24. I agree with everything you said. My next step is to hire an editor. I've had objective feedback from my crit partners, but even then, I wonder if they are holding back a little to avoid hurt feelings.

  25. I worked w/a freelance editor on one of my books, and it definitely helped and gave me a whole new insight into plot and dialogue. Most importantly, keep writing! It's amazing how much we improve our skills from one book to the next.

    I'd also add #6) Have confidence in yourself and don't be afraid to network.

    Be yourself on your blog and Twitter. My agent came to me from comments I'd made on Twitter and viewing my blog. Remember, you are your own best marketer!

  26. Hiring a freelance editor was some of the best money I've ever spent. I can't comment on critique groups, because I've never been in one, except in classes when I went back to college. Relatives and friends cannot be objective, but can still offer some good feedback, if they are able to be honest. This is a wonderful article, Jody. Thoughtful and informative. Thanks so much for all you do to help other writers.

  27. Your information is spot on, Jody. I spent my first two years writing the same book five times. OK. They were different stories, but the quality didn't change much from one to the next, and they were rejected. Ah, the harsh reality of hindsight.

    I took the next two years to do four of the things on your list. Since I used to work as an assistant editor at a small publishing house, I couldn't bring myself to hire an editor. I did, however, get a critique partner who is a fellow GH finalist with a top-notch agent. Anne is a talented writer whose work regularly places in big names contests. She's honest with me and has pushed me to make my story better and better.

    When I rewrote one of my earlier books, I scrapped nearly two-thirds of it. Yes, it hurt to delete 70K words, but when I read those that replaced them, I'm much happier. All that I'd learned from reading craft books and published authors' posts on writing, from attending conferences and soaking in the instruction, and from incorporating the feedback from Anne and some knowledgeable contest judges resulted in a far better story, one I felt was finally ready to submit. Not that it's perfect. I still have much to learn. But it is far better than my early attempts.

    It takes time to learn craft and produce a story that will catch an agent or editor's eye. That's a truth I had to learn the hard way, because I did query too soon.

  28. Interacting with other successful authors is helpful (we're doing that here, aren't we?). Support and encouragement from other writers is wonderful but sometimes we're the blind leading the blind. Those who have already learned from the experience of querying and publication often have more reliable knowledge and advice to share.

  29. I can't stress enough the value of writing contests for getting great feedback. Not only is your manuscript critted by two or three or four people in a blind judging, but it is also compared to other writing samples from other contestants. You get a lot of bang for your buck, and you get to gauge your progress in a way you can't otherwise. And there's validation and encouragment to be had, especially if you final or win.

    That and it looks good on a query letter. :)

  30. Finding good crit partners is crucial. Ones who can really be honest without being mean. But "This is good" isn't good enough.

  31. The critique group has been the biggest help for me. They are awesome. But, I've got to say that just querying and getting a little agent feedback that way was helpful too (even though it's not encouraged :).

  32. Finding a critique group is important. Also, my mother is probably my hardest reader. She never goes easy on me.

  33. Making sure to query someone who actually represents the genre you write helps, too. Otherwise, great list.

    Lynnette Labelle

  34. Great list! Always room to keep growing and improving and being as ready as I can for when the day arrives. :O)

  35. What a great and helpful list. I've gone back and forth about paying an editor, but you're not the first person who's had great success with this, so maybe it's time.

  36. I think this is all great advice, obviously, since it came from someone who has been there and succeeded.

    It's made me rethink a few things about the process and about who's reading my manuscript. I would never rely on my mother or my best friend. For one thing, they aren't writers. For another, they love me.

    But I do need to expand my group beyond just the three that I've allowed in so far.

  37. Hi Jody -

    Great post!

    I'd like you to address how to find an editor and what to look for in an editor. Plunking down that much money demands serious research.

    Susan :)

  38. Thanks, Jody! Excellent advice. I second Susan's question above. :-)

  39. Great advice, Jody! I agree with Susan. Finding the right editor could be tricky, but one worth the time, effort and price once you've found the right one.

  40. Thanks Jody for the wonderful tips! I'm glad you mentioned hiring a professional. That's at the top of my list. I look forward to that critical eye.

    Well worth the price in my book!

  41. Excellent advice! I've done many of them and can't wait to have the money for a professional editor. It has been on my list for quite some time. I know it will make a dfference.

  42. I agree with everything on your list. The point about applying your knowledge to your new books is especially true. I had zero knowledge of craft when I wrote my first three books, but I started getting feedback with number four. I made it my policy to pay attention to my problem areas and keep learning and applying knowledge to my future books.

    Great post!

  43. Totally agree with your list, Jody, and would add a wonderful last tip. The EIGHT steps listed in the fabulous book The Moral Premise.

    Oh, how the "eight-step" program helped me clear up the "what" in my stories--sadly after two were published!!!

    Sigh...we will learn until we die, right???


  44. Useful information, thanks. It is the thing I am dreading, writing the query.

  45. I've got to agree with you on all not-to-do and to-do's, Jody.

    What I would add, though, is that this business is so subjective that if you do receive rejections and you've been doing all the to-do's not to give up, but seek representation from elsewhere. Think of how many passed on the Twilight series and Nicholas Sparks before they were grabbed up. You just need to find the one who believes in your work and that may not necessarily be the one you thought would.

  46. Hi Jody,
    First of all, I love the new look of your site. Very professional and eye-catching.

    Loved this post, as usual. I particularly agree with the idea of getting qualified feedback. I know I'll always get a gold star at the top of my paper when my mom reads what I write. But, that won't help me grow. As painful as it may be, well-informed critique is worth its weight in gold.

    While I agree that positive blog feedback is more of an ego feeder, sometimes comments do tell if we've struck a chord and hit upon a topic/idea with legs.

    Happy New Year! I think 2010 will be filled with the fruits of your writing labor.

  47. I have Beth my crit partner and a beta reader or two, but my beta wasn't in the biz, so that wasn't a lot of help.

    Work from home India

  48. Jody, I really liked this tip you shared:
    "Keep learning and put it into practice by writing another book. I'm amazed at how many writers keep spitting out word count and new books, but never make an intentional effort to grow in their writing skill from one book to the next...and don't wait until the editing process"



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