Is your manuscript ready to be sent to agents?

This guide will help you…

  • Learn about what literary agents look for in a manuscript

  • Decide whether your manuscript is ready to pitch with a query letter

  • If not, demonstrate how to get your manuscript ready for agents with a critique

Congratulations on finishing (or almost finishing) your manuscript! What’s next?

You need to ask yourself two questions:

  1. Do you want to self-publish, or do you want to get traditionally published with the help of a literary agent? If you need help answering this, see our overview of these two main publishing options.
     

  2. If you want to publish with an agent, is your manuscript good enough to query? Below, we outline what makes a manuscript “good enough” to query (i.e., sending a query letter to agents and/or certain types of publishers), how you can tell whether yours meets the criteria, and what to do if you’re unsure.

When is a manuscript “good enough”?

The publishing industry has seen significant changes over the past few decades, providing authors (especially debut authors) with more options. Where publishers used to invest in developing manuscripts from start to finish through substantive editing, authors today are competing on a very different playing field: Most publishers—and, by extension, most literary agents—are unwilling to acquire a manuscript that will need significant editorial work prior to publication.

This means your manuscript needs to already be in great shape when you send out your query letters! To be as transparent as possible, we don’t mean that agents are going to be looking for perfect spelling and grammar, since those issues can be fixed during the publishing process. Rather, the most important consideration for agents is actually the content of your manuscript: Does your manuscript hook the reader and keep her engaged? QueryLetter.com offers professional manuscript critiques to help answer this question.

When might a manuscript need further revision to make it more appealing to agents?

Reflecting on your own writing and identifying potential structural/developmental problems can be challenging. Here are three key tests you can use to determine whether your manuscript could be ready to send to agents with a query letter:

  1. What motivates your characters?
    Readers should be able to tell or at least guess as to why your characters do what they do, and those motivations should be somewhat consistent. For example, if your character is motivated by a need for revenge throughout your manuscript, she should not forgive the person who wronged her in the final chapter without a compelling reason. Are your characters well developed? Is every character in your manuscript necessary? These are hard questions to answer honestly for yourself. Friends can serve as alpha and beta readers, but professional manuscript critiquers will yield better results.
     

  2. Does the plot make sense?
    The reader must be able to follow the events of the book. If something happens in one chapter, that event should affect the following chapters. Later events shouldn’t contradict earlier ones, and every event should happen for a reason. For example, if your main character is inspired to start a business but is encountering obstacles, the next chapter shouldn’t begin with the business already up and running. How do characters’ actions move the plot forward and affect other characters? Does every chapter play a role in advancing the story? If you didn’t outline your novel before writing (that’s okay!), chances are you have some of these issues.

     

  3. Is the narrative arc clear?
    As the author, you should be able to chart your story in the form of a narrative arc, with a catalyst, a climax, and a resolution—and perhaps a few mini arcs along the way. The plot shouldn’t meander from page to page, leaving the reader wondering when the action is going to happen.

Getting feedback from members of your writing group, from beta readers, or from friends you can trust to be honest with you about your manuscript’s strengths and weaknesses is a great way to help you identify potential problems in these areas. When those aren’t options or you’re not getting the detailed feedback you need, we’re here to help.

What is a manuscript critique?

Our manuscript critique service is a great place to start if you suspect your manuscript may have issues. Our experienced team can offer an unbiased view of your material, zeroing in on issues with plot and character development, structural cohesion, dialogue and narrative style, and more. Based on our experience in the publishing industry, we know the kinds of problems that will turn an agent away from your material, and we’ll give you a multi-page editorial letter with comprehensive recommendations on how to fix them.

What kind of value have we provided to other authors?

"Completing the first draft of my manuscript was a huge accomplishment, but I needed guidance on where to focus my revisions in my second draft. The expert editors at QueryLetter.com came through with their manuscript critique service, making suggestions to help me fill plot holes, flesh out under-developed characters, and create a more satisfying narrative arc for my young reading audience. I simply could not have brought this project to a successful conclusion without their help, and I would definitely recommend their services to fellow authors."

—Richard Wright (manuscript critique for 26,000 words)