There's a lot of talk at writer's conferences, on the blogosphere, or in Twitter-verse, about how to find an agent. Here's a question though that you may not be asking yourself, and it's WAY more important: Is your manuscript ready to show an agent?
Well, after years of agenting, having read thousands of queries, I can tell you that (now, don't shoot the messenger), the vast majority of submissions are NOT agent-ready. Relatedly, another sad reality is that most agents sign less than 1% of the submissions they receive. Before you fall into a pit of writerly despair, remember my first statement—that the vast majority of submissions are NOT agent-ready. This means that if you can get your project in great shape before you submit, you're already ahead of the pack, and so you shift the odds more in your favor.
It's also worth noting that you typically only get one shot with an agent, for a particular project. If you query a project too soon, unfortunately, you don't get a do-over once the rejections come in and you realize you need to revise. Make sure that project is near-perfect BEFORE you query!
Okay, so I've got your attention…but now you may be asking yourself: How can I get my project agent-ready?....
Step 1: Find a critique group! I can't stress enough how important it is to have an experienced sounding board for your work. Your critique group should be predominately comprised of those who write in the same genres that you do. You can find your critique partners through local writer events, or online writing communities. SCBWI also has their own online communities for members, as well as networking events, which can be a great way to find a critique group.
Step 2: Study the craft of writing as much as you can. Remember the writing conferences, blogs, and Twitter, that I mention earlier? Well, those are all great resources, but they're not just for hunting agents. There's tons of valuable and practical information to be gathered on how to strengthen your writing, revise efficiently, understand marketplace trends (not so you can write to them, but to be aware of them), and countless other skills and tips. You should also be reading as many books as you can of the genre you're writing in!
Step 3: Practice! I can tell you with near certainty that you shouldn't be querying the first manuscript you ever finish. Remember how I said you only get one shot with an agent for a particular project? Well, while it is true that you can send them a new project if they pass on a previous one, you only get ONE first impression. Agents remember your name if you send them multiple projects in a year—and they'll know they passed on all of them. It doesn't mean you can't win them over with a fabulous new project; but (good) agents want to represent your FULL body of work, and if they've passed on everything you sent them previously they'll likely have some hesitancy in moving forward. So, write this on a sticky and put it on your monitor: Just because I finished it, doesn't mean I should query it!
Step 4: Revise! Just as you shouldn't query the first manuscript you ever finish, you should also shouldn't query the first draft of a manuscript. This is where that aforementioned critique group comes in handy! Your manuscript should be scrutinized by many pairs of eyes and undergo multiple drafts before it ever hits an agent's inbox.
Step 5: If you've done all the above, and still feel like your project may not be ready for that special agent's eye—email me! I offer picture book critiques, and first 10 pages critiques (which include the query letter!), specifically designed to get your submission materials agent-ready. You can learn more about these, and other, services here. If you're feeling pretty good about your project, but not totally sure if it's agent-ready, you can still email me your materials and I'll let you know. If it is agent-ready—yay(!) you can query in confidence; if not, I can recommend one of my services to help you get your project where it needs to be!
So, take another look at that project you're just about to query. Is it really, totally, for sure ready? Writing, and then finding an agent, is no easy feat—make sure you stack the odds in favor as much as you can. Some factors will be subjective and out of your control...but the above steps are not. Do your future author-self a favor and whip that manuscript into shape before you even think of querying that special agent!
Good luck! If you have any general questions about revising, querying, etc, feel free to post in the comments section below and I'll try to answer ASAP!