This fall I queried an agent for the first time. After four years of working on my essay collection, hitting Send felt more liberating and rewarding than terrifying. Of course, signing with an agent is only one step of the process and doesn’t guarantee publication. Still, this was farther than I’d ever gotten in my few decades of dreaming up stories, and it was worth celebrating.
It was also worth pausing, reflecting, and assessing.
If you are considering querying an agent, here are six tips I learned through the querying process.
1. Write the book proposal sooner.
My biggest struggle was committing to the structure. Throughout the writing process, I had a hard time narrowing down what my book was about and being able to summarize it for people. Writing the proposal forced me to hunker down on this. Whether it’s a book proposal or following a book blueprint, like author and book coach Jennie Nash proposes, I highly recommend doing this step in the early stages to help your revision process go smoother and be more focused.
2. Schedule breaks from the manuscript.
Mother writers, let’s face it – momming requires 120% of your brain space and energy, and when you’re trying to use your brain on equally taxing things like writing a book, burnout comes easily. Taking frequent breaks from working on my book would have helped my energy and mindset. Perhaps a schedule like three weeks on, one week off would work. Or, if you write every day, take one day a week off to treat yourself to a day of reading a novel you’ve been wanting to start.
3. Batch the book revision in phases.
Revising is the real work of writing a book. With how challenging it is, the process can be daunting. Next time around, I’d pick one aspect of the book to focus on at a time – whether it’s a particular section of the manuscript, tackling the writing style and polishing, or enhancing a theme or my voice.
4. Submit more.
I’m glad I got a few essays from my manuscript published, but I wish I would have been more consistent with submitting to publications throughout the process. Every published piece adds ammunition to your book proposal.
5. Go to conferences or interact with agents.
I’m going to partially blame the pandemic for putting the kibosh on my conference plans, but it’s also true that there are other ways to interact with agents in the digital world. Follow them on social media. Participate in workshops or lectures where an agent is speaking. Make any contact you can to have some kind of advantage when it comes to querying.
6. Limit yourself to reading one or two craft books.
Reading books on the craft of writing can be addicting when you’re not yet published and want to learn all the secrets of successful authors. I read several writing craft books over this four-year process, and while they’re all great, all that information can be overwhelming and cause you to overthink what your intuition tells you.
Intentionally pick one or two books that will guide you in a specific area that you can use improvement on. When you find yourself in trouble in your draft, consult these one or two books again. Become a master of this material rather than adding more to your well at this point.
You’ve Got This, Mama
There’s nothing easy about being a writer or a mom, and we are all trying to do both at the same time. Writing a book and getting it out in the world is as valid and valuable as the work you do to prepare your child for the world. I hope these tips help save you some time in your own path to publication. Don’t give up on yourself.