I was on a panel on querying about a month ago at The Life, Universe and Everything Symposium and thought I'd share some thoughts on it. Hopefully it can help someone. I'll do it in a few different parts so I don't have a post that's super long. :)
So, querying. How do I know I'm ready to start?
Let's talk about the WHEN:
1-Finish your book: VERY IMPORTANT. Do not query unless you have a finished book to send to an agent. A query is like a job interview. If you query an agent with half of a book, or an idea, then you've made a very bad first impression. Agents want books. They want it finished, polished and as perfect as you can get it. You don't want to mess up a chance at getting an agent by not having a finished book.
2-Edit and Revise: Your first draft is just that. A first draft. It's not polished, it's not even close to being perfect, even if you think it is. Please, please revise and edit and go over it to make it the best you can get it.
3-Critique Partners/Beta Readers: Get yourself some awesome critique partners and beta readers. Critique partners go over your book carefully, pointing out plot holes, etc. They will also catch all the dumb little mistakes you've made in your book. Because everyone makes them. :) Beta readers will look at the bigger picture and let you know what's working vs what needs to be changed about the plot, characters, etc. I like to have my critique partners read my book first. Then I do a round of revisions and send it to some trusted beta readers. The readers then tell me what else is not working or what is and I revise accordingly if I agree.
*To find critique partners, get involved in the writing community. Go to conferences, join writing organizations. It's hard to put yourself out there, but so many writers are going through the same thing you are. There are a lot of us that are introverts and that's okay. Get out of your comfort zone and make some new friends. You never know how they'll impact your life for the better until much later. I've met so many wonderful people which have become some of my closest friends.
4-Revise again: Once your get all of your revisions based on readers done, go through it again and make sure the story flows well.
5-Go through it again and make it shine: When your plot is nice and shiny, go through and look for repetitive words, little mistakes, make sure your sentences are nice and tight, etc.
You know, there's never a time when you'll feel like you're ready to query. If you've gone over it a million times, edited the crap out of it, revised it several times, had beta readers and revised according to their suggestions and just can't stand to look at it anymore, take a look at it once more, and put on your brave face. It's SO hard to let your book of your hands and send it to agents. So hard. But if you want this, you can do it. And it will be worth it. Stay tuned for more on querying. :)