So let's say your manuscript is done. And by done I mean it's pristine - you've edited and edited and polished and had friends read it and taken their suggestions to heart and edited and edited and polished some more. As a debut author, only when you're completely done with your manuscript should you query an agent. You will make a lousy first impression if an agent says to you, "Your first chapter was great! Send me the rest!" and your response is, "Oh, I haven't written it yet. But I could have it done in 6 months or so..."
When I was 18 or 19 I sent out a batch of queries for my manuscript ... that I can't remember the title of, to be honest. (This is back in the olden days when most agents still preferred snail mail queries.) I sent out 5, like my "how to get an agent" book recommended. My book also said I would likely receive lots of "no thank yous." Since it was first time doing this, I assumed I'd be 5/5 on no thank yous and that it would be weeks before I heard anything. I thought I could edit while I waited.
Instead, with two weeks, 2 of the 5 agents asked to see more. And 1 of those asked for the full.
Did I have the full ready? Of course not. It was written, but I'd barely edited it. Plus this agent asked for a bio (Um, "I received an A in AP English, and I was on my high school newspaper....") and a synopsis. (A what?!?!?) It was terrifying. I don't want any of you to suffer through a week like I did where my entire life was editing, editing, editing. With a tiny bit of researching what on earth this synopsis thingy was. Oh, and I believe there were some tears in there as well.
Now, even if I'd polished that manuscript for years it had some serious problems and would never sell, but my point is you don't want to only have a week or so to make your baby shine. I know it's hard to be patient, but you only get to make that first impression once and your book-baby is going to need to sparkle if you want to dazzle an agent.
So that's my first piece of advice on getting published - invest the time to make your book as good as you can. Your dream is worth it.
If you've invested the time, you should have the following prepared:
A full, beautiful manuscript
A one-line pitch
A 1-3 page synopsis
Knowledge of what genre you write, and other titles currently on the market that are similar (These are called Competitive Titles or comp titles)
Understanding of why your book is different than others and what "felt need" it meets.
That list possibly makes you groan and say, "But ... isn't it enough to have written a good book?" Look, I feel for you. I think that all the time, to be honest. Isn't it enough to have written a good book? Why do I have to do all this marketing stuff too? Do I have to line up public speaking engagements? Because I really don't enjoy it. Do I have to Tweet?
Published authors (minus, probably, Stephan King and Jodi Picoult and other mega bestsellers) don't receive a "pass" on that above list, so there's no way you will as a debut. An agent (and a publisher) are interested in people who are dedicated to their writing career and have the drive to be successful. One way you can prove that to them is by being prepared in the above areas.
What on that list is foreign to you? Do you see something on there you'd like me to spend time talking about?
Have a great weekend everyone. Don't forget to get your 100 words turned in, and I'll see you on Monday!