I've been hearing it for a while. Want to get an agent? The most important piece of the puzzle is to be awesome. Write an awesome query to get an agent's attention, and make sure you're ready to back it up with an awesome manuscript.
Okay, but how do you know when you've arrived at "awesome"?
It's not easy. The first thing I had to accept was that I might be wrong. I wouldn't really know. The best I could do was have a really strong belief. I also tried to keep my mind open to a need to increase the awesome.
There's a line between "If I don't believe in my work, why should anyone else?" and "I've written the most amazing novel ever and how dare anyone say I change a single thing?" It's a thin line, and crossing to the wrong side isn't pretty. Keeping my self-assessments honest can be a battle between my perfectionism and occasional surges of ego.
It doesn't help when there are plenty of outside-our-control reasons for agents not to nibble. Our timing may be off trend-wise. Maybe we're hitting agents who just signed something too similar.
Maybe the work just isn't awesome enough (yet).
That doesn't mean it isn't awesome at all. Maybe it's pretty-darn awesome, just not holy-whoa awesome.
I thought my earlier manuscripts were awesome enough. In fact, I still think there's a lot of awesome in them. At the same time, there's something great about retrospect. When I look back over my querying experiences, there was something different this last round—the round that resulted in signing with my agent. A different gut-feeling when I said to myself, "This bird is ready to fly."
Thing is, I can only recognize that from here. At the time, all I could do was hope.
And keep working.
Because no amount of awesome is ever really enough, right?