The How To Write A Query Letter

The how to write a query letter. Your chances of having your manuscript published rests on whether or not you've written a worth-while query letter. Here are some tips to a great query letter!

I'm not sure how many of you book-writers would agree, but query letter writing is not an easy task. Words for a novel come easily to me but I lose my train of thought when it comes to query letters. This is probably due to the fact that query letters are our ticket inside an editor's office. If we can make it that far, we've got a chance at getting our novel/book published. And isn't that what all writers dream of?

But there are steps to take to get published. You need to provide the editor/publisher with three things before they'll even consider reading your completed manuscript; your cover letter, your synopsis, and 2-3 (this will differ depending on the publisher) sample chapters of your manuscript. These three things are key in getting your manuscript read by an editor. Hence the ease I find in writing the novel rather than creating my query package.

There is no other way around this, minus knowing someone in the business that might be able to squeeze you in (highly doubtful that this will happen to you). This article will provide you with all the tricks of the trade for preparing a query letter. There are books upon books on how to write the proper query letter, and they are all different! This is a basic outline of what most publishers want when reading a query letter.

Remember the editor when writing your query letter...

Remember that editors are usually overworked, underpaid, and stressed out! They are extremely BUSY people. They don't have time to train you.

Editors receive 1,000's upon 1,000's of manuscripts and proposals every year. Only a fraction of these manuscripts are going to be published. You have to make yours stand out in that pile!

You are presenting an image of your work to the editor. Make sure it's clean, clear, creative, and captivating.

If you don't know the acquisitions editor's name, you haven't done enough homework - call the publisher and make sure you get the spelling right.

Don't rely on market guides for editor names. The turnover in publishing houses is high and fast. Always call and confirm the name.

Appearance DOES make a difference! Investing in a soft, cream-colored (20lb bond) paper for your query letter adds a nice touch. Don't use bright or fluorescent colors to attract more attention - the reaction will be just the opposite. Don't spice up your letter with doodling in hope of winning them over with your creativity. Just keep it simple and professional.

There are usually three boxes in an editor's office marked, "˜No', "˜Maybe', and "˜Yes'. Your query letter decides which box your submission goes in to (no pressure!).

Make sure that the editor/publisher you're querying to actually publishes the same genre as your book. If it doesn't fit in and it's not what they're looking for, you're wasting your precious time and theirs.

Keep your letter brief and to the point. You get about 5 minutes if you're lucky, so make it count!

More and more editors are looking to disposable manuscripts that save them time and you postage. Let the editor know if you are sending them a disposable manuscript that doesn't need to be returned.

Above all, remember that you're making your query package as easy and enjoyable to read as possible. Send your letter flat and unstapled in a manila or white envelope. Do not fold your submissions and shove them into a standard business envelope. This is NOT professional. If the editor has to spend his precious moments smoothing out the fold lines of your query package, you're in trouble!

Never send your original copy. Always send a photocopy but make sure it's good quality. If they can't read it, they won't!

Sometimes editors will give you personal feedback on your query submission/proposal. Use this to your advantage. Do not get offended. Instead, read carefully and learn from what advice they are offering you. Sometimes this means they are open to you "˜fixing and re-sending' your package in. Write back and ask them, if you make the changes they've suggested would they be interested in receiving your information again? In most cases, they are and will take one more look.

What's in a query letter and how to do it right?

Query letters should never be more than one page, single-spaced with a double space between paragraphs. They should be short and sweet. Concise and clear.

List your name, address, and phone number at the top of your letter.

In the first paragraph you should include the following:

- State the title of your book and what type of book (genre) you've written (category/genre/historical/etc.)

- Explain the concept of your book, focusing on the conflict issues between your characters (in about 100 words - think of this as the selling paragraph that you find on the back of published books).

- Identify who your target audience is for this book.

- Give a summary of your ideas if you plan to write a sequel to your book.

- If you feel that your book is similar to another book they've already published, list it here and why.

- Also include the length of your manuscript (rounded to the nearest thousand).

In the second paragraph you should include the following:

- Give a brief biographical note about yourself.

- List your qualifications for writing on your subject matter.

- You may also list any writing credits you may have, such as other books that you've written and published, and awards you've received for your writings.

In the third paragraph you should include the following:

- Ask the editor if you may send him your complete manuscript.

- Inform him that you've included you SASE. (self addressed stamped envelope - do not staple this to your letter).

- Thank the editor for his time and consideration. This is a service that they are doing for you.

How to increase your chances of your query letter being read...

- Follow all the publishers guidelines to the T. Don't waste their time and do it "˜your way'. They use guidelines for a reason.

- Neatness, clarity of thought, and evidence of your writing skills is important for a good query letter. The editor needs to know that you "˜can' write.

-Making your letter funny or charming can sometime catch an editor's eye, but be careful not to get silly. This is a fine line to walk and usually backfires more often than offers success.

- Grammar and spelling errors can ruin your chances with an editor. If there are a few mistakes you will probably slip through. If there's more than a few, you're chances are bad. Get someone to both proofread the letter, and then have him or her read the letter out loud to you so you can hear how it sounds.

- A beautifully typed letter with proper margins can mean the difference between "˜Yes' and "˜No' for you and your manuscript.

What you should never do in a query letter...

- Never brag about your work or of what a great writer you are. Avoid sentences like; "˜all my friends love my writing!'. The editor will decide for himself if your work is worth reading.

- Don't tell them how long and how hard you've worked on this book. Frankly, they don't care.

-Don't tell them that your book was written through divine intervention. If your work is really that "˜divine', then it will speak for itself.

-Do not use script or italics in your letter. Use standard typeface (Times New Roman or Arial).

If and when your query package comes back rejected (and it will) don't let yourself feel defeated. Try, try again. Remember that timing is everything in most cases like these. You attempting to get your manuscript published is very similar to that of a struggling actor or singer attempting to get recognized or "˜discovered'. Be prepared to get rejected, not necessarily because your manuscript is "˜terrible' but because you get five minutes in letterform to sell yourself to a publishing company. Your letter is in a pile of a 1000+ other letters all boasting the same as yours. You might not get it right the first time so keep trying.

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