The Art of the Query Letter

So, you want to get published and you’ve been sending what feels like–or may even really be–hundreds of queries to publishing houses (big and small), editors, and agents and no one’s biting the line you keep throwing into the water.  Have you ever considered that it may be your query letter that is putting your manuscript straight into the slush pile? If your manuscript is ready and you’re presenting something that is at least somewhat unique into the literary world, it could be your query letter.

Even small publishers go through hundreds of submissions a month. You’re lucky if you even get a response back. And it’s not because publishing houses are filled to the brim with jerks with no common courtesy, it’s just that everyone is busy. Some editors hold full-time jobs or swing other side projects just to keep afloat. Think it’s a financial struggle being a writer? Well, guess what a lot of writers do as a side hustle–they edit at publishing houses. We’re trying to put bread on the table just like everyone else. Sure there are those few hotshots that work in publishing and never have to monitor their bank accounts but they don’t represent the majority. Publishing houses are also committed to giving the authors that they’ve signed on as much attention as they can. Working with a publisher is a joint-effort of success between an author and publishing house.

Okay, so how do you get your query letter through the cracks so that an acquisitions officer becomes interested in taking a look at your manuscript? Sure, I’ll tell you the secret. Are you ready? You may want to sit down because I’m about to blow your mind. The secret is: keep it short and to the point, for the love of God! Of course it’s not that easy, but seriously, keep it focused.

  1. Address the editor/individual by name. This shows that you’ve actually taken the time to read the submissions guidelines and put some effort into looking through the website. “Dear acquisitions editor” just sounds like a control, copy, paste job that you’re sending to everyone. You already look like you’re just another writer looking for a quick way to get in and don’t really care about what you’re doing. The last thing you want is to give the impression that you’re just like everyone else in the slush pile.
  2. Open with a one-sentence blurb about what your book is about. There’s really no need for these overly polite introductions because the editor already knows what you want—you’re selling and pitching a manuscript. I’ve seen query letters with the first paragraph going on and on about everything but what the manuscript is about. This opening sentence is supposed to peak the editor’s interest so they want to read more and learn more about you.
  3. Immediately follow your one-sentence blurb with more details about your book in a short paragraph. Please don’t add pages of excerpts. If the editor wants to see your work they’ll go through your manuscript.
  4. The next paragraph should be about you.  What else have you written? What makes your book special? Why is it going to be successful? What’s your background? What makes you, as an individual, special? What are your strengths as a writer? What are your weaknesses as a writer? This is where you plug in any more information you want known. At this point in the letter, the editor is interested in knowing who’s behind the manuscript so share what you think could close the deal.
  5. End it and offer that you’ll follow up but understand that the review process could take weeks to up to a year. 
  6. Under your signature, put all your contact information there so that the editor isn’t digging for it through the text later. Include, “Author of, the title of your book“, followed by your phone number, email, and link to your website. If you mail your letter, the envelope will probably get lost. If you e-mail the letter as an attachment, it’s likely that the attachment will be printed and the original e-mail will eventually drown in hundreds of other e-mails. Just guarantee your contact information is there when needed. Even if you think they have it, give it to them again.
  7. Revise and proofread your letter. Also, edit the letter so that it fits on a single page.

 

Best of luck,

E

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