Writing a Query Letter

Making First Contact

Getting your Book Published Whether you’re considering going with a traditional publisher (big or small) or bringing on a literary agent to represent you, that first contact is crucial. The way you phrase your query letter can either start a beautiful relationship – or it can send you right into the trash can.

Take this task seriously! It is just as important as how you write the book. It is how you get that door open.

A query letter is what sells your idea to the editor or agent. Its sole purpose is to convince that “gatekeeper” to take the all-important next step – to contact you to further discuss your material.

In order to do that, your letter must:

- be compelling reading - excite the editor into wanting to know more, arouse interest
- entice them to make the effort to contact you

Remember, the editor doesn’t HAVE you read your whole letter. They can read the beginning and chuck it immediately if they’re not enticed. They already have a pile of 800 other query letters waiting to be read.

You need to convince them, every step of the way, that it’s worth their time to continue. The lead must be relevant. Start immediately with the topic at hand, not your own background (unless you are an Olympic Gold Medalist or something like that). Grab them with the first paragraph and then give them a crystal clear vision of what you offer.

You must work into your message the:

* Theme and slant of your book
* Source of any stats or info you list in the query letter
* Your credentials to write this content
* Photos / artwork / etc. you can provide

This sounds like a lot of information. However, also keep in mind that your query letter should be:

* a single page only
* single spaced with eye-appealing paragraphs
* ordinary white bond paper with black ink

Let me note here that you VERY RARELY send a blind query letter to a publisher that is written “however you want”. In almost every single case a publisher will have very specifically stated requirements for any contacts made to them.

Some publishers absolutely refuse any author contact and will only talk with agents. If you write them, you destroy any chance of them having respect for you if you do ever track down an agent.

Some publishers do accept author contact and want that email to go to a specific in-box, in a specific format. If you write a random query letter without following their format, they’ll just delete your message. They already get deluged with thousands of messages every day. Part of their criteria for taking on an author is that they know the author will follow instructions properly. If you start out by not following their basic contact instructions, that’s a clear indication to them that you are not a good writer to work with.

I have only seen maybe one or two publishers total - out of the tens of thousands that exist - that say “write me however you want”. So in those cases you would do the very best query letter you could following the above instructions. However, in the vast majority of cases you need to follow their instructions to the exact letter. You are proving to them that you can read, that you can understand, and that you can do what they want you to do. That is what they seek, someone who fits perfectly into their organization.

When I earned my Leadership degree there was an entire course in this type of “first contact” communication. Case study after case study showed how critical the wording of this letter can be. Even subtle changes in the language you use can make a big difference. So take this seriously. Ask friends to read it. Make sure there are NO typos.

Then send.

Traditional Publishing - main page
Overview of Traditional Publishing
How Copyright Works
Working With A Literary Agent
... My Concerns about Agents
Finding a Publisher
... Writer's Market
Writing a Query Letter
... Query Letter Tips
... Query Letter Issues to Avoid
Getting To a Contract Offer
Negotiating the Contract
Working With the Publisher or Agent
... Publishers and Editing

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