Query Letter Tips

Making First Contact

Getting your Book Published With a query letter being such a make-it-or-break-it one page masterpiece, here are a few things to keep in mind.

Know your Target Audience
Polish each query letter for each new person. Never send a generic one. If you are writing to a publisher that likes gentle SciFi the letter will be different from one going to a publisher who likes harder SciFi. Keep files of every letter you write and always customize them for the specific publisher you’re sending to. This means you need to do solid research on that publisher before you write. Publishers appreciate that effort.

Write to the Reader’s Needs
A lot of authors tend to write about me-me-me. I did this. I did that. That’s not what the editor wants to hear. They want to hear about how this project will help THEM. Not to be too harsh, but they don’t care about you. There are ten thousand “yous” out there all begging to be let in. There are plenty of “yous”. What they care about is their publishing house and their own job. They want to be the editor to find the next blockbuster and bring it to their publishing house. They want to get a big bonus and for the publishing house to be well known for this stunning book.

So imagine yourself as the editor, getting this letter. What would you want to hear? What about the author’s background would convince you that this author would be perfect in marketing material and on book interviews? What about the book’s theme and topic area would make it just right for the next big announcement at your publishing house? How does it fit in with current events? With hot themes?

The more you can imagine yourself as that editor, and think of the letter from THEIR point of view, the more effective your letter becomes.

Consider a SHORT illustrative story
Study after study shows that people get involved and empathetic when they hear stories. Now keep in mind that you only have ONE PAGE for your entire query letter so now is not the time to retell a childhood epic saga. But if your book is about firefighters and you start with something like “Twin girls stared out the tenth floor window, fire raging all around them. Most people were fleeing the fire – but Captain Ronaldson strode in, determined to rescue them.” Something to catch their attention and make immediately clear what the book is all about.

Prove your Marketing Skills
Pretty much every publishing house out there – big or small – is going to expect you, the author, to do the heavy lifting for marketing. They’re going to expect you to go on interviews. On book tours. To write back and forth with newspaper reporters. To maintain an active social media presence. Part of what they are judging you on, in your query letter, is how well you’ll be able to handle that responsibility. So this is where you really want to shine. Make your words ring. Show you can be effective and connective.

Provide Multiple Means of Contact
Some agents hate phones. Others adore them. Some prefer email. Some love text. Some hang out on Facebook all day. Provide a variety of contact options. That way, whatever they choose to use, you’ll be ready for them.

End Upbeat with Thanks and a Contact Request
Always end any letter that is a “request” style of letter thanking the reader for their time and requesting a next step. In this case, you’d like them to contact you for more information. That “call to action” is critical in this type of communication.

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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