I asked jacy (who besides doing beautiful cover art, used to teach creative writing and has published several books) to write up a little something about Query Letters and Submission for this week.
I also thought it would be fun to talk about how you write. Do you start at the beginning and power through to the final chapter? Write the end first and then wind your way back there from the beginning? Write scenes and character arcs before putting it all together?
Other than that, remind us what you’re writing and let the discussion begin. Also, hit me up with topics for the next writing group and I’ll try and find someone to bring us some expertise.
Query Letter and Submission
Self-publishing is now a viable path for writers, but even if you’re wildly embracing self-publishing, you still need to know about querying and submission. Many authors both self-publish and trad publish, and every author needs to know how to submit to contests, magazines, anthologies, publishers, and agents. Here are some basics, no matter what path you’re taking.
Before you begin, there are three rules:
- Be finished: Have your manuscript completed, polished, and edited.
- Know your market: understand your genre and audience, and where your manuscript fits in.
- Do your research: know who you are submitting to, that they want what you’re submitting, and what their exact guidelines for submission are.
Once you’ve done that, there are three general things to keep in mind when writing your query and preparing your submission:
- Be professional: write a standard query letter using correcting formatting, good grammar, and make sure it’s proofread multiple times.
- Don’t be vague: show that you understand your book or story, tell them how long it is, give as many specifics as you can.
- Don’t be cute: editors and agents have seen every clever idea come down the pike. You are not going to impress them by “thinking outside the box.” Reading queries is a bitch, and it’s easy to annoy someone who is looking at a never-ending stack of letters or overflowing email box.
Now to the actual query and submission process. Make a list of who you are querying for a project, and check to make sure who accepts multiple submissions and who does not. This way you can plan how you will send the queries out. Keep a file on each person/publication you are querying that shows what their guidelines are. (STICK TO THE GUIDELINES. ALWAYS.) You will probably need to make up different query packages for different audiences. For each person/publication, try your best to find out who exactly you are querying by name. It’s not always possible, but go the extra mile to find out a person’s name, even if you need to call up and ask. Once you have your packets ready, you can tailor the individual query letters.
There are some general rules for a query letter:
- It should be properly addressed as specifically as possible using standard business format.
- It should never be more than a page, and should be between 3 and 5 paragraphs.
- It should clearly state the title of your manuscript and how long it is (word count).
- It should be polite and straightforward.
In your opening paragraph, you can mention any connection you have to person you’re querying, for example, if you’ve met them, had previous correspondence with them, or another author has recommended them specifically to you. If you have none of these things, then jump right in by telling them why you’re writing to them. Give the title and length of your manuscript, and how if fits what they’re looking for. (i.e. why you are sending them this specific manuscript for their specific needs/wants/area of interest.)
The second paragraph should tell them about the manuscript. They call this the “hook.” Work up a good hook that’s snappy, but short. It should lay out the basic plot idea, the protagonist, and why people would care about either.
The third paragraph can be your bio – any previous publications, your area of expertise, awards, anything that gives you authority or heft or a track record. You may not have these things, so it’s okay to not include a bio. It will depend on your specific situation.
The fourth paragraph describes what you are offering or including. If you’ve done your research, you know what their guidelines for submission are. FOLLOW THEM. The quickest way to end up in the trash can is to not follow guidelines. It’s an easy way to weed out submissions. Even if you’re work is brilliant, they’re never going to know because they’re not going to take the time to look at something they didn’t ask for from somebody who couldn’t be bothered to follow their rules. So you can say, “I’ve attached a brief synopsis and the first 10 pages, as outlined in your guidelines.” Or, “If you’re interested, I’d be happy to send the manuscript.” Whatever they asked for, let them know you have it.
The final paragraph is a brief thanks for their time and a something about looking forward to hearing from them. Then you sign off.
That’s it! For a more in-depth look and sample letters, I suggest this link to Jane Friedman’s article, which you can find here. Lots of great info there, and I highly recommend her as an expert in the field.
I’ll be around in the comments if anyone has any specific questions that I can answer.
TaMara here again – keep it positive and fun – enjoy!