Writing the Query Letter & Seizing Opportunity!
“Do not solicit.” These are words we have heard time after time, from companies and individuals alike. And they have a point. There is a right way and a wrong way to go about promoting yourself and your work. But when it comes to the writing industry, soliciting is mandatory. Honestly. The days of printing out novels, and other written works, then mailing them off to publishers for review are long-past. Now, the only way to get your foot in the door with publishing houses is by having an agent solicit your work for you. Authors can petition their work to publishers on their own as well, but your chances of getting a publisher to view your work are significantly higher if an agency does it for you. Most publishers won’t even attempt to read a story unless it was solicited to them first. But I will touch-base on how to find agents later. Before you think about finding agents, you need to know how to “sell” your work. Getting published is challenging, but there is a method to the madness! And it starts with writing the query letter.
There are three steps to having your work considered for publication. First, you submit a query letter. If the letter is accepted, you submit a story synopsis. If that goes well and they wish to consider you, you will submit either the first three chapters of your book or if it is a short story, the complete manuscript. No matter what your masterpiece is, it is always best to submit a completed manuscript rather than a half-finished one. It is difficult for publishers to make a decision on whether they like your story, if it is not fully completed.
Writing a query letter is the professional way to ask an agent, or publisher, if they might be interested in reading your work. You must never submit your project right away. Agents and publishers have a lot on their plate, so they need to know if your story is worth taking the time to read first.
Query letters must be no more than one-page long; single spaced, and typed out in size twelve fonts. The best font to use is always Times New Roman. Each publishing agency will have their own submission rules, but the query letter is almost always written in Times New Roman.
Now, let’s focus on setting up your document.
Start with Your Address & the Address of the Publisher or Agency
In the upper left-hand corner of your Word document, type out your full name and address. When you list your name, make sure it is your given name and not an alias. The opportunity to reveal your pen name, if you wish to use one, will come later. Underneath your address should be your contact information. Specifically, your phone number and email address.
After you have listed your mailing information, leave a space in your Word document and type out the information about the agent or publisher you are submitting to. Use the exact same method you used for your own contact information.
Include the Date of which You will be Submitting the Query Letter
It may take you a day or two to finish writing the letter. So when you set up your document, do not write down the current date. Instead, write the date you believe you will be submitting your query letter. Doing this not only helps you be prepared, but it also gives you a deadline to work towards.
The date should be displayed one or two spaces down from the agents/publishers mailing address.
Begin Your Letter by Addressing the Agent/Publisher Professionally
When you write your letter you don’t want to sound too casual. Your query should be exciting and interesting to read, but you must also sound professional. After all, you have never met this person. The best way to address them would be by their prefix (if applicable), first name, followed by their last name. Example: Mr. John Doe.
Write a Brief (20 word) Sentence Containing the Name of Your Story and What it is About
Introducing your masterpiece in one sentence may sound daunting; but it’s actually easier than you think! Start, by expressing your enthusiasm to the publisher, just like you would do on a cover letter to a potential employer. Then follow that up by telling them the name of your story and what it is centered around.
Write a Synopsis of Your Story (No longer than 190 words.)
Don’t let the word synopsis overwhelm you. The opportunity to submit a lengthy, detailed, summary will come later; first you need to get your foot in the door by giving a brief rundown of your story. The best way to do this, is to imagine the back of a book cover. Whether you are submitting a book or a short story, the summary process is the same. What would your story look like in one paragraph?
There is no need to worry about character description at this point. Instead, focus on where the story takes place (your setting) and what challenge your protagonist is facing. Did they start out with a simple life that ended up getting complicated really fast? Do they befriend any other characters during their adventure? And lastly, what is your cliffhanger? Describe what will happen if your character doesn’t manage to defeat their antagonist, whatever, or whoever, that may be.
Include a (30 word) Paragraph Describing Your Previous Writing Experience
Agents and publishers need to know that you have the potential to make them money. It’s nothing personal — that is just the way things work. This is why it is very important to have a publishing history when you are first starting out. However, the publication doesn’t have to be something you were compensated for. There are lots of companies out there who look for stories by beginner writers and publish them in their latest book, paper, or blog. This may seem like a step-back at first, because you won’t be paid for your hard work, but it is publicity! And most importantly, it gives you a publishing history! Publishers don’t have to know that you weren’t paid. And even if they did know that, it wouldn’t make them any less interested in you. You still submitted a piece of work to a publishing company who thought it was interesting enough to share with the world. That’s what counts!
When you list your publishing history, do your best to make it sound relevant to the story you are submitting now. The more closely related your publishing history is, the better your chances will be for getting your query letter accepted.
Don’t forget to mention your educational background! It doesn’t matter if you mention it before or after your publishing history so long as it is in there. If you didn’t attend college that is okay. No matter what your educational background is, include any and all information that relates to the writing field. You never know!
Lastly, Explain Why You Think Your Story will be a Good Fit for the Publishing Company
Before you start sending off your query letter to publishers, you will need to make a list of potential companies to sell too. Do not send more than one query letter out at a time. Always wait to hear back from the first publisher before you move on to the next one. If three months go by and you haven’t heard anything, you are safe to assume they are not interested. Query letters rarely take three months to receive a response, though. (To find potential publishers for your genre, use The Writer’s Market 99th Edition.)
Once you have your list, and you know who you are addressing your query letter to, tell them why their targeted audience will be interested in your work. For example, if you are submitting an urban fantasy novel that contains traditional elements, such as vampires who terrorize cities, tell them why this will appeal to people and what makes your version different from the rest of the “vampire” publications out there.
As you already guessed, having your query letter accepted is not a guarantee that your work will be published. But it definitely means that you have peaked a publisher’s interest — your foot is now at the door. And if your work ends up being turned down in the end, don’t let that get YOU down. Just move on to the next potential publisher. The journey of seeing your work in print is a long one.