Friday, August 19, 2016

If You Want to Sell Your Book Traditionally, Don’t Brand Yourself an Amateur

Are you considering publishing your book traditionally? If so, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the correct process before even attempting to contact anyone. Assuming your manuscript is of publishable quality, that means beginning with learning to write a query letter. Before we talk about how to write one, let’s talk about what not to do.

An editor friend of mine received the following email query from an aspiring author:

Dear Editors,
    Please consider publishing my book, part of which is in the attachment below.

Warm regards, Bob
What’s wrong here? First of all, it was sent to many editors at once, and all names appeared in the TO: field, 101 in total. In addition, there are several things the writer needs to know before contacting a publisher:

1.      Does the publisher accept query letters that are not submitted by an agent? If not, he/she should stop here.

2.      Does the publisher accept books from first-time authors?

3.      Does the publisher accept the type of book the author is pitching?

4.      Has the publisher published a book like this already? If so, your chances are slim.

5.      What does the publisher want to see? Query letter? Synopsis? Sample chapters? All of the above? Some of the above?

6.      What is the name of the specific editor handling that type of book?
A query letter is equivalent to the cover letter accompanying a resume when applying for a job. A well-written one will get the editor to request more material or read what was submitted. The query letter above that Bob sent tells the editor one thing: He is an amateur who doesn’t know what he’s doing, so the manuscript is no doubt just as poorly written. Since Bob doesn’t know how to write a query, he has probably also not researched the company to see what the requirements are for submission.

Editors are busy people. They read hundreds of queries per week. They can’t waste time on those that aren’t properly submitted. Bob’s query was so amateurish that it wouldn’t have mattered if he’d written the great American novel, since it wouldn’t have been read. The conclusion would have been drawn that the manuscript was just as amateurish.
They would have been right. Bob’s attached fiction manuscript was certainly neither submitted properly nor of publishable quality. For starters, it was in 26-point font rather than the required 12-point font and contained not one sentence of dialogue. There is no point elaborating on the numerous other problems.

My editor friend took the time to write Bob and let him know that he needed to learn to write a proper query letter, that he needed to research Writer’s Market for the proper way to submit to the publishers he had in mind, and that he also needed to learn proper manuscript format.
Did Bob heed this advice? Apparently not, for six weeks later, this editor received the identical query from him once again!

Writing a proper query letter is an art. It takes study and practice. A normal query is one page (not one sentence) and consists of four main paragraphs:

Paragraph 1 – Usually one sentence and provides a hook into the main point of the book.  
Paragaph 2 – Mini-synopsis: Write a short overview of the plot if the book is fiction or the overall concepts if the book is non-fiction. This could be broken into two paragraphs, if necessary.

Paragraph 3 – Your writing credits (if you have some)
Paragraph 4 – A pleasant closing

To learn to write a query letter, check out these websites:

Also, go to for great sample query letters for both fiction and nonfiction.
As with any field, showing yourself as a professional is the first step to accomplishing your goals. Don’t be like Bob and brand yourself an amateur before you even get out of the gate. Make sure your manuscript is the best possible and then learn to write a query letter that will get the editor to read your submission.