Writing Your Book Query Letter
The most important piece of writing an author will ever do is to pen their book query letter. It is the first piece of your writing the commissioning editor or agent sees and all too often, the only piece. A good commissioning editor can often tell all they need to know about an author’s writing ability from how they construct their query letter. It is your first hurdle.
Here’s an inside secret. Commissioning editors are in general under huge pressure from both authors and the companies for whom they work that they have to take short-cuts. Most editors have their own check lists but here are the common points they all look for.
1 Is this book query letter a multiple submission? (Usually obvious from the address line.)
2 Has the author taken the trouble to address the book query letter personally?
3 Is the tone polite?
4 Forgiving the odd typo, is the book query letter grammatically correct?
5 Has the author followed the instructions from the website?
That list usually dispenses with at least 50% of the slush pile and the editor hasn’t had to read a single word of the manuscript yet.
6 Is the manuscript laid out in a tidy and easily readable manner?
7 Does the first sentence arouse interest?
Most editors will now quickly scan the text looking for common errors, such as misplaced possessive apostrophes, incorrect syntax within character speech, capitalization and paragraph formatting. That will usually dispense with another large pile. Remember, most good publishing companies receive thousands of submissions and the commissioning editors are looking for reasons to reject your manuscript, not reasons to accept it.
Now to the content of your query letter. It should contain the briefest of introductions then go straight to your Elevator Pitch, that single line describing your book in a way which grabs the interest. Next, comes the Blurb, the bit you would put on the back of the book. No more than 200 – 250 words and describing the problems facing your protagonist. Avoid character names and place names unless they are critical. The editor doesn’t want to know the full name of your character, her father’s name and where she went to school. The only thing of interest here is can you tell a story?
Next, comes the part of the book query letter where you let your research show. Why did you select this publisher? Why are you a good fit for this company? Liken your book to others published by this house. Follow this with your plans for making the book successful, are you already building a following on social media? How are you going to help in the promotion?
Finally, a little bit about yourself. The briefest of brief biographies running to no more than 200 words.
It matters not how great your story is, how it’s going to set the humanity to rights and bring about world peace. If the commissioning editor doesn’t get past your query letter because it reads like a Trump Tweet, it won’t matter. If you want a quality publisher to take your work seriously, show you are a professional who means business, understands the tools of the trade and is ready to help push the book to success. Your book query letter is the first piece of your writing seen by a commissioning editor, make sure it’s a good advertisement for you.