Monday, April 27, 2009

Tips to Query a Publisher

Your first step in querying a publisher should be to order the book Writer's Market. The book is available through for about $20. Writer’s Market includes 4,000 listings for book publishers, consumer magazines, trade journals, and literary agents. Most publishers’ listings in the book will tell you if they accept new authors, with or without agent representation, what types of manuscripts they want, what they pay, their contact information, and where to obtain authors’ submission guidelines for their company. Confirm all information by visiting the publisher’s website if available. Most publishers’ Websites will have authors’ guidelines as well.

Once you have chosen the right publisher and are ready to submit your package, you will need to write the all-important query letter. The query letter must get the attention of the acquisitions editor, or, more likely, an editorial assistant or reader. Many packages are thrown out after the first sentence is read. Your query letter should be a brief one-page tool used to get the editor interested in your book idea. The idea of a query letter is to draw enough interest in your book that the editor will request your entire manuscript be sent. Some editors want to see the entire manuscript on first contact. Check the submission guidelines to determine exactly which method the editor prefers.

Editors change job positions and companies regularly. Don’t assume the listed editor is the current one. Always call the publishing house and ask who the current editor is and then address your letter to that person.

When formatting your query letter:

• Limit it to one page.
• Use single spacing with one-inch margin.
• Use an easy to read typeface such as Times New Roman and a 10- or 12-point type.
• Include your complete contact information including e-mail and phone number.
• Address the letter directly to the acquisitions editor by name.
• Be creative. Get the editor’s attention with a catchy opening line.
• Let the editor know briefly what your book idea is about.
• Include whether or not you have illustrations.
• Inform them of any expertise you have in the subject matter.
• Let them know if you have been previously published.
• Close with a polite offer to send the entire manuscript.
• Thank them for their time and say you look forward to hearing from them soon.

You can locate sample query letters and book proposals in the Writer’s Market book.

When a publisher requests an entire book proposal be sent, your submission should include the following:

• A query letter as described above.
• A chapter summary that gives an idea of your book’s subject and shows in detail how you plan to develop your idea. For fiction books, cover the basic plot.
• An outline of your book’s chapters and what is included in each one.
• Your author biography that includes why you are qualified to write this book as well as any previous writing experience. You can include relevant clubs and organizations you belong to.
• Sample chapters or the entire manuscript. See the publishing house’s specific guidelines to learn how much of the manuscript the editor requests.
• Marketing information. Editors want to who will buy your book and how you plan to reach those people. Be specific.
• Competitive title analysis. Include similar books on your subject and how they differ from yours. Why will your book be better?

Most publishers will let you know through their submission guidelines exactly what they want to see included in your fiction or nonfiction proposal.

To learn more on this topic and the entire process of book writing, publishing, and marketing to help you get your book finished, read A Book Inside, How to Write, Publish, and Sell Your Story, ISBN 9780615199245, available at and wherever books are sold.


Unknown said...

Great advice, Carol. I am available to assist authors with writing their query letter or book proposal. Two I've recently submitted have received great response. One has signed with an agent and the other has several requests to see the manuscript.

Yvonne Perry

Patricia Rockwell said...

A publisher rejected my manuscript but asked me to revise and resubmit and gave me three rather general suggestions. How aggressively should I revise?

Carol said...

Hi Patricia,
Wow, great job in getting a response and suggestions!! You've passed the hardest point in publishing--getting an editor to look at your work!!
You answer depends on if you are submitting non-fiction or fiction, but I would search deep into the request and the same into revising. Does it "sound" as if they want aggressive revisions???

Patricia Rockwell said...

As I've never written fiction before I only have my experiences publishing academic non-fiction to go on. They gave me three suggestions: 1. use less parenthesis, 2. make characters a little less stereotypical, and 3. don't use so much listing in paragraphs. They said my writing was good and the story was "just short of great." How would you read that?

Carol said...

I would look for unnesesary parenthesis and slightly change your charaters (make them unique). I'm not sure what is meant by "listings in paragraphs." Maybe another reader here can help, comments anyone??
Then I would definately re-submit and request another look (to the attention of:)
Let us know if you get a go-ahead, we'll be excited to hear!