Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Query Letters: how to compose winners

Enter Writing North Idaho’s “Winter Reflection” 500 word story contest. Share an interesting tradition, funny experience, best holiday, a skiing experience or some other winter incident that made a lasting impression. Click on “WNI Contest” on the banner above for details. Deadline is Sunday, December 8, 2012. Cash and other prizes are awarded, there is no entry fee and your story will be published on this web site (with your consent). Good luck!

There are no baby steps in writing and getting published. It is not a world for wimps. It is the place for self-starters but procrastination is rampant. The giant steps are:

1.        Write your book, story, article or manual. Before you begin that step, you will benefit if you identify your audience by demographics and identify your markets. Write targeting your specific readers.

2.        Write a book proposal after your book is done.

3.        Select various agents to query.

4.        Write your query letters (plural).

5.        Select an agent and follow his instructions.

6.        Enjoy working with a publisher and follow the advice of your editor.

7.        Reap the rewards be they monetary or self-described.

In this post, we will learn to learn how to write a perfect query letter.

Before you query, do further homework. You know who your readers are likely to be but where are they? Where do they gather? What may be their other interests? Is there a large enough audience for a big publisher to be interested in your book or are you looking for a boutique publisher? Are you experienced and adroit at public speaking? Can you travel for interviews and book signings? Once you have answered those questions, you can write good query letters. Research which agents handle books of your genre. Follow their guidelines explicitly. Some accept email queries while others demand a hard copy.  

Query letters are short: one (1) page regardless of topic, your credentials, or length of the book.

1.     The first paragraph introduces your book. Begin with a “hook” sentence. You have little space in which to catch an agent’s interest. “My book about parenting began when our baby was born in an elevator.” Okay, now you have my attention. Go on to describe your book in 4-5 tightly written sentences. This is your first inroad to an agent unless you know her personally. Make sure your grammar is A+ and there are no errors anywhere in your query. Have 2-3 other people proofread the final copy.
2.      Paragraph two is about you and your writing highlights. Do not include your first grade teacher’s name, how many times you’ve been married or the fact that you were an only child. Do include titles or one word descriptions of prior publishings. “My work has been published in the Spokane Review newspaper, Idaho magazine and various local magazines. Clips available”; contests won; and awards for writing.  If you write a blog, say so. If you do not have any publishing experience, do not say so. Conclude with “A book proposal is available.”
3.      This section is about marketing. Estimate optimistically who and what number of people may be interested in your book. “This book will appeal to women ages___ to__. This is __% of the buying market.” Most agents want to know if you have had speaking or teaching experience, what national organizations you belong to with potential markets, if you are willing to travel (don’t say so if you are not).
4.     In the final paragraph, thank the agent for his time and state you are looking forward to hearing from her.
5.      Sign it “Sincerely”, your name, address, home and cell phone numbers, email address and web site address if you have one.
6.      You must stylize each letter to suit each agent. Mention other authors she has worked with. “My book is similar to xxxx but I wrote it from the perspective of….” Do not blindly blanket the industry with your queries. Word travels and you will be labeled as ignorant. Do not brag. “This is better than ANY of John Grisham’s books. You’ll love it!” is a no-no. Use Arial or Times New Roman, size 12 font with no embellishments like colors, visuals or emoticons. Be succinct, show that you have done your homework and exude enthusiasm. Write a query letter professionally.

This is not a definitive formula for querying but a common one. Other sites may show you a different order of paragraphs or things to include. Do your research so you know you have  extensive knowledge about querying agents and so you can query properly for maximum responses.