LESSON TWO: DO I HAVE WHAT IT TAKESThe second stage of the journey is figuring out the logistics. Do I have enough money, time, interest in the trip? Do I have the right apparel, vacation time? How do I follow the map?
Just like the proper preparation for a trip, writers should lay the groundwork for the submission process. Last week we talked about why we write and how to find a destination; this week we’ll discuss the first step in the process of sending out your manuscript. We’ll learn how to follow the directions for the target publisher or agent and write sample query letters.
· Query/ query letter
· Cover letter
· Synopsis which will include a hook or theme or log line
· Writing sample, which will usually be the first few chapters or completed piece
· Writer’s Resume
· Writing Plan
· Marketing plan
· Market analysis
· Self-Addressed Stamped Envelope if sending by land
- Fancy stationery of any kind
- Perfume or scent
- Gifts of any kind
- Voice messages
- Revelations from God or anyone else
- Sob Stories
- Underwear, locks of hair, or any other personal items/parts
Publishers are over-inundated by the clamor of writers who want to be published. How to sort this out? They’ve often resorted to a query. Query, of course, means to ask.
The publisher or agent wants you to ask him or her if your project is a good fit for the publication. This is your first impression. You might be asked to submit a simple query of a paragraph or so to begin with in an e-mail, or you might be asked to submit a query letter. These letters almost exclusively are limited to one page. If you have a paragraph query in which to make your case, use succinct language to outline your project in a couple of sentences; add one sentence about why it fits the publication and finish with one or two sentences about why you’re writing this particular item. This is good practice for any time someone asks you what your book is about and what audience you expect to read your book, anyway, so this is a great practice exercise. If there are specific guidelines or samples on the editor's or publisher's or agent's web sites or blogs, follow those. There are numerous samples for you to follow that you can find online.
Your name and address
(left side) target Publication
Salutation (Try to give a name if possible; I've run across the situation where I specifically asked the company for a name, and they responded "we prefer to be anonymous"; otherwise, address Dear Acquisitions Editor, or however the company has it worded.)
Body of letter: probably about three paragraphs for a one-page query letter.
In general, how to make your case would include the query information, just expanded. I usually use up a sentence starting out by thanking the editor for looking at this query. Do include:
- Nature of your project, including the final word count. (Now here’s where I have to say to beginning writers – please don’t submit stuff before you have it finished. It’s just a bad idea. And yes, I have experience with this. You can ask me.) Pretend you’re looking him or her in the eye, and they’ve just asked you what your (book) is about. Answer in three-four sentences. Pitch one project at a time, even if you have a drawerful. If you've written a series, you can mention it. Give your hook, make it fresh and enticing; an invitation to read more. This is your sample writing style.
- Who you are and your reason for tackling this project. The range for this paragraph is enormous. Just sticking with the facts is always best. Do not make any statements about what you think the scope of your project will be – that’s their vision. Do not compare your work to the big guns – although…some editors will tell you they like to know if you think you write like Jodi Picoult or Ted Dekker…it’s a tough call. You could probably be safe by sticking with genre instead of name dropping. Are you in any national organizations? Professional organizations? What’s your day job and does it have anything to do with your potential audience. This paragraph will mostly be a personality test and a potential marketing platform. Portray the best and most real “you” there is. If you’re a shy flower, ask someone else to describe you and use some of those descriptions. Again, you have three to five sentences. Bullet points take up room, but can be useful. Make them count. Definitely include writing credentials. “Don’t have any,” you say? Get some! “Um, how?” you ask? How ’bout this: Read any local newspapers? Most smaller rags look for color stuff or are crying for someone to cover a boring county board meetings. Same with smaller local magazines, which you can find at the library, but don’t be afraid to try a bigger niche one if you have a cool hobby or something, you never know. (Surprised me when Writer’s Digest wanted to publish an interview I had done as an assignment for a course I was taking.) Go to church with a national presence? Do they have a magazine or a website? That’s how I got my first creds. Are you familiar with any newsletters? Your library need a reviewer? How about your own blog or website?
- Your third paragraph will probably be house-keeping stuff, like letting the editor know that you know who they are. Some general sentence about a recent release or article that affected you. A little repeated thanks. Let them know when you can be reached. Let them know you’re a hard worker and willing to do what it takes to be successful without sounding like you’re begging or groveling. Probably not a good time to mention that drawerful of rejections, either. You don’t bring up money or payment, or pleas to work on commission, or anything like that. You don’t ask questions about it. In fact, you don’t ask questions about anything. Not even when he thinks he’ll get back to you. If they accept your work and offer a contract, then you get to ask questions. You don't say your mom loved it, you don't mention that this may be your first book or your twenty-seventh try to sell this story; you don't say that you're certain this person will love your book.
Assignment: Practice writing a biography and hook sentences. Practice saying what your book is about in three sentences; in two sentences. Then write it and memorize it. Now work on writing two or three sample one page query letters to some of those target publishers or agents from the last lesson, paying attention to any particular instructions they give on their websites.