No Sci-Friday this week. I’ve been shooting out author query letters for MESH and that brings up another author-related topic for you, the aspiring writer. You’ve written your first novel – congratulations! That’s a big step, and you should be proud of yourself. Now it’s time to think about selling your project to a publishing house if you don’t want to self-publish. You can do that in two ways, make a direct deal with a publishing house (that’s it’s own animal for another blog post) or engage with a literary agent who sells your project for a percentage of the profits. Engaging with a literary agent starts with a QUERY LETTER. So let’s talk about your query letter and you.
What is a Query Letter?
According to Writer’s Digest Shop, “Writers use query letters to pitch article ideas to magazine editors or book ideas to agents and publishers. It’s a one-page letter used to get an editor or agent interested in the work you’d like to send them. Sometimes writers submit a query letter about a piece they’ve already written—such as a manuscript for a fiction novel. Other times, you query to determine if you should write the piece, such as a nonfiction book.”
Your query letter is a message to someone you don’t know that hey, you’ve got a book – would they be interested in selling it? There’s a lot of nuance and protocol that goes into the process of writing a query letter but at least you know what a query letter is in a nutshell.
Do I Have to Write a Query Letter?
Short answer, no. Long answer, no, of course not – only write a query letter if you plan on selling your book. Authors who don’t write query letters include: publishers or their friends, famous people, and animals with no opposable thumbs. You wouldn’t expect Clifford the Dog to write his own query letter would you? He’s a dog! Plus, he’s the size of a house and I’m not sure his signature can translate down to an 8 1/2 x 11 sheet. So because many of us do not fit in the aforementioned categories, it’s safe to assume yes, you need to write a query letter.
How do I Write a Query Letter?
From a basic structural perspective, you can pick up some tips in the aforementioned Writer’s Digest Shop blog post:
“[I]nclude in your query is the basic information about your proposed story or idea. If you’ve written a fiction piece, mention the title and genre your work fits best in. If you are a nonfiction writer, talk about your proposed title or category for your book. You should also include a one-sentence summary of your story and your final manuscript’s word count or proposed word count of your nonfiction book.
The third element is the hook, which makes up the bulk of your query letter. This is where you talk about the subject matter (for nonfiction) or the characters, plot, and conflict (for fiction). This section should be between 100 and 200 words long.”
It’s important to remember though, that this is a TIP ONLY. There are many schools of thought on what a successful query letter looks like. Since it’s a sales letter, your job is to sell your project – not you – to a professional buyer and seller of book projects.
In fact, you can get some ideas on recent query letters on /r/pubtips, which is dedicated to the process of writing perfect query letters for novel projects. Keep in mind, these people make good query letters by destroying query letters. Word of caution: these people are BRUTALLY HONEST. At first, I thought I would be okay with their level of criticism, but it took me six months and six tries to get a query letter they found acceptable. Unless you’re up for making your dreams come true by destroying your dreams, do not post your query letter here for feedback.
Here’s some more information on how to write a query letter from Bookends Lit Agency:
So in conclusion, you can be the best writer in the world and hate the process of writing query letters. It’s okay. I don’t enjoy the process, but it’s a necessary evil along the way to my overall goal. So … writing query letters. If you’re also writing a query letter, good for you! I hope this information helps you write your query letter and brings you closer to your dreams of being a published author.