Literary legend has it that mystery writer Robert Parker sent a two-sentence query to the publisher of his first novel: “Here’s my manuscript. Want to publish it?” While it was accepted–no doubt on the strength of the author’s bestselling style–most wannabe-published writers need more than this to be taken seriously. Your query letter has to do three things:
1) Hook the reader.
2) Provide details of your manuscript.
3) Reflect either your personality and/or your knowledge of the editor’s or agent’s preferences.
Let’s look at each of these components.
1) Your hook should entice the reader–whether it’s an agent you hope will represent you or a publisher you hope will send you a contract. The hook should begin by tempting the reader. You might ask a question. You might describe the opening scene. You might cite a statistic. Then, you will segue to an overview of your book. Keep it succinct but inviting. Editors and agents are not known for having time to waste. By the time the reader has finished this first paragraph, he or she should be thinking, “I want to read the whole story.”
2) Once you’ve given the sizzle in the first paragraph, it’s time for the metaphoric steak in the second. Tell the title, the status (is it complete or a work-in-progress?), the word count (or page-count), and whether or not it is a simultaneous submission. Among the additional details you need to provide is an indication of the target market: who would be interested in purchasing this book? Provide statistics when you can. If it’s a book about animals, for example, tell how many millions of Americans have pets.
3) Be sure you’ve done your homework. Know the kinds of books this publisher or agent represents. You could even allude to a few titles. If the publishing house is widely associated with one particular genre or topic, and if your book is in that genre, reference that. You could even express admiration for their long history in this arena and mention you would be proud to be affiliated with them. If you have a short, relevant anecdote, include it here. To illustrate, if your book is designed to make grammar more appealing, you might say: “I’d rather write than do anything else in the world. (This may explain why I average two dates a year.)” And then go on to explain why language fascinates you and how the book is designed to make language fascinating to other writers.
Louisa May Alcott wanted to do something “splendid” with her life. And so, she came to this conclusion: “I think I shall write books.” Following these query-letter steps, ideally, will bring splendor to your writing life as well.
Marlene Caroselli, Ed.D. (www.saatchionline.com/LainaCelano), writes extensively about education and business topics. Among her 60+ books are several for teachers and trainers.