Tuesday, November 6, 2012

How to write a query letter to a publisher

   I'm now officially an editor/part owner of Wayman Publishing--which is an amazingly exhausting experience. I've been reading query after query, and manuscript after manuscript. At first I cried when I sent rejections--probably because I'm so freakin' empathetic AND tired. But now if there's the slightest typo, or it doesn't grab my attention, I know it'll get rejected.
    I've probably been rejected more than any of these people. I know how bad it can hurt, and I hate doing that to others.
    Knowing that, how can you write a successful query letter?

     Step one: Spell check is your friend.  
I've received many letters with spelling errors. Several of these were great queries trying to address Wayman personally about what they like about our company. But typos littered the personal addresses.  
    Utilizing spell check--and the power of patience--may help your query make it to round two (a request to read some of your manuscript).

    Step two: Have other people read your query for typos and sentence structure. Since spell check doesn't have an artificial intelligence option, other people can really help you. Even the best writing can be improved. 
    Misplaced modifiers, dangling participles and other such fun terms can be weeded out by the right person.

    Step three: Imagine you're the reviewer/editor.

Let me tell you something quickly before explaining step three.
    As written above, by some crazy turn of fate I am now a reviewer/editor. After receiving hundreds of queries, Wayman has only offered contracts for three books. 

    Reading this much has made me understandably tired.
    My husband's out of town again. And taking care of four kids--by myself for days and days--can get pretty wild. I locked myself in the shower on Monday and sang LOUD show tunes--just to get a five minute sanity-break from my army of chocolate-covered children.
    Two nights ago, my toddler woke up almost every hour.  At one point, I had a lucid dream about my left eye turning red, so dry the red part grew scales, and I could no longer blink. 
    Keeping that all in mind, back to step three.

    Imagine you're me--the reviewer/editor. You're so tired you're dreaming about scaly eyes. You're editing three books simultaneously. You don't have much time for hundreds of queries.      
    Now think about your pitch.
    What can you say about your manuscript that will grab a reviewer's attention? It better be amazing because you only have a few seconds to hook them.  Write something that will wake us up and get us excited about the project.
    It sucks sending out rejections.  I personally could line my entire house with rejection letters I've received.  Now, after rereading my own queries, I know why.  They weren't hitting the enticing key points of my stories.  And I might have queried someone like me who has little time. In hindsight, I gave editors no reason to take a chance by requesting some of my MS. 

...It SUCKS worse than Monica Lewinsky.
(Sorry. I had to go there on Election Day.)  

   Step four: Become a salesperson. You're selling them your book. Why should they spend time and money on your writing? For example, Wayman pays for EVERYTHING. If your name isn't well-known, you NEED to give us a good reason to take an interest in your story. What's the most unique/amazing/wonderful thing about your MS? Do you have a platform you can brag about?

   Step four is a big deal. Too often authors don't view themselves as hard-working professionals worth the time and effort a publisher will take getting a MS ready for publication. If you have something worth being published, sell it with all your heart in that query letter

To my amazing blog family,
    I feel terrible that I haven't been able to comment on as many blogs as I normally do.  I've actually been reading posts on my phone while I'm running errands (waiting for the baby to get antibiotics, getting the car fixed, standing in line for a LARGE energy drink).  Those posts I read made me smile and helped me make it through the day. After reviewing endless queries--that keep piling up--I've needed to smile and read about your fantastic lives.   
    Anyway, it's crazy working so much on top of feeling like a single mom. I'm also finishing up my book, Homeless in Hawaii (coming out in December). I'm not sure how I'll keep writing manuscripts like I used to. My life's shifting. Editing and reviewing is taking every bit of free time that I have. 
    Please know that I wish I could read and comment more. Maybe I've bitten more than I can chew. For now I'm doing the best I can and hoping at least some of my endeavors will pay off in the long run.

I hope this advice has helped someone. I'm going to take a nap!


  1. I'm sure you will get it down, or just stay in crazy town hahahaha but the cat always resides there, so sing those show tunes without a care.

    As far as rejections go, no guilt should be felt because if the writer is serious, it will just make them better and force them too is well. There is no room for typos in a query letter, anyone should know that. They want to be a slacker, then bye bye they go. And yeah you have to sell your arse off and make your pitch worthy, not an easy time, but the effort will make you get that chance you need. Sadly, many are just trying to get something for nothing and be a slack arse, they way of the world I suppose.

  2. Nobody should ever have to apologize for working hard at a new endeavor. Don't sweat it. The book business is tough, thus you need to be tough. Those who are truly interested in doing this professionally won't take it personally.

  3. A quick (maybe 2 or 3 day) nap SHOULD help!!

  4. Dear Elisa, this posting is helpful to all of us who are trying to get published-to find an agent to represent our work or an editor who wants to see the manuscript. Helping us be aware that agents/editors are people too. Like us, they get tired when they work or cope with life as it presents itself. Thank you for the realism of this posting. I so hope you can get more naps. Peace.

  5. You need a week off! I totally understand the crazy you feel. I feel like a single mom every single day. The husband is away on business often. When he isn't, he goes to work in the am and comes home at the kids' bedtime. I often lock myself in the bathroom for a few moments alone. But you never heard that from me. ;) I've taken to doing the same thing with the blogs I follow. I totally get it. I don't think anyone would ever hold it against you. Most of us are trying to do the same thing. We all have to prioritize.

    You post was very helpful. I have read multiple things on queries, but to read on from your point of view, thinking of scaly eyes and grabbing attention, that really struck a chord.

  6. This post is excellent. You provided helpful information, and you wrote it very well. You are a business woman, and we understand if you can't visit our blogs. We're grateful for the work you do on behalf of writers.

    Your Mother From Another Planet