Thursday, January 15, 2015

Preparing to Submit - Query Letter

In the last few days I have talked about my decision to attempt submitting my work for traditional publisher's consideration this year. I am currently an indie author but I am looking to make the transition into a hybrid of indie and traditionally published work. My last post involved the places to fund an agent. It is a task that can seem intense and daunting calling on a novice to jump into a wide search pool with very few ideas of ways to filter it.

I gave a few suggestions such as the Writer's Market along with a couple of sites I have found helpful, QueryTracker and AgentQuery. Once you have narrowed your search by genre, location or whatever parameters you have chosen to use, you should have a list of people you are interested in submitting your work to. It can be terrifying to follow through and send out your baby to strangers for judgement.

Before you do submit anything it is very important to take some time, have others that can be objective read through it in order to give you feedback as well as perhaps catch any spelling or grammatical errors you may have missed when proofreading it yourself. You are sending out work that you want to have published and you want to make sure that the agent can see it being worthy of that goal. whether or not they like the story or represent a specific genre is completely subjective but getting the piece to look and present as professional as possible will lessen the obstacles that must be overcome.

Ok so now you have your squeaky clean manuscript and your list of agents in your excited shaking hands, now what? Most commonly what happens next is that you send a query letter. This is a letter that basically catches the agent's attention and pulls their interest in to read your book. It is typically a one page sales presentation. You need to hook them and draw them in, let them know about you and your work, you have to get them excited.

The first part of this all important letter is the introduction. You need to draw them in but most of all you need to connect with them. Take the time to personalize the letter, use the agent's name and take a look at some of the work he or she has represented in the past or may currently be doing. Does your work fall in line with what is currently offered? Mention it, let them know you did your homework and that you can be a good fit for them and the agency.

Be straight to the point and professional. You don't want to waste time giving vast descriptions of parts of your work, let them know the title, genre and length. Also while it is best to wait to submit until your book is finished if you have jumped the gun and have chosen to send letters out while still putting the finishing touches on, let the agent know the expected completion date. Once you have made that connection you have to put on your best salesman's hat and get that pitch down perfect.

Selling your book is an art and it takes people time to figure out the best way to describe their work, especially since you only have one or two paragraphs in which to present it. Again you want to be succinct. Show your creative talent but also keep it brief. For me when I was creating my first attempts at this section I wrote out the entire sales pitch. It took nearly three pages. After I got everything written out I set to work seeing what I didn't absolutely need to include. Then I found ways to combine sentences and information to dwindle down the length until it fit the letter. It took a few days of practice to get it there and I can remember a number of times that it got frustrating and I needed to take a break.

Once you are past the selling portion you have the bio. You get to sell yourself. Even if you have never published a book it is important to make sure the agent sees who they are working with. Make sure to include any awards you may have received or experience you may have, though try to keep both in the literary world. Agents are not going to care if you placed second at the junior high science fair unless your book involves scientific research related to your award.

End with a sincere and professional thank you for their time and consideration. Some agents provide a turnaround time while others only respond if interested. Keep sending out the letters and make sure to stay positive, you will get rejection letters. Just make sure to keep any that offer suggestions as they may be useful and help land a different agent. All the rejections you receive won't matter once you finally land that acceptance.

My next post in this series will cover the SASE, Sample Chapters and will get into a little more of what an agent does.

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