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How To Write a Query Letter to a Publisher

how to write a query letter to an agent

You’ve written a book or a manuscript and you don’t want to mess with the issue of finding an agent. There are some publishers who will accept a direct submission, sometimes even unsolicited submissions, from a writer. In order to get your work noticed, however, you’ll want to know how to write a query letter to a publisher so that your work isn’t just automatically dismissed.

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Before you begin, it is important to make sure that you write every query letter from scratch. Make it personal to the publisher to whom you are contacting. Form letters might save you a little time, but they also force a writer to be impersonal because it is being addressed to a wide audience. Then you’ll be ready to follow these additional steps.

#1. Hook the publisher in the first paragraph. Many writers use the first paragraph of their query letter to introduce themselves as a writer. Publishers are more interested in the work being submitted than a writer’s list of successes. Use the introductory paragraph to give the publisher the hook of your book. Summarize the key points of your plot with character names into 1-2 sentences so the reader of your query letter will want to know more.

#2. Transition from the hook into a synopsis of your book. This is the point in the query letter where you get to offer some more of the details of your story. It can be quite the challenge to condense your massive novel into one paragraph, so take your time on this section of the letter. Expand upon the hook you’ve written. Think about how you’d promote the book on the back cover and put that content into the second paragraph.

#3. Now you’re ready to put in your credentials. Save the third paragraph of the query letter to discuss your credentials as a writer. Some might say this is the easiest part of writing this letter, but what if you’re a writer who doesn’t have any awards or has never been published? That’s actually not a weakness. If you don’t have much to offer here, then you can add more content to the synopsis portion of the letter. If you do offer your credentials, keep this paragraph as short as possible and always make sure it comes back to your skills as a writer.

#4. And then you’ve come to the closing portion of your query letter. ALWAYS make sure you offer a word of thanks to whomever is reading your query letter for their time and their consideration. This is also the place where you’ll want to discuss the attachments you’ve included with the letter – like your manuscript. Publishers don’t generally want to see sample chapters or skeleton outlines of a book idea. They want to read the whole thing. Make sure your manuscript is finished, edited, and polished as best as possible before submission.

#5. Check your letter for those nasty little typos. You can look at a document four different times and still miss the fact that you’ve described as “peace of pie” instead of a “piece of pie.” One of the best ways to check a query letter for the typos that may alter a publisher’s perception of you is to read your query letter out loud. Reading it verbally changes how you access the words in the document, allowing you to judge the flow of your sentences in addition to making sure words are spelled correctly.

#6. The issue of a non-fiction query letter. Most query letter advice is geared toward fiction writers. That’s great – unless you’re writing a non-fiction book. When you’re directly contacting a publisher about a non-fiction book, you’ll want to do more than include your manuscript. You’ll also want to include a business and marketing plan you’ve developed so that you can have your published work become profitable. By showing the publisher that you’ve looked at this side of the business, you’ll be more likely to get your manuscript some attention.

Writing a query letter to a publisher is something that takes a little time, a little patience, and likely a little luck if it is going to help you get noticed. That patience must extend into the waiting time after you’ve made your submission, as it may be 3-12 months before you hear word back. With a little practice and these tips, however, you’ll be able to put forth the best argument possible for your work.

Melissa G Wilson

Melissa has been a leader in the book writing, publishing and marketing arena for the past two decades. To date, she has helped more than 100 thought leaders write, publish and market their books. Her clients include executives such as Dan Weinfurter a seven-time Inc 500 winner and Orlando Ashford, President of Holland Cruise Lines.

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