Query letters. Yet again.
Holy smokes there’s a lot of query letter advice out here on the World Wide Web.
And like everything in information-overload-land, that’s good and bad–it’s terrific for writers to have easy access to models and thoughtful counsel, but at the same time I’m a little concerned about the stressing out I see–the agony over each detail in each query; and the stridency of the dogma. As in, “All query letters must start with x, end with y, and never, never include Popsicles.”
Query letters are crucial, don’t get me wrong. And yes, each book pitch does have to include some standard elements, like, well, the title of the book.
But ultimately each letter is as individual as the book that is being pitched and the author who is writing it. So rather than trying to fit your query into someone else’s mold, I suggest you sit back, take a deep breath, scribble out a quick rough draft, and then ask yourself if you’ve achieved the following goals. I’ll elaborate on each in future posts.
A Query Letter is a Pitch for an Investment
Most important thing to keep in mind in any query: a query is a business proposition. If you’re writing a company directly, you are asking it to invest in your product. If you’re querying an agent; you’re asking her to apply for the job of selling your book (more on that in the next post.) If you forget everything else, remember to review your own query as if you are on the other side of the desk: would you invest thousands of dollars in your book as described?
Seven Goals for Your Nonfiction Query Letter
1.)You’ve grabbed the interest and trust of the reader with your first sentence.
“Interest” is grabbed through content; “Trust” is engaged through style.
2.) You’ve led with your strongest suit.
3.) Each sentence encourages the reader to read the next.
4.) You’ve answered all key questions: WHO, WHAT, WHY, HOW, WHEN?
WHO are you? WHAT is the book? WHY will readers buy it? Read it? HOW will you market it? WHEN will you write it?
5.) You’ve placed your book into the context of other books.
6.) You’ve demonstrated professionalism and ability in your field, and in writing.
7.) You’ve anticipated and addressed any editorial objections.
And remember this: publishers make money by publishing good books well. Without you, they’ve got no product. They–we–need you. So write and self-edit your query letter with confidence. Next: That First Sentence