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Book consultations that attract attention

Writing a good query letter shows book publishers your ability to think precisely, use language efficiently, and advance your query in a seemingly simple yet elegant way.

Before writing a query letter, study the book market to find out which publishers may be interested in your topic. It’s a waste of time for you and the publisher if you send your query letter about a fishing book to a publisher that only publishes romance novels.

A well-constructed query letter can have the following parts: 1) an opening sentence that describes the category of your book, such as sports, cooking, romance, mystery, how-tos, travel, or other; 2) a statement describing the premise of your book; 3) a short list of especially good credits that qualify you to write the book (no lengthy biographies, please); 4) a list of his books or his book contributions; 5) a statement of how his book will be distinguished from similar titles; and 6) a formal closing: Thank you for your attention and your name.

Do not use paragraph indents in your query letter. Single-spaced and double-spaced paragraphs are standard. By no means use a fancy, hard-to-read font. Easy-to-read fonts like Times Roman or Arial, twelve point, are best. If you want to email the letter, create it in MS WORD and attach it to an email note so the editor will have your email address for easy reply. MS WORD is standard document creation software that all editors have on their computers. Using other software may prevent publishers from opening your attachment.

Create a simple letterhead for your query letter that includes your name, mailing address, email address, website address, and phone number. Date your letter, send it to the appropriate editor, and make sure the editor’s name and address are correct. If you’re printing the letter you’re going to mail, use heavyweight (8/12 x 11) paper in the brightest white and print at high-quality resolution. Include a self-addressed (SASE) stamped envelope to facilitate the publisher’s response. If you don’t include the SASE, you probably won’t hear from the publisher.

Carefully review your query letter to clear the document of errors. Nothing turns off a publisher faster than misspelled words and grammatical errors, which the publisher may associate with the book they are proposing to write. Remember, writing a good query letter is your first introduction to the book publisher and your first chance to make a good impression. Making a good impression improves the chances that a book publisher will ask you for a longer proposal in the future. Take it easy. It may take several weeks before you receive a response.

Book publishers take their positions seriously and continue to view formal query letters more favorably than the casual email notes that many of us are becoming too accustomed to in cyberspace. Due to their instantaneous nature, emails are sometimes hastily drafted, which invites careless use of language, missing punctuation, and poor spelling. E-mails riddled with errors will not attract the same attention and consideration as judiciously crafted formal query letters. Remember, book publishers base their decision to review your book proposal on your query letter. To learn how to start your practice and write headlines, see You Can Write Amazing Headlines.


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