Last year, a friend of mine was preparing a manuscript to be pitched to publishers and agents. He asked me to read his manuscript beforehand because he believed my editorial experience would provide him with insight regarding the plausibility of his book getting accepted by a publisher or an agent (it doesn’t). I told him the story was enjoyable but in need of structural work. After revising the manuscript twice, he approached me for tips on how to write his query letter, knowing that I’ve been involved with Ooligan. So to help new authors like my friend, I’ve compiled a list of five reminders that are helpful when writing the dreaded query letter.
- 1. Have a fully formed idea of what your manuscript is about. The more concise an explanation you can give about your book, the more you know what it’s about. A good exercise is to try distilling major plot points and themes down to simple sentences that are clear and brief. Doing this will not only help focus your work but it will assist with the concision necessary to write an effective query letter.
- 2. Revise, revise, and revise. It’s rare that the first, second, and third drafts of a new manuscript are ready to be sent out professionally—that’s fine! Set aside a reasonable amount of time to revise and edit your manuscript, so that it’s in the best shape possible before pitching it to prospective agents and publishers.
- 3. Have someone read the latest drafts of your manuscript. After revising your manuscript, ask someone you know—anyone—to read your work before querying a publisher or an agent. Doing this provides invaluable reader responses that elucidate any shortcomings that weren’t caught during the revision process of your manuscript.
- 4. Get to know the person or organization that you are going to query. Whether it’s an independent press or Penguin Random House, research the publishers and agents you are querying. Pay attention to the genres they focus on, and target specific outlets that fit the criteria of your book. For example, a publisher specializing in nonfiction isn’t interested in publishing romance.
- 5. Familiarize yourself with the query letter. In its most basic form, a query letter is a one-page pitch that gives the reader a concise summary of your manuscript, a brief author bio, and your understanding of the market that you hope to reach. A simple Google search will come up with dozens of results showing writers how to compose an effective query letter while also providing examples of pitches that successfully landed book deals.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of steps to take before beginning to write a query letter, but it should be a useful reminder for any writer preparing to pitch their manuscript to potential agents and publishers. Remember that query letters can be difficult to write and the content needs to excite the reader through the brevity of what’s being presented inside the pitch. So fully understand your work, revise your manuscript, have someone read it, get to know who you will query, and familiarize yourself with the query letter itself before sending out your pitches.