I’m traditionally published in nonfiction, but I can answer your questions.
- Your manuscript needs to be written at a professional level and free of grammatical and punctuation errors.
Some people will hire pro editors to get it to that point, but that’s a waste of money. No matter how perfect you think your novel is, there will still be editing done by the publisher, if only for house style and their own advice of how to make the book more salable.
- I would strongly recommend finding an agent, not a publisher. There are few large publishers who accept submissions from unagented writers. If you do query a small publisher, make sure it’s one who can actually do more for you than you can do for yourself. Frankly, most can’t.
Use querytracker.net to research agents (or publishers). Conferences are fantastic – so much to learn – but honestly, you have no greater chance of getting representation from a conference pitch than from a cold pitch.
- Query letter guidelines:
- 250 words or less
- Purpose: To entice the agent or publisher to read your manuscript.
- Subject line for e-queries: Query: NOVEL TITLE
- Address the query to a specific person by name: “Dear Ms. Jones.” Not “Dear Agent” or “Dear Sir or Madam” or “To whom it may concern.”
- Explicitly state the manuscript’s genre and word count in the body of the letter.
- The body has three parts: a brief explanation of why you’re querying this publisher or agent, the query pitch, and a paragraph describing your pertinent writing credits or listing similar titles.
- Of the three parts in the body of the query letter, ONLY the query pitch (and genre and word count) is required. Don’t stress if you don’t have a special reason for querying this person or if you don’t have pertinent writing credits. The important thing is your query pitch. More about the pitch below.
- Do NOT mention your age. It is irrelevant.
- If you have a million+ views on Wattpad, mention it. If you have a few thousand… don’t.
- If your story is the first in a series, state that it is a standalone book with series potential. If the book does not stand alone you are severely limiting your chances of traditionally publishing.
- Make it perfect before you send it. Not a single grammatical or spelling mistake. Stand out from the crowd by being professional.
Writing the query pitch:
The goal of the query pitch is to entice the publisher or agent to your manuscript. In that way it’s similar to the blurb on the back of a novel, whose goal is to entice readers to buy the book.
There are different ways to write a query pitch. Some people start with a hook, and then move to the more detailed pitch. Others skip the hook and jump right into the detailed pitch. There’s no perfect formula. Experiment until you find a combination that works for your book.
To write the query pitch, I recommend starting with the following information:
Who is the protagonist, how did he get into this situation, and what is he trying to achieve?
Who is the antagonist, and how/why is he trying to stop the protagonist from reaching his goal? The antagonist doesn’t have to be a person. For example, if your protagonist is trying to climb a mountain, the mountain and the weather and his own physical short-comings could be the antagonist.
What horrible thing will happen if the protagonist fails? (This is where most beginning novelists trip up. They fail to have significant stakes.)
When you write the query pitch be specific about what happens. Skip nebulous descriptions and cliches. If you’ve heard a phrase before, it doesn’t belong in your query pitch!
–Write the query in third person, even if the book is written in first person. You do want the query to reflect the voice and style of the book, but not to the degree that you’re writing as the character. If the book is funny, the query should be funny. If it’s a tightly-written thriller, the query should be equally tight and exciting.
–Research the individual agent or publisher to find out EXACTLY what they want, and send them EXACTLY that. It may seem like a frivolous hoop for you to jump through to send a slightly different query package to different agents, but each agent is doing you a favor by telling you what they need to make their decision.
–Workshop your query extensively. Expect to do a LOT of different versions before you get it right. Writing a killer query is hard.
–Don’t be surprised if, when writing your query, you find out that your story needs work. It’s better to find this out before you query than after you get a bunch of rejections.
–Read the QueryShark blog (http://queryshark.blogspot.com/) start to finish. Seriously.
–Consider posting your query here in this club. But be aware, the members here will judge it as an agent or publisher would. We will shred it and point out holes and shortcoming in your story. If you can hack the criticism, you’ll end up with a strong query and, possibly, a stronger story. If you can’t, you likely can’t handle traditional publishing. It’s a brutal, BRUTAL industry.
–Don’t rush. You get ONE chance to submit to an individual agent. If you send a poor query, you may blow your chance with that agent – they may not even glance at your pages. Take your time, and get it right.