- Write a query letter
- Contact agents and editors
- Send a book proposal as requested
- Sign a big fat contract and live happily ever after (Okay, maybe not realistic, but you’ve got to have a goal!)
The first step in pursuing a traditional book deal is to write a query letter to send to literary agents and editors. The query letter is your chance to capture interest of a potential agent and move one step closer to establishing a working relationship. If the letter is compelling, the agent will request that you send a full book proposal for further consideration.
A query letter is a single-page document that essentially works as the pitch for your book. It needs to dazzle and capture the attention of the reader immediately. If it’s boring, missing key elements, or doesn’t convey the value of the book and why you’re the best person to write it, a standard rejection letter will likely be issued.
To avoid filling up a file with rejection letters, here are the key elements in a query letter:
- Personalization – Address the letter directly to the individual you are contacting by name—never, ever, ever by “sir” or “madam” or anything else that isn’t personal.
- Hook the Reader – The letter should immediately convey why your book is fabulous. Explain what the book is about in the most compelling way possible. Think about the sales copy on the back of the book jacket—this is your chance to grab interest in the shortest amount of space possible. Many writers begin a query letter with an immediate and compelling hook in the first sentence.
- Your Bio – Dedicate a paragraph explaining who you are in relation to writing the book. List your qualifications and platform. Remember, publishers want authors who come to the table with a built-in audience. If you have a high-traffic website, speak to thousands of people each year, write a column for a major publication, or have other ways of reaching a potential audience, share details.
- Manuscript Basics – Indicate the genre for the book and word count.
Remember to keep your query to one page. There are no points given for being long-winded, so tighten up your letter as much as possible. If you think it could benefit from a proofread, send it to a qualified friend for editing or better yet, hire a pro. Don’t miss out on opportunities due to typos!
Once your query letter is complete, you can begin sending it to agents and editors. In my next post I’ll cover how to begin pitching to literary agents and editors, why you need an agent, and where to find them.