Wednesday, November 12, 2014

On Writing: How To Find a Publisher or Literary Agent, Part I

“How difficult is it to draft a query letter? And how do I find a publisher or agent to send it to?”

It’s not that difficult to write a query letter. Which is fortunate, because drafting a good query is the most important aspect (next to actually writing the book) of getting published. You may have written the next bestseller, but if you can’t garner interest from publishers or literary agents to look at it, your novel/story is just taking up space on your hard drive. Let me preface this section by stating that there are numerous ways to write a query. Use the format that best works for your manuscript or that you feel most comfortable with. What I’m offering are tips on how I drafted mine, and they’ve been successful for me. Also, this format should be used only for fiction. Non-fiction guidelines are much different.

Start out with a brief introduction on how you discovered the publisher/agent. If another writer referred you, or if you met them previously and they asked you to forward a submission, state that up front. If that's not the case, do your research first and find out which publishers/agents represent your genre and note that you wanted to give them the opportunity to review your manuscript. [NOTE: Don't say: "I noticed you published Zomnado vs Vampnado. My manuscript is just like that." Publishers/agents are not looking for cheap knock offs. They're looking for original and exciting ideas.] Your goal is to catch their attention and
give yourself a foothold to climb out of the slush pile. 
Next, include a brief description of your novel. Keep it to one small paragraph. Make it just long enough to provide a general idea what the work is about yet still entice the publisher/agent to want to read more. How do you do this? Develop what is called an "elevator pitch," which is the sales pitch you would use if you only had a few seconds on an elevator with a publisher/agent, one that needs to be brief  yet intriguing enough for him/her to request your business card. You can get examples by reading jacket covers, the back page of paperbacks, or Amazon summaries. This is the make or break paragraph of the entire query. If you do not immediately snag the interest of a publisher/agent, they’ll throw your letter aside and move on to the next one, so invest the time necessary to fine tune your elevator pitch.

Now that you've sold your novel, your second paragraph needs to sell the concept. The publisher/agent will receive hundreds of submissions for romances, murder mysteries, thrillers, animal books, or whatever genre you write in. Why does your manuscript stand out? Saying your mother or spouse thought it was terrific will not get you published. Nor will telling them that you’re the next Stephen King or Stephanie Meyers. Publishing is a business, and your book will never make it into print unless you can convince the publisher/agent that it’s perfectly poised to take advantage of an untapped trend in the market, or brings a new twist to the genre that has never been seen before. 

Follow this with a brief paragraph noting if anything is attached to your e-mail (sample chapters, the entire manuscript, a synopsis), the final word count, and whether the novel is available for immediate submission. [NOTE: Don’t query publishers/agents with unfinished novels. Usually they’re only interested in works that are ready for publication.] If your novel is part of a series, state that and, if known, offer an idea when the next book(s) in the series will be available.

Your penultimate paragraph should be about you. What makes you qualified to write this novel? Are you a police detective writing about a homicide unit in New York? Were you the victim of an abusive relationship, or a recovering addict, who has fictionalized your life? If you have no specific experiences you can bring to the table (I’ve never hunted vampires for a living), tell them about yourself, whether it's your career, your hobbies, or something else that will generate interest. Remember, you need to sell yourself as well as your book. 

This is also the paragraph to list your previous writing credits. Don’t list more than three otherwise you’ll look like you’re bragging. List the most recent works, or those that are most relevant to your query. If you’re writing in a genre in which you don’t have relevant experience, I recommend trying to get several short stories published before you attempt to query on a book. Being able to say that you’ve previously been published bolsters your credentials. I noticed that publishers/agents showed more interest in looking at my first novel after I had a few short stories in my bibliography.

Finally, end with a closing sentence thanking them for their consideration and noting that you look forward to hearing from them.

NEXT BLOG: How To Find a Publisher or Literary Agent, Part II  

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