by: Joelle Charbonneau
Labor Day has passed. School has started. And in the publishing universe, editors, agents, and publishing professionals are back in the office and ready to do business. When I first started writing, I didn't understand that publishing has several periods during the year where lots of the people in the industry are on vacation. August is one of those periods. Yep...the month of August is basically a wash if you're looking to acquire an agent or are on submission to editors. Not to say that no business gets done. Of course it does. But it goes at a slower pace. And when it comes to submissions and acquisitions--well, it's harder to get a book past the editorial board if large portions of the editorial board are enjoying some well-earned downtime.
However, now that September has rolled around, publishing is firing on all cylinders. That means, if you have a project to query - now is the time.
With that in mind, here are a few rules of thumb when it comes to the query game. Most of these are going to sound so obvious they are silly--but you'd be amazed at what agents and editors see in their query box. You can separate your query from many of the others by following a few simple rules.
1) Make sure you query an agent or editor by name. Do not use "Dear Editor or Dear Agent". Industry professionals are more inclined to read your query with interest if they believe you haven't pulled their name from the world wide web hat. Equally as important - make sure you spell their name correctly. Oh - and use Ms. and Mr. properly. While some might be amused at your assumption that they have had a sex change, most will consider it a knock against your attention to detail.
2) Make it short. One page or less. Agents and editors receive hundreds of queries every week. Make it easier on them to find the information they need by keeping your query uncluttered and to the point.
3) Tell what your book is about. Yep...this is one of those points that will probably make you giggle. I mean, the whole point of a query letter is to tell the agent or editor about your book. Yet, I can't tell you how often I've heard an industry professional say they have read a query and haven't a clue what the story was about. Think backjacket copy. Have someone else read it and see if they understand what the book is about. If an industry professional doesn't understand what the story is, they aren't going to ask to read it.
4) Follow directions. Each agent or editor has specific submission requirements. Please follow them. The agent or editor has these requirements in place for a reason. Whether you think it is right or wrong, you will be judged on your ability to follow those submission requirements.
5) Be professional. Don't try to be cute or snarky or self-depreciating or sarcastic or...yeah--you get my point. I'm amazed at the number of queries that are submitted with lines like "You'll probably reject this right away, but..."or "I know agents like you love to crush writers so..." or "I've read the authors you represent and I know I'm better than them." You're just setting yourself up for failure by including those things in your query. (Yes, people put those in their queries all the time.) This is a business introduction. You'll do best if you always treat it as such.
6) Keep writing. Once the queries are sent, get back to work. This book might not get the results you want. You may choose to self-publish it and query with another book. You may choose never to query again. Regardless of the path you take--keep writing. Because that's what writers do:)
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