The Daunting Task of Querying

Are you a writer who has ever dreamed of publication but don’t know where to start?  The task of trying to get published may seem daunting, and although a very limited amount of people gain success, the effort is actually very easy.

Querying is the first and most important step to trying to get a publisher and there are several phases involved with this step.  First, you need to learn a little bit about how the querying process works.  Second, you need to compose a query letter, explaining who you are, what your book is about and why you think it will sell.  And third, you must find your target audience; agents who represent the genre you are selling.

First off, how does the querying process work?  The querying process is actually very simple, composed of the two steps I will be explaining in the next two paragraphs.  In a nutshell, publishers usually don’t accept unsolicited submissions from authors, so you must go through a literary agent, a person who acts as a liaison between you and a publisher.  You will submit to agents and once you find one who will represent you, they will submit your work to publishers and find one who will publish your book.

Secondly, you must write a query letter.  So, what exactly is a query letter?  A query letter is basically a one page introduction about your work.  Your query letter should start off with a hook; a sentence about your book that grabs the reader’s attention and pulls them into your letter.  You want this sentence to tell the reader what your book is about in an as brief and interesting way as possible.  For example:

Mechanical is a young adult, dystopian novel about an android girl named Drew who suddenly finds herself caught between two worlds; humanity and perfection.  This basically sums up the novel and tells you just enough about it to pique your interest.    

Sometimes the hook is a question.

Are you strong enough to live forever, or are you brave enough to die? 

What’s more important; the chance to be perfect or the chance to be human?  This kind of hook requires the reader to put themselves in the character’s place.  What would I do if I had to choose between perfection and humanity?  What will the character of this book choose?  And most importantly, is this an interesting enough topic to sell?

Once you’ve written the hook, you will need to include a short synopsis of your novel.  Who is your character, what is the main conflict and what happens in the book?  This will read like synopsizes usually found on the back of a book or inside cover flap.  Remember, you want to make your book sound as enticing as possible.  But be careful, many authors make the mistake of either being too confident about their writing, or being under confident.  Don’t be arrogant, comparing your book to Harry Potter, but at the same time, don’t beg the agent to help you get published.  You want to be confident in your writing, but at the same time, appropriately modest.

Then, you’ll want to write a short paragraph about yourself including any previous publishing or writing experience.  Don’t include irrelevant facts about yourself; keep it professional and writing related.  Finally, you’ll want to conclude your query in a brief and polite way.  If your book is intended to be the first in a series, tell them.  And then sum up by thanking them for their time; they can get hundreds of queries a day and thanking them for taking the time to read yours is the least you can do.

Now that you’ve written your query letter, you will need to find agents who will be interested in your work.  Take the time to do some homework.  Sending your children’s book query letter to an agent who only represents adult crime fiction is a waste of both your and the agent’s time.  There are many ways to find appropriate agents to represent your work.  Do an online search for agents in your book genre, for example: agents who represent children’s fiction.  You will come up with tons of results.  There are also many books that specialize in publishing and simply list hundreds of agents in all genres of writing.  Jeff Herman’s Guide to Publishing is one of those books.  Also, many writers will include their agents in their acknowledgements page.  Look at books in your genre and see who the author’s agent is.

So, that was querying in a nutshell.  Good luck, and thanks for reading!


~ Pauline

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