Five Keys to an Effective Query

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by Claudia Cangilla McAdam

There are lots of articles, books, blogs, and the like that lay out how to write the perfect query letter. I don’t claim to know the keys to writing the “perfect” query, but I can share the things that I do when crafting the letters that have led to publishing contracts.

1) Show That You Know Your Stuff

In my queries, I like to make it known from the get-go that I am familiar with that particular publisher and the types of books they put out. Therefore, I tie my book to the company’s mission or stated “need” or perceived reader market. I compare my work to books they have published.

Here’s the opening paragraph from one such query:

By placing themselves in the shoes (or sandals) of others, YA readers of historical fiction learn more about the world around them, about times past, and ultimately, about themselves. As Gloria D. Milowitz has done in her book, Masada, my YA writing views Biblical events through the eyes of teens.

Ideally, this publisher now knows that my work will appeal to the same audience as an award-winning title from their backlist, and readers will enjoy a similar experience.

2) The Details

It’s important to describe the title of the work, the genre, the word count, whether it is a simultaneous or exclusive submission, and to give a brief synopsis. Here’s a sample:

Attached please find my 600-word picture book manuscript, The Christmas Light, an exclusive submission. In this story, Seraphina is a young girl in Bethlehem who brings a gift to the newborn Jesus, and in turn, discovers that she is a recipient of Grace Itself.

3) Next Up: A Short Bio About You

What is it in your past that uniquely qualifies you to write this book? Are you submitting a nonfiction work about beekeeping, a hobby that you enjoy? Is your query about a fictional picture book set in the Congo, a place where you spent time as a volunteer working with children? Have you served as a corrections officer in a youth detention facility (and that’s where your novel takes place)? Mention it.

In my writing of Biblically-focused work, stating that I have a Master’s in Theology with an emphasis in Sacred Scripture hopefully sets me apart as a qualified writer of the material I create.

4) How Can You Help Market Your Book?

Tell the publisher if you have a large social media presence, a huge email database, easy access to tv, radio, or print media (for interviews), a celebrity endorser for your book, etc. Whatever you can do to help sell the book will take the onus off the publisher.

In this day and age, an author cannot expect the marketing department of a publishing house to do all the work. If you show you’re ready to shoulder some of the burden, you (and your book) will be much more appealing to a publisher.

5) What’s In It For Them?

When I write a query, I concentrate a lot on the “you” benefits to the publisher. This doesn’t mean, what’s in it for you, the author. Rather, it means what’s in it for THEM, the publisher. Publishing is a business. The company is in it to make money, pure and simple. Tell them how you can help them accomplish that.

You can connect your work to a best seller, the implication being that the success of that book has blazed a path for yours. Example: I believe my book will attract the same audience that enjoyed The Hunger Games.

Or: Because I speak annually at several conferences across the country, I can give exposure of my book to thousands of potential readers.

Here’s the paragraph I frequently use: My marketing abilities have accomplished things such as elevating one of my picture books to local best seller status, being invited to the White House on three separate occasions on account of my White House-themed kids’ book, and selling out the 4,000-copy first run of another book in just six weeks.

Don’t hesitate to make claims about your book, your skills, or your background, but always make sure those claims are true. And remember, the focus of your query isn’t on you. It’s on them, the publisher. So, banish sentences such as: I always wanted to be a published writer. (You and millions like you.) And: My mother really loved this story. (That’s nice, but doesn’t she love everything about you?) Or: I can guarantee that this title will be your next best-seller. (No, you can’t.)

I hope these five points prove beneficial in constructing your killer query. Let the writing begin!

2 Comments

  1. This is a great blog, Claudia. I like that you not only detail each point, but give us examples. It’s a wonderful tool for writers trying to get published. Thanks!

    Reply
  2. Very good points, all of them. Of course, it helps if you ARE a brilliant marketer.

    Reply

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