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Resources for Writers

4 Tips for Writing Query Letters to US Publishers

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Article by Bev Sninchak ©.
Posted in Resources (, ).

Regardless of their location, book publishers are patently specific about what they require from authors who pitch their books for possible publication. However, if you are targeting American publishers, you’ll need to pay particular attention to their requirements and guidelines because they could differ when compared to some European publishers.

To increase your chances of success, here are four solid tips for turning out professional query letters that may help you get your foot in the door with American publishers.
1. Mind Your Professionalism

Whether you’re sending a hard copy query letter or one through electronic means, James Russell Publishing reminds authors to stay professional at all times – there is a great list of query fails on the site, clearly showing what NOT to do.

If you send an e-query, don’t allow yourself to lapse into casual language or forget to include the important parts of a standard query letter, such as complete contact information and a proper salutation (use the editor’s full name, NOT his or her first name). Always remain polite and dial it back on any phrasing or words that could be construed as too pushy or aggressive.

If you are mailing a hard copy query letter, use quality paper and always include a self-addressed envelope that supplies a way for the publisher to return their reply through international mail.
2. Know the Market

This advice may seem a no-brainer, but far too many writers still ignore it. According to an article written by Lynn Flewelling for the prestigious Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of American (SFWA), it’s essential to research the publishers you’re querying and make sure you’re pitching the type of manuscript they’re looking to publish. Ignorance of the market can earn you an automatic rejection.

It’s a good idea to research recent titles of published books your targeted American publisher has released; however, keep in mind that print books on the shelves today probably began the publishing process a couple of years ago – what they are currently buying or working on could be quite different, so don’t jump on what appears to be a trend – by the time your book is released (often at least a year after you have signed a publishing contract), that trend will be well and truly over.

Don’t send a romance manuscript to a science fiction publisher or you’re sure to garner a rejection. Query smartly at all times!

3. Be Specific and Narrow Regarding Your Audience

According toMorris Rosenthal of Foner Books, don’t tell the publisher you’re querying that your book will appeal to every person in the world. It’s not true, and they know it. A book read by 5 year olds cannot possibly appeal to an 18 year old! Understanding your target market is essential.

Publishers want to know, specifically, who your potential audience is and, in the case of non-fiction, why you’re qualified to write for that audience . They will want to have an idea of who you think your book will be marketed to, and they’ll want specifics. Narrow the audience for your book and tell the publisher, in your query, exactly who will read your book and why.

Although writing books is undeniably a creative field, it is also an industry with an eye on business. Quite simply, book publishers must turn profits in order to say in business. Let them know in your query letter – clearly and concisely – how your book will help attract readers and sell copies. What’s more, you’ll need to let them know it in a short, concise letter that gets to the point. If you have a healthy social media following or are the host on a local radio show, let them know!

4. Keep Your Query Concise and to the Point

Write a convincing query letter that delivers the essential elements. Query letters are short for a reason: because publishers receive countless queries each year, and only a small percentage of those queries result in a book contract.

There are three main parts to a query letter: an introductory hook, a story synopsis (short and to the point), and a section about your writing or publishing experience, if any. If you do not have previous publishing experience, you will want to concentrate on any life experience or other pertinent information that illustrates why you are expert enough to have authored the manuscript.

Remember, query letters should be no more than one page, and that means slashing any flowery or unnecessary words from your pitch – they don’t need to know your life history. In addition, don’t offer apologies about how new you are to writing, or your age (if you’re a younger writer). Publishers want the query letter to be brief and to the point. They don’t have time for anything other than that.

Breaking into publishing with an American publisher isn’t as complicated as you might expect. Armed with these time-honored suggestions, you’ll be several steps ahead of other writers who are either not aware, or haven’t researched, how to put their best query presentation forward.
(c) Bev Sninchak


Bev Sninchak is a veteran freelance writer with 16 years of experience producing content for many publications. She writes about many subjects, from social media strategies to trends in payroll outsourcing.