Why do you need a query letter?

Believe it or not, I get the following question quite a bit:

"I'm sending you my manuscript, why do you even want a query letter when you can just read the script?"

Welcome back to Manuscript Monday. Today we address why publishers want and need that query letter.

You have, in your hands, a product that you know everyone on this earth is going to love and realize they can't live without. You want a publisher to work their magic and get it out into the world.  Publishers want to believe anything they get their hands on fits into their brand and will turn into magic.

However, that isn't always the case, and that is why your query letter is so important.

The query letter is truly the icing on the cake.  This deceptively simple looking letter is the pretty wrapping paper to your submission.  It is the olive in your extra dirty martini.  It is the cheese to your wine.  We could go on, but we will save cliches for a post on a different day, a different time.

I'll be honest with you; a bad query letter often results in that manuscript landing smack in the recycling bin.  Isn't that a shame?  What if your manuscript is fantastic, but you send your million dollar baby wrapped up in a used newspaper?

When publishers read your query letter, they look for a few things.  First of all, they look for you.  Yes, that's right, you.  They look for your voice, your style, your passion, your underlying belief that your manuscript is going to be a bestseller and take over the world (note on underlying - not screaming).  Publishers look for your drive, how hard you are willing to push your piece, and if they feel that we can work with you.

Next, a publisher or agent look for what the book is all about. The powers that be want to see you sum up all of your days/weeks/months/years of hard work and sell it to them in the amount of time it would take you to go from the first to the tenth floor in an elevator.  This is about two or three paragraphs.  

Seriously? Yes, seriously.  Trust me, no book is so complex that you can't wrap it up and sell it quickly, cleanly, and make someone a believer in under two minutes (deep discussions are a different matter).  

If you can't do this, do you really know your book?  If you can't, get to know it.  Even though we think we know our books by the time they are finished, our emotions are so invested that we have a hard time stepping away and proving that we have a relationship with what we have written.

Finally, publishers and agents want to know why they absolutely can not live without your book.  What's important to note here is that they don't want you to tell them why they can't live without your book, they want your words to make them crave your writing. If you tell them they have to have this book, it will be a best seller, etc, etc, they'll probably laugh. And trust us, they've heard it all before.

You are a writer. Use your word power to create a story within your query.

A query letter is the most essential tool in your arsenal.  While it may seem tempting, you might want to rethink copy and pasting the query with a different address attached to each one. Various publishing houses have voices as different as every author.  Investigate where you are sending your letter and match the personality of the house you are sending your piece off to for consideration.

Your query letter should be 1 page of defined and concise pitch and selling of your piece.  The query letter isn't some tossed together cover letter that publishers brief and then push to the side to dive into your manuscript.  The query letter is the piece that convinces the powers that be if they are going to dive into your manuscript or toss it aside.

Are you still unsure of why we want the query letter?  

Hopefully not, but as always, leave us your questions and thoughts, and we will address them in a future Manuscript Monday post!

You can also dive right in to writing the perfect query letter in our Query Letter Master Course!

Author Tips: How To Format & Punctuate Dialogue


Dialogue is important to any story and can be used to develop characters, develop plots, create a personal connection, put the reader into the story at that moment, strengthen a writer's voice, and make the situation seem real.  

That's what writers want, isn't it?  To suck the reader in to the point they feel invested and involved?

Below are common dialogue errors that we encounter (in the most boring dialogue example possible).

"I see you".
"I see you" He said.
"I see you." He said.
He said, "can I see you?"
"I see you." He said as he smirked, "And I want you to go away."
"Go away" he said,
"I don't want to" She said,

"But I want you to." He said.

Proper Dialogue Formatting

1.    "I see you".

This is considered a single line of dialogue without a dialogue tag.  The entire sentence including punctuation should be within the quotation marks.

The correct writing would be:

"I see you."

2 & 3.  "I see you" He said. / "I see you." He said.

This is a single line with a following attribution.  The dialogue will be safely enclosed in the quotation marks with a comma following the dialogue before the closing quotation.  Also, because the attribution is included in the same sentence and we do not have a proper name as the speaker, the subject will not be capitalized.  (he/she/it/they/we/you)

Likewise, the second example makes a small error with improper punctuation leading into the attribution.  Anytime dialogue is followed by a tag that goes with a particular quotation, the sentence is not over until the dialogue attribute is placed.  Therefore, the dialogue should not be closed until after the attribute and the pause should be put into place with the comma, indicating to the reader how to vocalize the scenario you are writing.

The correct writing would be:

"I see you," he said.

4. He said, "can I see you?"

This is a single line with the attribution leading into the dialogue.  The comma is correct, and will still be used to separate the dialogue from the vocalization.  The comma should be placed immediately after the attribution but before the quotation mark and closing punctuation (. ! ?) should be placed inside of the final quotations.

Also, the first letter of the vocalization or thought should be capitalized.

The correct writing would be:

He said, "Can I see you?"

5. "I see you." He said as he smirked, "And I want you to go away."

Example number 5 is a single dialogue that is interrupted by a dialogue tag.    In this instance, we are still reading one sentence that has been fractured to fit the author's voice for the story.  A comma will be placed inside the first set of quotation marks and after the attribution.  Also, unless we are using a formal name, vague identifiers should not be capitalized.  In this instance, as it is still the same sentence, the second dialogue content will not begin with a capitalization.

The correct writing would be:

"I see you," he said as he smirked, "and I want you to go away."

This dialogue could also be written as:

"I see you," he said.  "And, I want you to go away."

6. "Go away" he said,

"I don't want to" She said,

"But I want you to." He said.

The problem here that we see so frequently is the author not treating each piece of dialogue as a separate statement.  Even though the conversation is a continuing dialogue, the sentences are not all one sentence.

Each statement needs to be properly closed and treated as a separate sentence.

The correct way to write this dialogue would be:

"Go away," he said.

"I don't want to," she said.

"But I want you to," he said.

**

Now clearly our choice of dialogue content is basic and would make any editor cringe.  There are other ways to strengthen your dialogue and approach your attribution tags.  We'll touch on that in a future blog.

For now, tell us what your dialogue punctuation questions are, and our editing team will answer these in the comments section.

Cheers and happy editing!

What To Do After A Successful Query

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You've done it. You've written a query letter, and the agent or editor likes your submission. Now what do you do after a successful query? 

The first step you should take is to go back to the agent/editor/publisher's website and review their submission policies. Make sure you know exactly what they want, if they request documents formatted in a specific fashion or any other specifics.

Next, review your query letter. Reflect on your tone, your voice, and your character. The responding agent clearly likes this person and wants to deal with them. Continue to give them exactly what they like.

Move on to reviewing the agent or publishers response again. Is there anything they ask for in this query? Do they give you timelines for your response or their expected response? Do they tell you if they will answer you back or they'll only answer if they want to open contract discussions?

Take note of these requests. Write them on a sticky note that you place in a prominent location in your writing or work area.

We recommend creating a spreadsheet for your submissions to track dates, locations sent, specifications like whether or not you can submit the manuscript to multiple places, and if the piece was accepted or not.

Seems easy enough, right?

Not exactly. Many authors make it to this point and then blow it with a Fourth of July fireworks extravaganza. We know it's exciting but don't count your chickens before they hatch.

When you write your response, keep the same tone and attitude as your initial outreach. Don't get too excited, don't brown nose, and for the love, do not use text talk. Give the agent exactly what they ask for. No more, no less, and quietly return to your place in line.

Where most authors go wrong is the follow-up. One week will pass, and they will write because they expect results or a response saying when to expect results. As easy as it is, do not fall into this trap. Many agents, editors, and publishers will find it disrespectful. Publishers and agents often work with multiple queries at a time. Many publishing houses don't send rejections, only acceptance letters. You might push your manuscript from that acceptance into the rejection by being too persistent.

If it does turn out that you get a rejection letter in the end, don't ask why. Don't ask for feedback or an explanation, and most certainly, do NOT send back a firey response. People talk, and the industry tends to be pretty tied together. We know of many publishing houses that will take a manuscript not right for them and forward it to a friend. It's much easier to chew when your foot isn't in your mouth.

If you are offered a contract, contain your excitement. Do not sign until you understand exactly what you are signing, what you are granted, what your rights are, what you do NOT get under your contract, and never sign until you have passed the document past a lawyer.

You have put blood, sweat, tears, and many sleepless nights in to your manuscript. Make sure that what you move forward with is what you want. You should know if the publishing house fits your needs and desires by their website. You shouldn't be surprised by what a house can offer you based on their size if you've properly done your research.

Getting an offer and then turning it down because what they state they can offer doesn't meet your expectations, especially after it is listed on their website, wastes their time and money, and your time and money (as you could have been securing a contract that meets your needs),

Have you ever had a successful query letter? Share your experiences with us in the comments, or tell us how you've grown in your query letter journey!

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Top Five Resources For Publishing Opportunities

Hey author, we see you over there, struggling with your search for publishing opportunities.

Deep breath. We're going to share our Top Five favorite resources for finding publishing opportunities.

1. Writer's Market and WritersMarket.com

Writer's Market is THE definitive guide that every author, freelancer, or writer should have on their desk. Our 2018 copy is already covered in flags, highlights, underlines, and notes. You can find various editions for your genre, songwriting, poetry, or magazines, or pick up the deluxe edition that covers everything. This gem is well worth the price tag. And, if you wait a few months in to each year, you can save a couple dollars when the price drops.

2. Publisher's Marketplace

Publisher's Marketplace is a subscription website listing active agents, ranked by number and size of deals acquired by genre. You can search for agents and publishers, get an insight in to business, and look for representation of titles similar to what you have to offer. This site is well worth the $25 per month.

3. Poets & Writers

Another database of publishers and agents, this site encompasses businesses of all sizes. They also run a database of classes, helpful blogs, and a quarterly magazine chock full of opportunities and contests.

4. PubMatch

PubMatch is a great database that allows you to get front and center with rights sellers and buyers all over the world. 

5. Publisher's Weekly 

Because they say it best: "Founded in 1872, Publishers Weekly continues to be a must-have for writers, editors, librarians, booksellers, agents—anyone who loves books and wants to know the inside scoop on what’s coming, what’s selling, and who’s who in the publishing business. In today’s world of information overload, PW provides a coherent and vibrant guide to literary and commercial book publishing—that is, what America is reading."

BONUS: GOOGLE

One of the best ways to find leads is to look at books you feel are similar to yours. Google who they published through, or who represented the sale of their book. Start to create your own spreadsheet to track query opportunities.

 

Some of these links may be affiliate links, meaning we will get a small percentage of any referral (hey, Amazon!). But, we only share resources we absolutely love and use in our office.

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