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!