Friday, November 16, 2007

Query Tips

Yesterday, a bunch of great writers met at our local Borders for an SCBWI Schmooze. What a fun time we had discussing “Queries that Work.” We had lots of great examples of queries people brought that actually landed a book or article contract.

One thing we discussed is how sometimes, the rules just have to be broken. I’ve landed over 70 book contracts with a certain “formula” I use to write my queries. When I have followed the “rules” found in most writing books or discussed at most writing conferences, I’ve never gotten a successful sale. Here’s how I write my queries—and they work! Just for an example, just recently I’ve landed four book contracts in the past three months!

Let’s say I want to write an alphabet book about my funny cat Humphrey. BEFORE I WRITE THE BOOK, I look around on the Internet at different publishers’ web sites. I keep searching until I find a publisher who writes alphabet books about pets. They have an alphabet book about dogs called, “S is for Spot: An Alphabet Book about Dogs.” But I see that they don’t have a book about cats yet! I look for their submission guidelines and see that the editor’s name is Paula Wells. I order some of their library books in at the library to check out their format and style. Then I’m ready to write a query! Here’s what I say in my e-mail query:

Dear Paula,
I studied your website and saw that you publish alphabet books about pets.

I see you have a dog alphabet book, “S is for Spot: An Alphabet Book about Dogs.” I noticed that you don’t have an alphabet book yet about cats.

I was wondering if you’d be interested in seeing a proposal for an alphabet book about cats called “H is for Humphrey: An Alphabet Book about Cats.”

If not, I would also be interested in writing an alphabet book about these other pets:
Horses, goats, pot-bellied pigs.

I am a children’s author and have written several articles for the children’s magazine, “I Like Pets.”

I’m looking forward to hearing from you.


Nancy I. Sanders
(Contact info here.)

That’s it! This is my standard format to contact an editor. Short query via e-mail targeting their product line. Personal e-mail. If the editor doesn’t take e-mail, I usually don’t bother contacting her. I just look for a different publisher to target. I don’t want my query to land up in a pile of envelopes and not hear back for months. The results? I usually hear back from within the week or I don’t hear back at all. Out of about 25 queries I sent these past 3 months, I’ve landed several book contracts and magazine assignments. My goal is to get the contract before I write the manuscript. Why? Because usually, the editor wants to give input on which direction the manuscript should take. It save me lots of revision time. And wanna hear a secret? I’ve written over a hundred manuscripts that I’ve tried to submit somewhere—with 100% rejections. I haven’t sold a one of them. But I’ve landed over 70 book contracts when I query the editor before I write the book. Even as a beginning writer!

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