Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Writers' Q&A - Query Letters

There's been a lot of interest in this Q&A - I'm really glad that the answers I've given seem to be helping. If you have any more questions, please post them in the comments. I'm deeply involved in my current book but I'll get to them as and when I can.

So here's the latest question.

Janet said:

Hi Kate,I love it when you answer writing questions. Here's one about submitting to M&B.

The Harlequin London office asks to see a partial in the first instance, rather than a a query letter, but it only seems polite to include a covering letter with the submission. What would you advise us to include in this cover letter?

I tend to give a few very basic details ie title, wordcount, and line targetted. But I often wonder if maybe also including an intriguing pitch paragraph/logline is a good idea? Or does the synopsis make it unneccessary?

Thank you,Janet

Hi Janet. I'm always happy to answer writing questions.

Now it's a l-o-n-g time since I submitted with the need for a covering letter (25 years!) but I'll tell you what I advise - what I would do if I had to write one now.

Harlequin Mills & Boon offices in Richmond UK are unusual in that they do ask for the partial (3 chapters) and a synopsis, unlike the American and Canadian offices that ask for a query letter and synopsis first. And yes, you definitely should include a covering letter with that submission. Think of it as your introduction to the editor who is going to read your manuscript. So as well as telling her the basics about your manuscript - as you said - the title, word count, the line you are targetting - you should tell her about yourself and what you are bringing to this submission.

Here are some basics to include:

1. Briefly pitch your book. What is the story? What line are you aiming it at? Show that you know about the line you're aiming for and why your story might fit into it.What are the hooks? What will make a reader want to read your book?

2. Your publication experience. If you haven't yet sold a book, have you had articles published? Short stories? Have you won writing contests? If you have published, have you been honoured in any way (awards, contests, bestseller lists)?

3. What writing organizations do you belong to, if any? Membership of something like the UK's Romantic Novelists' Association, especially if you attend meetings or the conference, shows a professional and committed approach to writing.

4. Optional: Any experience that you have brought bring to the writing of this book. If it's about a junior school, are you a teacher? If it's set in the theatre did you once act - even as an amateur?

5. Offer to revise if the story is close. Editors prefer to work with authors who are easy to work with.

6. Be sure to include your name, address, phone, email and send an self addressed envelope with postage for the return of the manuscript if you are submitting by post or tell the editor that she may shred the manuscript if it not suitable. But still include an SASE for her response to you. And although it may seem obvious, do make sure that you send your submission in secure packaging with adequate postage. It's not going to make a great impression if the script looks tatty and as if it has already been to 101 other publishers - and they have to pay an excess postage fee simply to receive it.

7. Try to keep your query letter to only one page in length

8. Don't try to be clever, cute or quirky even if your story writing style is like that. Leave it to your fiction to be that voice - this one is business, so treat it like a business letter. It doesn't have to be dry and stiffly formal - it can be personal in voice and style. But keep it professional.

9. Keep the presentation professional too. Luckily , with computers it is easy to create a professional looking letter format. Check spellings and punctuation - specially things like apostrophes etc! (I always stop and think twice before I write The Romantic Novelists' Association's New Writers' Scheme for example!) Don't send your query on cutesy letterhead or weird paper. Editors read a lot of letters/manuscripts/synopses every day - be polite in what you say and in the way you submit. If they have to struggle to read something written in a fancy font on dark red paper, it will not make you stand out except as a cause of irritation.

10. Finally on submissions - M&B editors do make a point of asking for only one submission at a time and not to keep on submitting while you are waiting for their response on the current one. Again be polite and professional and go along with this even if it seems infuriating and you have written a whole new book - or more - in the waiting time. If you do get comments and suggestions they would want to see in the next submission that you have worked on those lines. Submitting without hearing from them simply risks repeating all the same mistakes and so getting the same rejection/response.

And of course then you'll need lots of patience once you've sent it off. Good luck with the submission!


Anonymous said...

Thanks again for the helpful insight you have given to us all recently in your Q&A sessions - today's was spot on as susual. Much appreciated for all us "aspirings". Caroline

Janet said...

Thank you, Kate. Copying and pasting your reply--exactly what I needed to know,

Patricia said...

Thank you Kate for all your wonderful advice. You are a born teacher. I've an entire Kate file saved for all your writing help.


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