Strong Query Letters by Anita Mumm

This past weekend I presented on writing strong query letters at Author Fest of the Rockies in Manitou Springs, CO. As an example I handed out NLA client Stefan Bachmann’s wonderful query for THE PECULIAR, which I first encountered in the slush pile a year ago. Last month THE PECULIAR debuted to much fanfare from GreenWillow/HarperCollins. With Stefan’s permission I’ll share the query, my comments, and the results of our discussion here.

Dear Ms. Megibow:

I would like you to consider my gothic steampunk fantasy for middle grade readers, The Peculiar. 69,000 words in length, it takes place in a Victorian England that has enslaved the population of Faerie, an England where magic and industry are at war, spells do half the chores, and clockwork birds carry secret messages across the sky. [Fabulous opening. We know three key elements from one succinct paragraph: genre, word count, and that this story takes place in a unique, fascinating, and well-built world.]

Bartholomew Kettle won’t live long. Changelings never do. [How’s that for a hook? Who could possibly stop reading? One workshop attendee asked if this could be used as the opening of the query. Absolutely. In that case, the information from the current opening would come after this paragraph.] The child of a human mother and a faery father, he is despised by both his races; if the Englishmen don’t hang him for witchcraft, the faerys will do something worse. So his mother keeps him locked away, keeps him hidden and cut off from the world in the faery slums of Bath. But one day Bartholomew witnesses a mysterious lady kidnap another changeling through a shadowy portal, and suddenly he finds himself at the center of a web of intrigue and danger that spans the entire country. Changelings are surfacing in the Thames hundreds of miles away, their bodies empty of blood and bone, and their skin covered in red markings. A powerful figure sits in the shadows, pushing the pieces in place for some terrible victory. When a sinister faery in a top-hat begins to stalk Bartholomew’s every step, he knows it’s his turn. Something is coming for him. Something needs him. But when you’re a changeling there’s no where to run. [There’s is a lot of meat to this paragraph, without an information overload. The book has undertones of horror, and this suspenseful ending to the pitch paragraph gives agents a nice taste of its dark tone.]

I am eighteen years old and a student of classical music at the Zürich Conservatory. My short stories have appeared in issues of Mirror Dance and Every Day Fiction. [Yes, naturally we did a double-take when we read he was eighteen. We generally advise authors not to mention their age in a query, but in this case, we were already so intrigued that it only increased our curiosity and eagerness to read his work.]

Thank you for your time.

Stefan Bachmann

Bravo, Stefan! This query got right to the heart of the story and left us begging for more—which is exactly what every writer should be going for. To see more examples of NLA client queries, visit Kristin’s blog and scroll down to her Query Pitch Workshop on the right side bar.

Writers, Do Your Homework!

I get emails like this one all the time:

I can’t publish this as […] do to the fact that I cite Mormon scriptures. So I would like to copyright in with you. my work is far from done but I would like to see what you thinks.  [document was attached]

At least once a week, someone asks me to publish their manuscript, or look at it and give free feedback. (I don’t do that here.) And many of the questions I get have typos or incorrect vocabulary and grammar. (I almost always clean those up before posting, unless I want to make a point.)

(Today, I’m making several points.)

I am using this particular email as an example—not to poke fun or belittle, but because it contains examples of several common errors that I often see. This is a teaching moment. I don’t judge you here—just point out how to do things differently and correctly, so you’ll present yourself and your manuscript in a way that will give you the most mileage for your efforts.

As an unpublished author, your job is to make a good impression on the agent, editor, or publisher whom you want to have consider your work for publication.

1. Do your homework.

— Make sure the person you’re contacting actually IS an agent, editor or publisher.

— Make sure they are looking for your type of manuscript. You don’t want to send a religious work to a fantasy publisher, or a mystery to a company that specializes in romance.

— You can usually find these details on the company website under the About tab or in their Submissions Guidelines.


2. Understand the industry and vocabulary.

— Do some reading up on basic terminology and how things work in the publishing industry. You will need to be able to discuss terms and topics. Go to your library and look for books on publishing and self-publishing. Some of them will be pie in the sky nonsense, and some will be deep, dark depression. But amid those, you’ll find some very helpful jewels.

— I recommend this book The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing by Marilyn Ross (Not because I think you should self-publish—although you may choose that route—but because it gives a good overview of the business of publishing.)

— You do not copyright your work with a publisher. Sometimes your publisher will officially register the copyright of your work with the U.S. Copyright Office but the copyright remains with you.


3. Write a good query.

— A query is the initial contact you have with an agent or publisher. The email above is essentially a query.

— A good query has enough information to allow the agent or publisher to determine if it’s a topic they’d be interested in.

— A good query highlights a writer’s basic writing skills.  (See #4 below.)

— If I were an agent or publisher (and at this website, I’m not), the only thing I know about this manuscript is that it cites Mormon scriptures.

— Some agents and publishers will put sample queries or query guidelines on their websites. Follow those carefully.

— Or Google “how to write a good query“. (Click the link. Seriously. It will make you smile.)


4. Check and double check your query.

— Check for misspelled words.

— Check for typos or auto-corrects that corrected wrong.

— Check for grammar errors, punctuation, capitalization.

— Once it’s perfect, set it aside for a day. Then check it again.

— Have someone else read through it.

— Email it to yourself and read through it again.

— Check it one last time before clicking the Send button.


5. Do not attach a document.

— Unless their website specifically says to do so, do not attach a document to your query email. Most agents and publishers will delete those unopened. Like I did.

— If your query piques their interest, the agent/publisher will then request a document and will send you instructions on how to deliver it.

The Lowdown on Multiple Submissions by Anita Mumm

Is it okay to query several agents at once? Absolutely. In fact, we recommend it. If you wait to hear back from each agent before approaching another, you could end up waiting months or years for an offer of representation. But there is a protocol to follow. Here are some things to bear in mind as you get ready to launch your volley of submissions.

  • It’s not necessary to say, “This is a multiple submission,” in your query letter (though there is nothing wrong with doing so). Unless you tell an agent she is your one shot and you can’t possibly see yourself working with someone else, the agent will assume that as a savvy writer you are not putting all your eggs in one basket.
  • After you send your query, keep agents posted on any major interest you receive for the project. Always check the agent’s website, blog, etc. to learn her preferences, but in general that means an offer of representation; you don’t need to send updates if you get another sample or full manuscript request. Also, if you sent your manuscript to editors before seeking an agent, it’s good to mention this in your query letter, and definitely keep agents posted if you receive an offer of publication.
  • If you receive an offer of representation from an agent, you have two choices: (1) Let him know that you are waiting to hear back from other agents you submitted to and ask for a reasonable period in which to make your decision—agents hate being forced to read a manuscript overnight. Or (2) decide you want to go with him and accept the offer. Either way, let everyone else know immediately. It’s very frustrating for an agent who has just spent hours reading your manuscript, only to learn that it is no longer available.

Remember that there’s a balance to be found with multiple submissions. Approaching only one or two agents decreases your chance of success, but firing off dozens of queries will only cause headaches as you try to keep track of where you are in each agent’s submission process. Focus on a handful of your top choices, and if they turn you down, go to your Plan B list, and so on. The bottom line is to be courteous and considerate throughout the process—life is unpredictable and you never know when you might be agent hunting again.

Anita Mumm is a Literary Assistant at the Nelson Literary Agency. This post was taken from their monthly newsletter and posted here with permission. To get more great industry news, subscribe to their newsletter.

Is There a Market for LDS Spanish Language Picture Books?

Hello, I have some questions that you may be able to answer. I am a graphic designer and I write books for children. I live in [South America].

I have produced the gospel “translated” for them with short texts and nice drawings. So far I have finished the fourth book but I have more than 60 in mind.
I was wondering if I could show you the things I have done, (I write, draw, diagram and desing the whole book). If it is not you whom I should contact, would you please tell me who is that I can write to?

Do I have any possibilities to do this with a book publisher in the US from here?

First, no you can’t send samples of your work to me. I keep a strict divide between my anonymous blogging self and my day-job publishing self. If someone sends a manuscript to “LDS Publisher” I delete it without reading it. Sorry, but this is one of the conditions I have with my boss.

Second, yes, there is a market here in the United States for Spanish-language books that teach gospel principles to children. The fact that you live outside the U.S. shouldn’t be a problem. What is a problem is that children’s books don’t sell as well as books for adults, and picture books are more expensive to publish. (See more on this HERE.)

Also, some publishers may allow you to illustrate and design your books but most will want to do that in-house, having you provide the text only.

What you need to do is send a query to the various LDS publishers to see if they are interested. Here is a list of LDS publishers in the U.S. I’m not sure how up to date it is, so you’ll need to go to the various websites and carefully read their submission guidelines. The big ones to contact are, of course, Deseret Book, Covenant and Cedar Fort.

Common Reasons for Rejections

Hello, [my trilogy] was just turned down by deseret publishing on my first book of this project. I’m 75% done with the second book and will then immediately complete the third of the trilogy. There has never been books like these as they are unique and experientially based. Can you help me?

It is not at all uncommon to be rejected on your first book and by the first publisher you contact. Don’t give up.

The most common reason books are rejected is that they are not a good fit for the publisher. Read the publisher’s submission guidelines carefully. Make sure the publisher you are submitting to is interested in your genre and topic. Make sure they publish things similar, but not the same as what you’re submitting.

The second most common reason for rejection is that the book is just not quite publication ready. Get some critiques on your manuscript. Join a critique group with experienced writers. Go to some conferences that offer critique sessions. Make sure your book is as good as it can possibly be.

The third most common reason for rejection is your query letter isn’t quite up to what it should be. Saying things like, “There has never been books like these as they are unique and experientially based,” is not really very helpful. Unique how? What specifically do you meant by “experientially based”? Is that experiential component going to add to the cost of creating the book? That might be an issue (or not).

And I can guarantee, the publisher/editor/agent is going to have seen something like it before.

Do your research and keep submitting. Good luck!

My Submission Bounced Back. What Do I Do?

The email address for your submissions department came back undeliverable. I addressed it to [name deleted] I found on your [name deleted] submissions address. My question is this…I sent the first 12 chapters of my manuscript entitled “[name deleted]” to [name deleted] on Nov. 21,2011, with query letter,etc. Since then, I have completed the final chapter…#23.

Since the email came back undeliverable, I am now wondering if the manuscript even arrived at the right place. Should I send the remaining chapters, or should I just send the chapters 13-23, or should I wait and make sure this has been accepted for publication.

There are some issues with your questions. Since your email brings up several mistakes that new authors often make, I’ll address each one separately.

I went to the website of the publisher you mentioned and will answer your questions according to their website submission guidelines. For other readers, please note that different publishers have different guidelines. The point of this post is to do your research on the publisher you’re submitting to and follow their guidelines.

  1. The email was sent to me at the LDS Publisher email address, but addressed to me as if I were the editor at the company whose name has been deleted. I am not that person. I am an anonymous blogger. Sending this email to me here at the blog tells me that you didn’t research as well as you could have. (For more information, see my mini-rant from yesterday.)
  2. Unless you met with this editor in person or you were at a writers conference where they gave you a submissions email address and requested specifically that you send your manuscript in the way that you did, then you didn’t follow their guidelines. Therefore, your email may have been automatically deleted, if it arrived at all.
  3. This publisher’s website specifically states that you should mail a query letter and an outline or table of contents. Mail—as in print a hard copy, put it in an envelope, and mail it to their physical address, as posted on their website.
  4. They also accept partial manuscripts of 2 to 3 chapters. Not the first 12 chapters. Unless the editor specifically requested that you send the entire book, you sent too much.
  5. Always wait until requested to send more than the query, the outline, and first few chapters.
  6. If you’re sending fiction, never send a query for an unfinished work. If it’s non-fiction, you can get away with an unfinished book—sometimes. As a new author, it’s always better to have a finished product.
  7. Publishers and editors will need to see the entire manuscript before accepting it for publication. But generally, they don’t want to see the whole thing at the initial query/submission stage.
  8. If your email came back undeliverable, chances are they did not receive it. Rather than resending the entire book, I suggest you go back to their website and find their submission guidelines. Read them carefully and then follow them to the letter.

I Am NOT the Editor at Deseret Book…

This is me.


I am an anonymous blogger who speaks to issues on getting published in the LDS industry.

Even if I were an editor at Deseret Book, I would never admit it through the avenues of this blog. Nor would I respond to emails sent to me here, but addressing me as my real-life counterpart.

The reason I’m reiterating this (and believe me REiterating is the correct usage in this case, as opposed to iterating, which is usually adequate) is because lately, I’ve been getting a LOT of emails addressed directly to various editors for Deseret Book or inquiring as to the status of a DB submission, but using MY ldspublisher email address.

It’s not completely unheard of that someone emails me here thinking I’m a particular editor at one of the LDS publishing companies. BUT, the fact that I’m getting so many lately specifically for Deseret Book employees makes me wonder if someone hasn’t posted their theory that I work for Deseret Book somewhere and said it with enough authority that others believe it to be true.

Shame on you, if you did that. Because 1) you’re giving bad advice to new authors by telling them to contact a particular company in any way other than what they officially state on their website, and 2) it’s just rude to try and out me!

So if you’ve done this—well-meaning or not—STOP IT! Correct it! And don’t do it again!

Please. 🙂

For the record:

Yes, I do work for a publishing company. And if you happen to get it right, I do forward the email to the appropriate person.

But most of the time, you get it wrong and when you do, I am no more able to contact the correct person than you are.

And even when you do get it right, and I AM the person you need to address in real-life, the fact that you try to contact me through this avenue tells me that you’re not a professional and you haven’t done your homework and you’re going to need more hand-holding than I really want to give. I may still accept your manuscript, but I’m going to do it reluctantly.

Where Do I Submit a Story with a Taboo Topic?

I have just finished writing a book about the true story of placing my baby for adoption. I wrote it hoping to go through an LDS publisher, and it’s completely clean and has many spiritual aspects. I still wonder if LDS publishers would find the topic of teen pregnancy too taboo, even though it sends a great, positive message. What do you think?

Another reader asked:

I am currently preparing a proposal for a Book I am writing about conversations with Heavenly Mother. It is the first of it’s kind that I know of. Any suggestions?

Both of these topics deal with what might be called “taboo topics.”

What do I think? I whole-heartedly agree with Brigham Young who said:

Upon the stage of a theatre can be represented in character, evil and its consequences, good and its happy results and rewards; the weakness and follies of man, the magnanimity of virtue and the greatness of truth. The stage can be made to aid the pulpit in impressing upon the minds of a community an enlightened sense of a virtuous life, also a proper horror of the enormity of sin with its thorns and pitfalls, its gins and snares can be revealed and how to shun it. (I don’t have the exact reference for this. If you do, please leave it in the comments.)

I think this also applies to literature. Personally, I don’t think any subject should be taboo—in and of itself. If it’s happening out in the world, there will be members of our Church dealing with it on some level, great or small. If members of the Church are thinking about it or dealing with it, then they would probably appreciate a book on the topic.

How it’s handled, however, is where I draw lines.

If a story is well-written, avoids use of things that would be offensive to most LDS readers (like gratuitous violence and language or detailed intimacy), and the main message supports the teachings of the gospel of Jesus Christ, then I’m good with it.

Unfortunately, not all LDS publishers are open to “difficult” or “unusual” topics. While individuals within the company may fully support books that deal with these tougher themes, the powers-that-be may feel the company reputation would be damaged by delving too deeply into the ways of the world or topics that aren’t quite middle-of-the-road-Mormonism.

If the big three (Deseret Book, Covenant, Cedar Fort) reject you, you’ll need to search a little harder to find a publisher who is willing to push the line a bit. They do exist.

I’m giving you the same advice that I gave on Monday. Make a list of LDS publishers. (I have a partial list here but no info or links yet, sorry.) Go to their websites and look at the books they publish. Have any of those books addressed themes similar to yours? Do they say in their submission guidelines that they’re willing to consider and/or actively seek books that address your topic or theme? These would definitely be publishers who would consider your book.

And Speaking of Jamie Ford…

You remember Jamie Ford, right? The LDS author whose book, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, was a 2009 Whitney Finalist and who was featured as a question on Jeopardy?

I was catching up on posts over on Pub Rants and found a link to this in the sidebar. I thought it might be fun for you to see the query letter and comments that caught the eye of his agent, Kristen Nelson.

(Above the *** by LDS Publisher)

(Below the *** stolen from Pub Rants, a blog by literary agent Kristen Nelson. )
Jamie Ford’s Query for

As promised and with Jamie’s permission, here is the query he sent me for his manuscript which was originally entitled THE PANAMA HOTEL.

For me, that title didn’t really capture the essence of the manuscript so we spent a lot of time kicking around alternatives before we went out on submission. It was quite a process but after sharing several forerunner titles with a variety of reliable sources, we agreed to HOTEL ON THE CORNER OF BITTER AND SWEET.

One of the fun things about this submission is that many editors loved the title and couldn’t imagine the novel being called anything else.

That means we did a good job. Random House hasn’t mentioned changing it so as far as we know, this will be the title for the book.

Dear Ms. Nelson:

I must admit I hate Asian stereotypes. You know the ones. Good at math. Hardworking. We all look alike. Come to think of it, that last one might hold water. After all, my father once wore a button that read “I am Chinese,” while growing up in Seattle’s Chinatown during WWII. It was the only thing that separated him from the Japanese, at least in the eyes of his Caucasian neighbors.

Sad, but true. Which is probably why my novel has a little to do with that particular piece of history.

I was really caught by his personal connection to the history he plans to explore. I’ve never heard of the “I am Chinese” buttons, which is kind of fascinating.

Anyway, the working title is The Panama Hotel, and when people ask me what the heck it’s all about I usually tell them this:
“It’s the story of the Japanese internment in Seattle, seen through the eyes of a 12-year-old Chinese boy, who is sent to an all-white private school, where he falls in love with a 12-year-old Japanese girl.”

I’ve never seen a novel about a Chinese boy falling in love with a Japanese girl during such a volatile time period. I have to say that I was pretty much hooked by this story concept. Simple but there’s a lot of weight behind it. I did happen to know that the Chinese and the Japanese had long been at war before the advent of WWII so I knew of the general animosity between the countries–but I knew nothing of how that might have played out on American soil.

Click here to read the rest of the query letter and Kristen Nelson’s thoughts about it.

Is There a Market for LDS Reference/Study Guides?

Hello. Thanks for creating your blog. I just have a few quick questions. I’ve put together an [XYZ] reference guide. It’s for [a certain area of study] and has about 45,000 entries, in an [particular] format. Is there still a market for [this type of] reference book, and which LDS publishing companies would you recommend?

Yes! I think there will always be a market for LDS reference and study guides.

What you need, however, is a twist—something unique that sets your book off from those already published. What you need is a reason why someone would buy yours, as opposed to the ones produced by the Church itself, or those written by noted LDS scholars.

  • Is your guide perfect for children or teens?
  • Is it extra easy to understand?
  • Does it include something the other guides don’t?

The format you described (which I deleted to keep it private) may be enough of a difference to give it a selling point.

As for choosing a publisher, make a list of LDS publishers. (I have a partial list here but no info or links yet, sorry.) Go to their websites and see if they sell similar items. Look at their submission guidelines and see if they’re interested in reference books or study guides. Then custom tailor your query so that it clearly states why your product is compatible with, yet unique from, their existing products.

I’m Really Not Sure How to Answer This…

I got this email in April:

I found your blog on bookcovers and I’m submitting a book this week to Deseret Books and am now completing the second book of the trilogy. There are no LDS perspective book out like these. My first book has taken me fourteen years, and now I will produce the second and thied in the next three months and they are bestsellers. What can we do for each other? I have cover illustrations in mind for books two and three and have a sketch for book one. If I don’t hear from you in the next 24 hours, Deseret will get first crack at an unprecedented experiential trilogy. Thank you in advance for indulging me.

And this one in May:

Hello, I was just turned down by deseret publishing on my first book of this project. I’m 75% done with the second book and will then immediately complete the third of the trilogy. There has never been books like these as they are unique and experientially based. Can you help me?

Both were from the same person.

Where do I even begin? Clearly, you need to do more research on how to query and how to submit.

  1. I don’t do a blog on book covers. I do a blog on helping authors get published. I did a contest for book covers awhile back…?
  2. If it took 14 years to write the first book, I have absolutely no confidence in your ability to write two more books in only three months.
  3. Until they are published, you have no idea whether they will be bestsellers or not.
  4. If you are going to publish traditionally, cover illustrations are not your responsibility. The publisher designs the cover, not you.
  5. If you want control over the covers, you’ll need to self-publish, in which case, you won’t be contacting publishers.
  6. You never, ever, ever tell a publisher they only have 24 hours to decide to look at your manuscript.
  7. I’m not a publisher. I write an advice blog for authors.
  8. If I were a publisher and this was a real submission to me, I would not indulge someone who so clearly does not know what they are doing. I would not even respond. I’d click “delete”—end of story.
  9. You do not know what other authors are submitting. You cannot claim that your manuscript is “unprecedented.” The publisher may have rejected many manuscripts similar to yours or they may have something just like it in the process of being published.
  10. If you sent Deseret Book an email similar to the one you sent me, I’m not at all surprised they turned you down—for all the reasons I listed previously.

Can I help you? Yes. An author’s first job is to write a very good manuscript. Their second job is to research industry standards and learn how to submit a query and/or manuscript properly.

  1. Go to your local public library and check out some books on how to query and submit manuscripts to publishers.
  2. Read them.
  3. Follow their advice.

And lest anyone think this is an unusual query, let me just say that during my summer vacation, I received no less than four very similar emails. (Which causes me to wonder if I am being punked.) This one, however, offered the most teaching moments.

Want an idea of what NOT to do in a query?

Go read Is This a Query You Sent Me? at Thoughts from a Literary Agent by Marisa Iozzi Corvisiero.

And lest you think the query she posted is a one-time, unusual occurrence, let me assure you it is not. I get queries and submissions similar to this ALL. THE. TIME.

And yes, in my day job, I usually e-mail back something like, “Thank you for your submission. Unfortunately, at this time it is not a good match for our company. Good luck in your search for publication.”

The End.

Uhm, What’s Your Name?

I have been reading many articles and blogs referring to cover and query letters. It is strongly suggested to address these to a specific editor or publisher rather than a “Dear Editor”. How do you go about finding the name of a specific editor when you are submitting to a large publishing company?

The short answer is: Most of the time, you can find it on their website. Look for their Submission Guidelines/How to Submit page. Then follow the instructions.

The long answer: Since I get variations of this question all the time, I thought I’d do a very detailed description of what to do and how to do it. First, since I just finished reading a paranormal fantasy, I decided that was the book I’d be shopping.

I googled Harper Collins because that was the publisher of the book I’d just finished.

By googling, I found the Harper Collins main website. I scrolled down to the very bottom of their page and found a link that said “Manuscript Submissions.” Most of the time, the submission info is at the bottom of the main webpage but sometimes you have to dig a little.

Upon clicking that link, I discovered that you have to have an agent to submit to Harper Collins, unless you’re submitting to Avon Romance. They included a link called “Avon Romance Submissions Guidelines.”

Clicking that link took me to the Avon Romance main web page. Again I scrolled down to the very bottom and found a link that said “Submission Guidelines” in a pretty pink color.

Clicking that one took me to a page with lots of great information—which I read very carefully. Yes, they take Paranormal Romance in the 90-100K word count range. Good. Kept reading. Kept reading…

There at the very bottom was this message:

How To Submit A Manuscript

Please note Avon’s submission policy

To submit your romance or women’s fiction (only), please query first. You must query by e-mail. When you do so, please put QUERY in the subject line. Due to the overwhelming amount of Spam email we receive, subject lines that have manuscript titles often do not reach the editors. Your query should be brief, no more than a one-page description of your book. Do not send chapters or a full synopsis at this time. Also, please do not send attachmentsTHEY WILL NOT BE OPENED. You will receive a response — either a decline or a request for more material — in approximately six to eight weeks.

Please e-mail your query to

They obviously do not care that you address them personally. Further research to find the name of the actual editor at Avon Romance is moot.

If I were a real author, with a real book to submit, I’d follow the instructions in that paragraph TO. THE. LETTER.

Credentials Are Not a Big Deal—Good Writing Is!

I must start off by explaining that I am a Stephenie Meyers writing convert—she said go for it, and I did. So I have this ms, actually two now, and I have been scouring your blog and others to figure out what on earth I am supposed to do at this point.

One of my sources gave a sample query that I have used to get started, but at the bottom, it says I should list my sources, ie. degrees, writing accomplishments, books or articles published, etc. What does one put in this part of the query if she has nothing? It seems a little pathetic to say that “the girls in my book club really liked it.”

Can you make any recommendations as to what the extremely green writer would cite as a source? Or do I just not say anything?

There’s nothing to be embarrassed about if you have no writing credentials. Everyone starts out green.

At that point in the query, state that this is your debut novel and leave it at that. Let your manuscript speak for itself. If it’s well-written, you don’t need credentials. If it’s poorly written, it doesn’t matter how long your cred list is. It’s still going to bomb.

If you happen to have a hobby or some life experience that makes you an “expert” on some unusual aspect of the story you’ve written (example: if your story is a murder mystery set in the bull raising industry and you just happen to have raised bulls all your life), then you can include that. That way, if the agent/editor is unfamiliar with the setting (or whatever), they’ll have some confidence that your details are legit.

(But don’t worry about it if you DON’T have expertise in every area of your story. That’s what research is for.)

Skipping the Slush Pile

Yes, I know this is supposed to be Writing Tip Tuesday, but this weather swinging from cold to hot to cold again, has got me all messed up with a cold. So this week, you get what you get. And if I suddenly never show up again, it means I died of a sore throat…

Dear LDSPublisher,

Sorry I’m always peppering you with questions, but you’re just so darn helpful. [thank you!]

At the LDStorymakers conference I pitched to an LDS Publisher. They were very excited about my book, insisted that there was a definite market for this kind of story and promised to take a look at my first five pages and let me know, either way. They have my email address.

Here’s my question, not because I’m trying to be annoying, but because I am truly ignorant on this topic: How long of a wait am I looking at? I already sumitted to this Publisher (a different manuscript) and waited for 5 1/2 months before getting a response. In essence, doesn’t the fact that I pitched directly to an editor mean I get to skip the basic slush pile?

For those of us that don’t know the process, could you explain what kind of pile those pages are sitting in, waiting to be read?

Thank you so much for your time.

Yes, when you pitch to an agent—or even if you attend a conference where an agent presented—you get a bypass the slush pile free card. Your mss would be in the “Read First Chance I Get” pile.

As to how long it takes to get to your mss, it depends upon how much recovery time the agent needs after the conference (some agents do back-to-back conferences), the number of other manuscripts that came in from the conference, and what hit the fan while the agent was gone.

Even if the agent was very excited about your manuscript, even if it was his or her favorite pitch from the conference, their assistant won’t know that. So while it’s in the “Read Soon” pile, it may be #40 in the stack of manuscripts that were sent in immediately after the conference.

So, as always in this business, be patient.

Is the Query Still Important?

From the comments on this post:

Question, though: obviously we’re still going to want to include a query to hook the editor/slushpile reader, but most LDS publishers accept unsolicited manuscripts. Do you think getting the query letter perfect [is] less important than when the query is the only thing the agent/editor has?


The query is still your first contact with the editor—and first impressions are a big deal. Therefore, your query (with or without accompanying manuscript) is still very important.

Real life example: My assistant reads all queries first. Good queries = manuscript goes into my Read Now pile. Bad queries = manuscript goes into my Read When I Have Time pile.

Good Queries

I posted some query no-nos last week. One of the commenters commented in the comments:

Perhaps you could do a feature sometime on the things that stood out to you in a positive light, like good examples from actual queries. Thanks!

Unfortunately, I can’t post good examples because part of what makes them good is their idea—and since I’m only the first reader of the queries, it would be a sticky situation if I said here that a particular query was really good, and then it got rejected at the next rung up the ladder.

But what I would be willing to do (and have always been willing to do) is query critiques. If a reader sends me their query, I’ll post it with commentary on what makes it good and what doesn’t quite work.

Also, read this: 10 Steps to a Good Query.

PLEASE NOTE #1: I will assume that ALL QUERIES sent to the LDS Publisher email addresses are intended for critique. I do not accept queries for publication through this site.

PLEASE NOTE #2: DO NOT send your query as an attachment. Post it straight into the body of your email.

A Funny Thing Happened While I Was Reading Queries

I’ve been assigned to go through a batch of queries at my day job. One of the companies I freelance for asked me to take a look at them. They are just swamped and they trust my judgment.

Thought you might like to see some of the no-no’s I’ve encountered while doing this. While I’ve reworded them to hide identities, all of these “types” of mistakes showed up in more than one query. (Keep in mind, these were submitted to a mainstream LDS publisher with clear submission guidelines posted on their website.)

I queried you last year and you rejected me, but here’s a great story I think you’ll love.

Right. You’ve already pre-conditioned me not to like it by reminding me that I didn’t like your previous stuff. Don’t do that. Write your query as if you’ve never sent me anything before. Let it be a fresh start for both of us.

Please consider my xxx word YA paranormal fantasy about XX, the daughter of the bishop, Laurel class president—and a vampire.

No. First, while I might entertain a novel about a bishop’s daughter/Laurel prez who SLAYS vampires, I’m not going to look at one that IS a vampire. And vampires in general? Yawn. You better have a really original take on that.

I served an LDS proselyting mission in Guatemala, then returned there for another two years work with a charitable organization establishing health care in poorer areas…[followed by a rather lengthy description of what he did there]

Okay. That’s nice. But what does it have to do with your book? Your query is to sell your manuscript. I’ll get to know you as a person after I accept it.

In lieu of the usual query (which I’m sure you get tired of reading), I’m sending you the first 500 words of my novel. After reading, could you give me some advice on whether I should craft this more as a YA adventure? Or as a more literary coming-of-age novel?

What?! No. I never tire of well-written queries. They are the highlight of my day. What I do get tired of are people who, for whatever reason, have decided to break the requested submission guidelines and who think that’s a good thing. Never is. And no, YOU decide what your book is before you send in the query. If you need help, find a critique group or take a writing class.

Now I’m off to go through a few more Book of Mormon stories with a fine-toothed comb.

It’s Not You, It’s Me

 Okay, so yesterday’s late night post wasn’t a real post. But it was all I could manage because I was working on those electronic files all day. So today, you’ll get two posts.

When should a writer finally admit that it’s not your query that is the problem, but the subject matter?

I’ve written a YA suspense novel set in the 1960s. Those who have critiqued it with me think it should sell. However, I’ve sent out well over 100 queries, many following extensive revisions suggested by members of several writers forums. None of my queries have garnered even as much as a request for a partial. So, when should a writer give up and realize it’s not the query but just something no agent or publisher wants?

Having not read the query or the novel, I can’t tell you where the problem is. However, if you’ve sent out over 100 queries and not gotten a nibble, something is wrong.

When this happens and you really don’t know if it’s the topic or the query, set it aside. Hopefully you’ve been working on another novel during your submitting process. If not, get started right away on one. When it’s done, start querying it.

Then do it over again with a third novel.

During the process, your writing will improve and you’ll learn more about submitting and eventually you’ll hit it right.

Help! I Queried Too Soon!

Let’s say I’m a dingbat and started to query while I was still editing my manuscript. Even with submitting queries via email, I thought it would take several weeks to hear back from anyone. (Everyone writer I know complains about how long it takes to get a response to a query so I thought I was safe.)

But, amazingly, I got a response the next day, requesting a full manuscript. What do I do?

Do I tell them it will be a few weeks before I get back to them? Or do I not say anything and send it when it’s ready? Is this going to be a problem? Have I totally wrecked my chances with them?

First off, everyone learn from this writer’s mistake. Do not send a query until your novel is ready to go—written, edited and as good as you can make it. (This is not an issue with non-fiction, as those queries are often sent before the book is finished.)

The good news is that unless whomever you sent it to was brand new and desperate for reads, they are either very efficient or you simply got in on the day they were clearing through their query file and sending out responses. Chances are they aren’t sitting there tapping their foot, waiting for your full. However, if your query was so awesome that they really, really want to read your mss, they might possibly be wondering what’s taking you so long. (I’ve had a few mss that I was excited to see. I bugged my assistant every day, asking if they had come yet.)

The other good news is your query was probably really good. Really good queries and really bad queries typically get fast responses, while those queries that fall in between take some time to think about. If your mss was good enough to want today, it will be good enough to want in a few weeks—probably.

The bad news is that the longer you wait to submit the full, the higher the reading pile will be on top of it and there’s a possibility that someone else will send in something similar to yours and beat you to the punch.

If you can get it done in two weeks, I wouldn’t bother responding. I’d just buckle down, work really hard, and do whatever it takes to get that mss finished and off (even if it means taking time off work and neglecting the family). If it’s going to take you longer than that, I’d send a very short email (just a few sentences) explaining the situation and letting them know you’ll send it as soon as it’s ready.

When Do I Tell Them the Butler Did It?

I’ve read a lot of blogs and forums where writers say we should tell the agent/editor how the story ends in the query letter. Others say, no, the query is just a teaser. The ending should only be hinted at in the query letter, but the ending needs to be revealed in a synopsis.

Can you shed some light on this subject?

Yes. The query is a short teaser. If it’s a murder mystery, you don’t need to say that the butler did it in the query letter. You do, however, need to put it in the synopsis.

Some publishers/agents want the query and synopsis submitted at the same time. Others want only the query letter.

Should I Keep Querying

I’ve been pondering the above question for some time now. Actually, I totally intend to keep querying. What I’m really asking is, should I keep querying using the same query letter or revise it – again?

Here’s the background. So far, I’ve sent out 26 queries to agents, via email, using roughly the same query letter, tweaking it slightly at times. So far, I’ve gotten back 14 rejections, most form letters, but a few seemed like nice personal notes. All were polite, friendly, and encouraging. A couple even asked me to let them see my next project. I’m assuming by that, that they think I can at least write.

So, that leaves 12 unanswered email queries. Some of them are getting close to 3 months old. Most of the responses I have received came within a week.

So, to my question. Should I keep querying, using the same query letter, or consider revising it – again. This last go-round I followed Kristen Nelson’s method for “Building the Pitch Paragraph,” and think I have a pretty good query letter – not perfect, but I think it’s the best I’ve come up with so far.

What do you suggest?

It’s either your query letter or your book topic. Without having read your query, I can’t tell you for sure. Read your responses carefully for an indication of why you were rejected. If they’re asking you to submit other work, I’m guessing it’s the book topic and not the query, however, it doesn’t hurt to keep tweaking the query.

Query vs Cover Letter

What’s the difference between a query and a cover letter?

For most practical purposes, they’re the same but with a little twist.

In a query, you’re asking if you may submit your manuscript. The query letter includes info about your book: genre, word count, a brief description of the plot and the request to submit the manuscript. Depending on the publisher’s submission guidelines, the query letter may be accompanied by an outline/synopsis and the first few pages/chapters—or it may be a stand-alone submitted all by its lonesome self. (More posts about querying.)

You use a cover letter after the publisher/agent has agreed to read your manuscript. It goes on top of the hard copy manuscript when you mail it or in the body of the e-mail to which your manuscript is attached. The cover letter includes info about your book: genre, word count, a brief description of the plot and a thank you for reading the manuscript.

Querying a Series

When it comes to the first book of a series, how much of the query should dwell on the overall Main plot-line of the series (that’s only beginning in the first book) verses the specific ending-plot of book 1 alone? (being that it has both). This is a Fantasy series (could also be YA) with a set number of books that completes the main story. Course, from a newbie, is something like this a plus or minus when you receive it?

In your query, address book one. At the end of your letter, state that you intend this book as the first in a series of x number of books, following the story of A as he/she does whatever. Don’t go into much more detail than this. The publisher will ask about it if they’re interested.

Now, if it’s an epic adventure that really cannot be done in one book, you could add a second page to the query that gives a two to three sentence breakdown of each of the additional books.

In general, for a first time author, book one of the series should be written as a stand-alone novel. You can leave small clues in the book that can be pursued later and you can create an ending that allows for a sequel but you need to have the story complete in itself in case the publisher decides not to publish the rest of your series. Nothing is more disappointing to a reader then a book with a cliff hanger that never gets resolved.

Whether it’s a plus or a minus depends on how well written the book is. If it’s great, I’m going to be excited that there are more on the way. If it turns out the book sells well, then I’m going to want a new one each year until the series is done. If the book stinks, then it really doesn’t matter.