Querying

Post image for 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.

Sincerely,
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.

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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.

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The Lowdown on Multiple Submissions by Anita Mumm

June 12, 2012
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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 […]

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Is There a Market for LDS Spanish Language Picture Books?

April 16, 2012

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 […]

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Common Reasons for Rejections

March 7, 2012

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 […]

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My Submission Bounced Back. What Do I Do?

December 21, 2011

The email address for your submissions department came back undeliverable. I addressed it to [name deleted]..as 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 […]

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I Am NOT the Editor at Deseret Book…

December 20, 2011

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 […]

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Where Do I Submit a Story with a Taboo Topic?

October 12, 2011

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 […]

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And Speaking of Jamie Ford…

October 11, 2011

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 […]

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Is There a Market for LDS Reference/Study Guides?

October 10, 2011

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? […]

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I’m Really Not Sure How to Answer This…

September 8, 2011

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 […]

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

March 24, 2011

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 […]

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Uhm, What’s Your Name?

February 25, 2011

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 […]

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Credentials Are Not a Big Deal—Good Writing Is!

September 2, 2010

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 […]

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