Seems I saw this subject pop up quite a bit on social media this past fall. Right now, we’re in kind of a recognized submission dead zone. (Submissions generally stop between now and the new year. Writers spend their holidays polishing up new books and queries. I’d be remiss if I didn’t include this fun fact, though: I did sell my first novel during the holiday season, so there are certainly always exceptions to the rule.) Still, since this is generally the time of the year of pretty intense submission prep, I thought I’d tackle the subject head-on: How to squeeze all your tons of info on your novel into a single page query.
I know when you first start out it just seems completely impossible. You have SO MUCH TO SAY ABOUT YOUR BOOK.
The good news is, like everything else in life, that which seems impossible is actually not quite as complicated as you would make it out to be, first glance.
The queries I’ve written generally follow the same format:
- A third of the page devoted to the book itself—talking the storyline here. Think in terms of jacket copy.
- A third of the page devoted to the importance of the book—how it fits into the market, how you believe it fills a hole. If it’s children’s literature, how the book would be useful in a classroom, etc.
- A third of the page devoted to your credentials.
If this is your first book to query, #1 especially sounds easier than done, I’m sure. It’s always so hard to squeeze your book down to a paragraph or two. One tip is to boil the book down to ONE SENTENCE and then build the paragraph(s) up from there. You really should have a one-sentence pitch on hand, anyway, before you start approaching agents or editors. Also, my jacket copy has frequently been pulled from my initial queries, so I can’t stress how really important #1 is.
Don’t be too literal about the division into thirds. Of course each project is different. Each author is different, too—if you don’t have much of a publishing history, that’s fine. Everyone has to start somewhere. But if you don’t have it, you don’t need to dwell on it. Focus on the project instead. Your understanding of where your book fits into and stands out from an already crowded marketplace will be more valuable to a potential publishing house than your background, anyway. (Trust me on that one—I had a master’s in English, teaching experience, and previous publications, and they didn’t help me get in the door any faster. It was all about the project at hand.)
So there you have it: an easy, three-part query letter. Best of luck getting your submissions in order for ’19!