Kristen K. Swanson and Judith C. Everett, authors of Writing for the Fashion Business, have shared two exclusive extracts with Writers & Artists. In this second part, we take a look at the query letter. Take a look below for advice on writing the perfect submission.
Once you feel your proposal is ready to send to a potential publisher or literary agent, you will write a query letter to accompany your proposal. The query letter, which is similar to the cover letter discussed in Chapter 7, “ Writing for Public Relations,” is the document that brings all the elements of the package together. It contains an extremely condensed version of the book proposal. You hope that the publisher or agent will want more information and want to publish your book. The query letter is the key element in finding the right publisher.
The query letter is generally a single-spaced, one- to one-and-a-half page business letter that contains an opening paragraph, the body of the correspondence, and a closing paragraph. The first step in developing a query letter is to determine an appropriate publisher for your book. You may find publishers by looking through your personal library and identifying publishers of similar types of books. As we mentioned earlier in the chapter, the Writer’s Market and The Writer’s Handbook are good sources for identifying potential publishers. Additionally, online sources such as Amazon.com list publishers and the types of books a publisher would be interested in. These references and individual publisher websites provide the background information you need.
After you have determined appropriate publishers, get the name and address for the current acquisitions editor for each. This is the person to whom the query letter is directed, unless the publisher indicates that it accept manuscripts only from literary agents. That process is described in the next section of this chapter.
Once you have identified the acquisitions editor, be sure to get that person’s official title and the correct spelling of their name. Published directories become outdated rather quickly, and some editors have been known to toss letters addressed to their predecessor or letters with excessive typographical or grammatical errors. Why should they work with someone who does not pay attention to details the way a successful published author does?
The tone of your query letter should be upbeat and positive. Be enthusiastic and prepare the letter in a manner that will sell your ideas and project to the publisher.
The opening paragraph should include the title of the book and the hook, or selling point, of the work. This is the most important paragraph of the query letter.
The next section, the body of the letter, should consist of several paragraphs that describe the contents of your book. In addition to describing your text, include some statistical data, unknown facts, or interesting passages. You can also discuss why you are interested in writing the book and why you are the right person to do it.
The body of the letter also includes a concise explanation of the target audience and how the book could be promoted. This section also provides an overview of the book proposal, highlighting the most important parts.
The concluding paragraph describes your next action. Based upon your research and your knowledge of what specific publishers want, you will accompany your query letter with a whole manuscript, a book proposal, or a synopsis. For example, you could say, “I am sending you a proposal for Writing for the Fashion Business, a how-to book for up-and-coming authors in the fashion field. My book proposal, extended outline, and one sample chapter with a list of illustrations consists of 60 pages.” Be sure to thank the editor for his time in reviewing your material as you close the query letter. Check the draft of the letter after you have completed it.
Query Letter Checklist
Some publishers will not accept unsolicited manuscripts, preferring to work directly with agents, not authors. Next, we will look at the role of literary agents and will define when they are required and when they are not.