Thank you to 24 Carrot Writing for asking me to blog for them today. It’s a pleasure to be here talking about one of my favorite things: The Query Letter.
A bit of background: It’s no secret that I’d queried a lot in the early 2010s (I’ve written about it in a bunch of places -- Articles about Querying and Writing - Query Godmother). After a few false starts, I signed with my third agent in the summer of 2013. This past summer, after seven years with the same agent, we parted ways—and I was honestly feeling like a bit of a failure. I’d been hoping for feedback on a manuscript and wasn’t prepared for my agent to be downsizing their list. In the middle of 2020, I took it really hard.
All this to say that anyone can be in the query trenches.
Writing a query can be scary. Remember, a query letter is a tool. It’s a way to put your words into the world. Don’t overthink the query letter. It’s manageable. There are parts to it.
1. Introduction (and opening paragraph):
Sometimes this is called the “hook” part of the query. Include the title, the word count, the target age, and the genre of the book. A short tagline (elevator pitch) can be included in this section as well. It is not mandatory, though. If you have something personal to add, like that you met the agent at a conference, or took their workshop, do that here. If you don’t have anything personal, don’t force it.
2. Book section:
Think of this as your back cover copy. This is the most important part of the query. Be specific, but brief. Try to express how your book is different than others. Use specificity about character goals, stakes, and motivations. This section should be the longest—after all the query is about your BOOK. Make sure you are answering these questions in this section:
Something about yourself and your expertise. What makes you the person to write this book? If you have any relevant published works, mention them here. Keep this part business. Don’t include things about your family or hobbies.
I’ll be honest, I have yet to sign with a new agent. However, my request rate is over 20%, so I feel like my query letter is working, and there are several people considering my work. Keep track of this sort of data, so you know when to revise and/or move to the next manuscript.
Jumping into the querying pool can help you put aside your fears and anxieties about your work. Querying is forward motion. It is taking control of your career.
Know yourself and what works for you. I wish you all good luck in 2021.
Kristine Asselin is the author of several works of children’s nonfiction, co-author of the middle grade novel The Art of The Swap, as well as the YA novels Any Way You Slice It and Falling for Wonder Boy. She loves being a Girl Scout leader and volunteering with the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. She is a sucker for a good love song (preferably from the 80s), and can’t resist an invitation for Chinese food or ice cream (but not at the same time!). She lives in Central Massachusetts with her teen daughter and husband, and spends part of everyday looking for a TARDIS to borrow.
~ Guest post by Heather Kelly and Kristen Wixted
Hold onto your hats, folks, this will be a long post. But our goal is to give you a blueprint for following your dreams of holding your book in your hands!
It’s Heather Kelly and Kristen Wixted here, publishers and editors at Writers’ Loft Press and Pocket Moon Press. Not only do we indie-publish our own stuff, but we publish anthologies and mentor other writers to publish their own work. Check out our previously published anthologies: Firsts, An Assortment of Animals, Friends & Anemones, and Heather’s workbook to help you get the writing done, Jumpstart Your Writing in 30 Days.
Today we’re going to take you on a journey to publication using Tom Franklin’s brand new steampunk Middle-Grade adventure story, The Pterrible Pteranodon, as a guide.
Tom started with a very clean draft that had been critiqued and edited.
Pro Tip: Throw your manuscript into Pro-Writing Aid for a final polish!
We recommend hiring freelance editors and copy editors at places like ALLi—the Alliance of Indie Publishers, Reedsy, or other indie-friendly forums.
Next, Tom hired Robert Thibeault to create a genre-specific cover. Tom did his research by checking out his genre bucket at Amazon. Make sure to check out your genre-bucket best-sellers at Amazon before you choose a type of cover.
For example, here are the best sellers of middle-grade steampunk at Amazon:
Robert Thibeault designed an amazing and genre-specific cover:
Hopefully, you can see how it would not only fit alongside the books in its genre but also stand out. It looks great as a thumbnail. Very important in this digital age!
Pro Tip: Choose a type of cover that sells well in the genre. What you love as a book cover might not be what your reader loves. Sometimes as authors, we have to put our personal preferences aside!
Here’s a closer look at Tom’s cover, so you can see the details:
You can see here how an artist and book designer make a cover—it wraps around. Isn’t that cool?
REACHING YOUR READERS:
While Tom was waiting for his cover art masterpiece, he put up a freebie so people would sign up for his mailing list.
Having an email list—direct contact with fans—is the most important piece of the publishing puzzle.
Without this, every time you publish a new book, you start from scratch looking for fans.
Tom gave away the first few chapters of his book and audio files of his book to entice people onto his list. Check it out here. Go ahead and sign up—Tom is going to KICKSTART this book, and you get to walk through the steps with him! (See the countdown page here!)
Don’t just hide your freebie and the sign-up to your list on your personal website—plug it into one of the sharing sites that go directly to fans. Right now, two of the biggest sites are BookFunnel and StoryOrigin. Using sites like these, Tom doubled the number of fans he had on his list!
Pro Tip: Story Origin is still in beta, so it’s currently FREE to use! Nothing beats free!
Once you have fans, interact with them on a weekly or regular basis. Use email companies like MailChimp or mailerlite to do this professionally.
Pro Tip: Make sure to consider who your fans are and give them what they are looking for! Remember that the people who sign up for your list are readers of your genre (or parents of the readers) and not just other writers or your friends.
Formatting/Book Design: Use a program like Vellum (only for Macs) to format the inside of your book, or use the free program at Reedsy. Reedsy is a great one-stop-shop for finding indie-publishing support in general.
While growing his email list, Tom finished all the production pieces.
Here’s a list you can use:
Upload all the pieces (formatted correctly) along with the final cover artwork to Ingram Spark.
Pro Tip: if you pay to be a member at ALLi you get a code for free uploads and Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP has free uploads.
Upload your ebook to KDP and choose to either have your book in Kindle Unlimited or use a distributor to go wide (like Draft2Digital)
Pro Tip: Sites like Ingram Spark and KDP are often wonky, so make sure to save all your keywords and descriptions and bios elsewhere and paste them in. We have had some tense moments in the past!
Pro Tip: You can purchase keywords that work in your genre at K-lytics, KPD Spy, or Publisher Rocket, to attract the right online buyers. Oftentimes as authors, it’s hard for us to think about what search words readers use! These keywords help people find your book when they search for it.
If this seems like it’s a costly process, it can be. We generally budget $1,000 for a novel. (For an original cover like Tom’s from an artist, it’s much more!) But you can publish on a shoestring budget, by buying your cover premade (there are so many sites to use--just search for ‘premade book cover’) or by bartering. If you know someone who is a cover designer, and you are a great editor, trade those skills!
Pro Tip: It’s okay to publish with the budget you have and then upgrade things as you go!
FIND YOUR "WHY?"
One of the most important questions to ask, before you start this process, is, “Why?”
Why are you indie-publishing?
If you want to see your book in your local bookstores:
If you want to make the most money you can:
Whatever you do, don’t go it alone. Some of the best resources for authors starting out on the Indie-pub path are Joanna Penn’s podcasts, the Facebook Group 20 Books to 50K, and joining an indie pubbing group. We have a virtual one at the Writers’ Loft if you’d like to join (email firstname.lastname@example.org to get on the email list). It’s run by Dave Pasquantonio who is also a freelance editor and knows a ton about book promotion. We promise, once you get going, things get easier, because you keep running into the same people, the same sites, and most of the people you run into are very supportive! So that’s another part of the job—be supportive of your fellow writers.
Pro Tip: Don’t shortchange your readers—oftentimes the beautiful things that we love about books are simple enough for indie-publishers to achieve. See the gears that Tom added to each page number, the way his cover artist put the Pocket Moon Press logo into a gear, and how Tom invites his reader to read on into the next adventure!
Phew, we covered a lot, right? Thanks to 24 Carrot Writing!
Feel free to leave us questions in the comments! Just out of curiosity, did we make you open up a billion tabs? We might just give a prize for the person who fesses up to opening a ton of tabs! Heather generally has at least 25,000 tabs open on her screen on any given day. (Let us know in the comments and we’ll pick someone at random.) Did you sign up for Tom’s email list so you can follow his further adventures in Kickstarting? We can’t wait for that process. (That’s another blog post)!
~by Amanda Smith
So, you wrote something. And now you wonder what the steps are for getting it published.
First of all, congratulations! Writing on a consistent basis, to the point where you have a book, is a huge accomplishment. (If you want to write children's books and aren't sure where to start, this blog by Kelly is for you.) Writing a book, however, is only the first step. Sending a freshly written manuscript to an agent or publisher would be like asking Paul and Prue to judge a cake after you had only gathered the ingredients.
Here are some basic steps towards publishing:
You need someone else's eyes on your work (not family!). Ideally your critique partners should be up to date on the current market and knowledgeable about writing. They will look at content, structure, plot and character development, language use and, if you need, line editing. It is imperative to have someone else read your work. Sometimes we get so caught up in the excitement of a new project, or have read the same words so many times we don't see the plot holes, unclear details, or glaring mistakes.
Where to find critique partners?
Local writing organizations
Online groups such as Kidlit 411, Storystorm, Children’s Book Authors & Illustrators, 12X12, to name a few.
Craft workshops and courses
If your critique partners are worth their salt, you will receive lots of revision notes. Depending on the depth of the notes, you will have to revise or, in some cases, even rewrite. Regardless of the scope of revisions, you will likely have a couple of critique-revision rounds. Do not skip this step! It is during this phase that your work continues to mature and become the best it can be. It is hugely rewarding to dig deep and polish away the rough edges of your story.
Beta Readers: (Not necessary for picture books)
After critiques and revisions, you need Beta readers, who consist of readers the age of your intended audience or readers deeply familiar with your genre (think teachers, librarians). A beta reader questionnaire is a helpful tool for gathering focused feedback. Another round of revisions will likely follow beta readers.
Once you have completed these steps and you feel that your work is ready to send out, you need to decide whether you want to take the traditional publishing route or explore independent publishing?
The rest of today's post will focus on traditional publishing. Next time we will learn about independent (self) publishing. Make sure you know the pros and cons of each option.
If you choose traditional publishing, you should know that it can take months or even years. Most of the bigger publishers are closed to unsolicited submissions and you need an agent to represent your work.
Some publishing houses however, do accept unagented submissions. Books, such as THE CHILDREN’S WRITER’S & ILLUSTRATOR’S MARKET, can provide guidance as to which publishing houses are open to unagented submissions. Always check the publisher’s website for their latest guidelines.
While you can certainly do research online and through publishing trade journals to find publishers who are open to unagented or unsolicited manuscripts, it is very helpful if you have a more personal contact with an editor at the publishing house. One of the best ways to make this connection is to attend a class or workshop taught by the editor. Also, editors who attend writing conferences will often accept unsolicited submissions from conference attendees for a limited time, so be sure to look into this possibility when attending these events. Always do your research to be sure a specific publisher publishes the genre/age level you write.
A good literary agent will help you polish and edit your story, send submissions to publishing houses, negotiate contracts, and handle advances and royalties. They are super knowledgeable about the industry, and know what editors are seeking. Your agent is your ally and business partner. Therefore it is important to carefully research agents, not only for what genres they represent or what their interests are, but also whether they will be a good match for you. Once you have narrowed down agents you would like to approach, you need to query.
Places to research agents:
SCBWI The Book
Manuscript wishlist (www.manuscriptwishlist.com/)
Publishers Marketplace (https://www.publishersmarketplace.com/)
Some writing websites also offer a treasure trove of information in the form of agent interviews and guest blogs. A few to browse are http://www.literaryrambles.com/, https://www.pbspotlight.com/, and The 12x12challenge
Most agents are active on social media
Acknowledgements of books you have read
A query is a letter in which writers pitch their work and introduce themselves to an agent. It is a business letter that follows a specific form. Stay tuned for a guest blog regarding query letters by the Query Godmother, Kris Asselin, later this month.
Queries are used for picture books, both fiction and nonfiction, as well as all other fiction. Nonfiction writers send a cover letter, proposal with outline, and some writing samples.
Each agent or agency has their own rules regarding submissions. It is very important that you read and follow each specific agency's submission guidelines. Not only does it streamline the process for them, but it also reflects well on you, their future client, and your ability to take direction.
Be prepared for several rounds of querying. If an agent would like to represent you, they will contact you and usually schedule a phone call with you to further discuss the details. Remember, not only is the agent interviewing you to see whether they want to take you on as a client, but you are also interviewing the agent to see whether they will be a good match for you.
Once you have received an offer of representation and contracts have been signed, you and your agent may go through another round of revisions before they submit your manuscript to publishers. There might be several rounds of submissions before you receive an offer for your book.
At this point the process is out of your hands. You have baked your cake to perfection. You've trimmed and filled and frosted. You've decorated and delicately flavored. Editors, acquisition boards, and marketing departments are your proverbial judges, and once your delectable offering hits the right palate, you will get your Hollywood-handshake: A published book!
Peruse blogs for advice and tips from KidLit creatives.
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