Question of the Week July 14 (#1)

Can I ask what "accepting queries" means in the book publishing word? I mean, I understand that query is a question, but there seems to be more involved here.

In the book publishing world, a publishing house wants a query when they don’t want a full on manuscript. Queries take up less space, thus making the slush pile look less intimidating. Queries also allow editors to weed out topics that they are not interested in. Nearly every non-fiction book that has ever hit the market place, originated as a query. The author simply writes a letter to the house discussing the topic and the focus of the topic he/she plans to pursue. The author includes credentials so the editor will know this PhD in Biochemistry will probably get his/her book on DNA right. Then, with little fuss, the editors pick which non-fiction topics they are willing to pursue. They contact the authors for outlines. They offer contracts. The book gets written. It works the same for most non-fiction magazine articles.

Fiction queries are a bit different. Here the author is selling not just a topic, but a story idea, characters, and their own writing ability. All fiction queries begin with an enticing summary of the book similar to the jacket copy you find on published books. They then mention the author’s publishing credits, if any, and a polite request to send the rest of the book. And this is where all fiction queries cease to be similar. There are other optional things that you can add to a fiction query. Some people include a page long book summary, a chapter by chapter book summary, and/or the first 3 chapters of the novel. Most publishers in their guidelines will tell you how much of a query they want. If the guidelines just say to “query,” then I recommend sending the query letter, a one page book summary and the first 3 chapters (or 15 pages whatever is shorter.) Just be sure your sample pages are logical and don’t end in the middle of a sentence. These first fifteen pages are the most important part of the query. You may be able to write a brilliant letter, but if the first three chapters are boring or have stylistic problems, the editor will not ask to see more.

One small note: Never, ever query a picture book or an easy reader or any manuscript under 2000 words. There is no point. Just go ahead and send the whole thing in.


Anonymous said...

as for "never query a picture book..."
There are several publishers who will simply send back any ms. sent to them. They insist that you query with a one-page letter about your picture book.

It's strange and it's difficult to write, but it is possible. I've had both rejections to this kind of query and I've had editors request the manuscript from this kind of query. (and then reject it. oh well.)


The Buried Editor said...

Well, of course you have to go by the presses particular guidelines. However, every editor I've ever met has wanted a full PB manuscript. If you can get past the generic readers, or whoever screens the generally addressed mail, you would probably be able to bypass the query letter at those houses as well.

Sometimes, you can even get editors who don't normally read slush to look at your stuff simply by sending them your manuscript in an envelope with their name on it. It's sneaky, but it sometimes works. It helps if you've been to a conference they spoke at.