Telling writers how to get published is a boon industry. More than 4 million web pages offer advice on writing the all-important query letter. They’ve left out some important points though. Here are my own top tips, collated during my years as a commissioning editor. True stories, people.
The opening gambit
Do not start by telling the editor that angels told you to approach her, and only her. Especially if she publishes books for primary schools, and you are pitching an adult self-help book dictated by said angels. Do not get cross when the editor suggests that the angels were wrong, and that you might have more luck with Mind/Body/Spirit publishers. Tell the angels to hold back on the publishing advice until they have consulted the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook.
About the book
Do not refuse to disclose key details of the book – such as the title, or contents – on the basis that a rogue publisher might steal your idea.
Why I chose this publisher
Flattery only works if it’s grounded in fact. If you mention existing books in your query letter, be sure to look inside them first. Or you might find yourself praising a 15-year-old flop that lingers in the catalogue in an attempt to shift vast volumes of unsold stock, and is frequently a source of embarrassment to sales reps.
About the author
When writing your author bio, concentrate on the positives. Four dark pages detailing your recent road accident – with strange hints that you may have actually, accidentally, killed someone – will not win you the sympathy vote. There is no sympathy vote. It’s all about the book. (Not that editors are heartless. I can identify with the badness of a car crash, having previously been kneecapped by my own ignition key. But I rarely use that experience to win over an acquisitions meeting.)
The unique selling point
Do not make your USP “it has never been done before”, based on the contents of your own bookshelves and a ten-minute browse in Waterstones. Remember the famous biblical quote: “The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing on Amazon.” (ish)
The memorable sign-off
Do not tell the editor how grateful you will be if she were so kind as to publish your humble little book pretty please with a cherry on top. If your book is good, the editor will be grateful to have found you. And no, it’s never a good idea to surround your signature with animated flames.
Do not be insane. Or at least, don’t let it show.
And never, ever, ever ever, ever even think about using Comic Sans.
Publishing types, leave a comment and tell me about the memorable query letters lurking in your filing cabinet!