I wrote yesterday about outlining your work, providing a basic skeleton for the masterpiece-in-the-making. Once you’ve gotten that first chapter written, then a second, and a third, and you feel you are on a roll, it’s going to be a strong temptation to just keep going and write the whole thing while it is in your head.
But noo…..Now is the time to think about the business of writing.
I have a hard enough time getting the story in my head. And it drives me crazy to stop in mid-sentence-stream and think long-range. But if you’re smart, that’s exactly what you’ll do.
Because the whole idea behind writing books, for the most part, is getting them published. So if you find that no one wants to publish your book, then what’s the point of writing it?
Granted, you might have an idea that HAS to be written, regardless of whether anyone else will ever read it. I’ve written a couple of books that way, but you have to accept them for what they are. Then there’s always the self-publishing route, but because I never wanted to spend the majority of my time trying to sell my books, I didn’t go that way. It up to you.
But in this day and age, if you want to be published by a reputable book publisher, you have to write a query. A query consists of a cover letter, a synopsis, and often sample pages or chapters. The actual formula varies from publisher to publisher, and the same goes when fishing for an agent.
I know. I’m looking for an agent as we speak. I’ve sent out 16 queries, trying to convince each potential agent that they are perfect for my book, and my book is perfect for them. So far, after three weeks, three have come back. Thanks, but no thanks. But that leaves 13 potentials out there. Unfortunately, I understand that many potential agents don’t even bother to respond to your queries if they aren’t interested. Sad. I’ll keep you posted on how all this works out.
But in the remaining space here, I want to share with you a couple of query letters, one intended for editors, the other for agents. There are very specific bits of information that each are looking for in that cover letter, so be aware of that. And oh, it varies. A lot.
The first letter is a cover letter regarding my 2000 book , If Tomorrow Comes. I was an editor at Pacific Press Publishing Association at the time, but kinda a lame duck, since I already had accepted a teaching job here in Texas. You’ll notice that the essential information is: What the story is about, how long will it be (chapters and pages), and when you will have it done. Many also want to know why you think the book is ideal for their publishing house. Here’s what I wrote:
March 18, 1998
Dear Ken and Jerry:
Enclosed please find the first thirteen chapters of the End Time novel I have been working on and discussing with you, tentatively entitled If Tomorrow Comes. As you have suggested, I have planned on telling the entire story in 30 chapters for a total of 360 pages.
At the end you will find a chapter-by-chapter outline for the rest of the proposed book. I intend to complete the book by June 15, 1998 when I will be headed for Texas.
I appreciate the opportunity to present my story to you and the Acquisitions and Planning Committee. Feel free to ask any questions or suggest any changes you might have.
Normally, you would include contact information and who you are, but since they knew me and how to contact me, that was redundant. Also notice there wasn’t a lot of description here, simply because they were already familiar with it.
The agent’s query is quite similar. The best way to approach this is to go to the agent’s website and look at writer’s guidelines. Usually they will tell you they want a description or synopsis of the book, what your writing history is and how you are qualified to write the book, and how long it is. Beyond that, samples they want vary a lot. Some want only the cover letter. Others want the first five pages, and still others want the first three chapters. Most important to remember is that your letter gives them an opportunity to see how you write, so it had better be good, interesting but to the point.
Here’s a sample agent query:
The XXXXXX Agency
Attention: Shawna XXXXX
Dear Ms. XXXXX:
I came upon your name and your agency online. I see that you represent XXXXXX. I have a lot of admiration for his work. My writing is nothing like his, but I think you will like it. I would like you to represent me as my agent. I have written a 50,000-word science fiction novel entitled “The Kiss of Night.” Here is a synopsis of the book:
Most people look forward to a good night’s sleep. But what if you had no guarantees that you would wake up tomorrow? Scientists from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are called in when a businessman from Nicaragua falls into a coma in an airliner in Cleveland, signaling the spread of a new disease, PD-363. Within days the quick-moving virus, which becomes known as The Big Sleep, has infected thousands who seem perfectly normal but for one problem: they can’t wake up. While the virus continues to engulf the United States, Professor Dale Grady at Fairchild University in Chicago uncovers a mystery surrounding one of his new students. Why does this young stranger seem so familiar to him? At the same time, Grady struggles with two secrets: the suspicion that this strange teenage boy may be his illegitimate son, and Chronic Familial Insomnia, the genetic disorder that renders him unable to sleep. On medication since age nine, Grady struggles with headaches and hallucinations and the emotional distance that has cost him his marriage and the love of his daughter. As the numbers of those uninfected continues to dwindle, and the world around him falls asleep, Grady leads a shrinking number of survivors who must find a way to stay awake and take care of the thousands around them who have succumbed to the disease. In the meantime, Grady must come to realization that secrets from his past may actually provide the key to curing the virus that threatens the world with unending slumber.
I am a published author with seven books to my credit; one how-to book published in the 80s by Review and Herald Publishing Association, and four on-contract children’s books, one biographical book and an end-of-the-world Christian novel by Pacific Press Publishing Association. In addition I have published about 100 stories and articles in Christian magazines such as Insight, Adventist Review, El Centinela, Guide, and Listen. I also wrote a religion column in my community newspaper for 18 months.
I appreciate your willingness to examine my work and consider me as a potential author to represent. Please feel free to contact me by either cell phone or email.
Glen Robinson, PhD
(817) 555-1521 cell
Please note two things. Yes, I did put PhD after my name, because you never know when it might give you a little bit more credibility. Of course, if you don’t have a PhD, I wouldn’t recommend including it. But you get the idea. Give they every reason you can think of to accept your offer.
Second, I included contact information at the end. It seems stupid to say that it’s important, but think how awkward it would be if you didn’t.
The whole idea is to get your foot in the door, to get someone to give you a chance to share what you are writing. And by sending something in early, you might just save yourself a lot of unnecessary–and unrequited–work.