Writing Query Letters and Nonfiction or Fiction Book Proposals

First Contact With Acquisitions Editors

In today’s tough book business, you can’t just write a manuscript, mail it off, and expect a bidding war to start. Chances are that the manuscript will be returned to you without being read. A query letter provides first contact between the author and literary agents or acquisitions editors.

Query letters are an entire “subspecialty” in the process of trying to sell a fiction or nonfiction manuscript. This sales aid is an aspiring author’s most important tool as it means the difference between agents and editors taking time to look at your work or ignoring it.

Whether you work on magazine articles, nonfiction, or novels, you must be able to write query letters to literary agents or acquisitions editors that generate excitement and result in an invitation to submit your work.

Work as hard on your query letter as you do on your manuscript. The query letter is your one shot to be noticed. Make it perfect. Make it businesslike and avoid cuteness. . . . Personalize the letter by including a line regarding books the agent has handled. Include only information that is relevant to your book. Be able to categorize your book without equivocation.” E. L. Wyrick – Power in the Blood

Today’s fiction market is tighter than it has ever been. Consolidation within the publishing and book distribution industries has meant that far fewer major houses take submissions. Where dozens of different houses once looked for books to publish, now only three or four remain, all with subsidiaries under them that originally were individual houses. A strikeout at one of the subsidiaries may limit your opportunities to submit that work to others under the same corporate publishing umbrella.

A query letter tells the acquisitions editor many things, including whether the manuscript is suitable for the publisher’s lines, whether the writer has researched both what the house publishes and what line/genre that particular editor handles, whether the writer has any previous writing experience, whether the writer has a grasp of language and grammar, and whether the manuscript fits that house’s present needs.

To make the most of your first contact with any agent or editor, you want a strong sales letter to set you and your work apart from stacks of mail reaching editors every day. Your query letter sells the acquisitions editor on your story idea and your ability to write it, making this initial contact extremely important.

Your well-written book proposal may sell your fiction or nonfiction book. Even after an editor wants to buy your book, your synopsis helps sell it to the buying committee and may be used by artists and copywriters to create the cover.

Because your book proposal is often the first sample of your work that an agent or editor sees, and must represent and sell the part of your book not included, it should be a showcase for your writing abilities. Our published writers will read your manuscript, or work from a synopsis/summary that you provide, to help you write or revise a synopsis to represent your work at its best.

Our experienced, published writers (many of whom were, at one time, acquisitions editors) can help you present the best overview of your book idea and confirm your ability to write it. We can help you decide what features of your written work and experience are most likely to convince an acquisitions editor that this is a manuscript worth reading. With proper format and accuracy of style, your query letter can impress an agent or editor with your professional approach to writing.

You want your first contact with literary agents or acquisitions editors to do the best possible
job of convincing them to read your manuscript, and we can help.

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