By Molli Nickell
Without a doubt, the two most feared words in any writer’s vocabulary are “query letter.” That’s understandable. Writing a query letter falls into the realm of the unknown—scary territory. Yet, every writer who wants to sell their work to an agent, editor, or publisher must venture into this fearful place and write a query letter. Because they aren’t clear about the purpose of the query and don’t know exactly how to craft it, writers inevitably set themselves up to receive the standard rejection letter. Nobody likes rejection, particularly writers, who tend to take it personally (even though it’s not).
In order to conquer query letter writing fear, I suggest you learn to apply the #1 secret of writing a successful query letter. This will improve your odds of receiving the coveted response of “yes, send your manuscript,” instead of the dreaded, “no thanks, not right for us.”
However, there is one necessary and simple step required before you learn the #1 secret. Give yourself a round of applause for having completed a manuscript (for a book or magazine article) that’s worthy of being published. You’ve written, re-written and polished your work until it glows in the dark. Acknowledge this huge accomplishment! Yea for you!
Now, to sell your glowing manuscript to an agent, editor or publisher, you’ll need to shift gears and focus on “selling” instead of “telling.” This is key to becoming a published author. If you don’t know how to sell, no problem—you can learn. You can acquire the selling skills you need. Look at what you’ve already learned to do: write words, string them together into sentences, group sentences into paragraphs, build bridges between the paragraphs and continue with this sequence until you have completed a manuscript. Pretty amazing!
Now, the #1 secret. Ask any salesperson to describe the most important aspect of approaching a prospect to sell them anything from umbrellas to diamonds to surf boards. Their response will be: speak in the terms of the prospect’s interests. In other words, tell or show them the benefits they’ll derive when they buy the product being offered. For example, the umbrella salesperson opens and closes the umbrella effortlessly while describing its strength, coverage and speedy drying time. These benefits (demonstrated and spoken) address the prospect’s bottom-line question of, “What’s in it for me?”
All agents, editors, and publisher have the same bottom line: sales. They’re interested in manuscripts that will generate profits. So, just like the umbrella salesperson, demonstrate your writing skills (in 20 seconds or less) and begin your query by leaping right into your story. In two brilliantly written paragraphs, introduce the protagonist, the challenge, the emotions of dealing with the challenge and the actions that follow. At the end of your second paragraph, leave the agent, editor, or publisher wanting to know, “what happens next?”
Every carefully chosen word in your third paragraph (about your background) and fourth paragraph (about the market) further convinces the reader you’re a skillful writer with a manuscript that will generate sales. When they finish jumping up and down with excitement over having discovered a potential new talent, they’ll request to read your manuscript. Congratulations! Your query letter has fulfilled its purpose: moving your glow-in-the-dark manuscript from your desk into the hands of an interested agent, editor or publisher.
Once you’ve mastered query letter composition, you’ll enjoy the process of writing it. You’ll write queries that generate positive responses. This will propel you along a path which eventually will require the purchase of “Published Author” business cards and new luggage for your book promo tour.
Former publisher, Time-Life editor and five-times published author, Molli Nickell, has created a one-of-a-kind website teaching writers to craft effective marketing documents. Having spent 11 years reading queries and book proposals, she knows what works and what doesn’t. The site offers evaluated query letters in different genre as well as guidance on how writers can make the vital shift from “teller” to “seller.” Insider information and marketing tips help writers craft query letters that motivate agents, editors, and/or publishers to respond with, “Yes, please send us your manuscript.” The site offers FREE query letter evaluations!
In her March 20th podcast with Yvonne Perry, Molli will “tell it all” regarding the current state of the book publishing business and what writers must do in today’s competitive market to get their work published.