Manuscript Monday: The Query Letter



Our most frequent questions from unpublished authors center around this one little piece of paper.

ImageOne little piece of paper? ARE WE INSANE?  What most of you are thinking right now is that you’ve finished your manuscript after sleepless nights, pots of coffee, blood, sweat and tears.  Your manuscript shines like a rough uncut diamond and you know it deserves a chance to become a crown jewel.  You just need to submit your manuscript and introduce yourself, easy…right?

The query letter is arguably one of the most important pieces you will ever write when it comes to submitting your manuscript.  It’s because of this importance that we as writers stress over preparing each line until it is completely perfect…in our opinion.

Over the course of Manuscript Monday’s, we will explore different pieces of the query letter, how to construct one, how to edit one, what to include, what not to include, and more.

Today we are going to answer the most basic question, “What IS a query letter?”

At first we were shocked by the amount of letters that popped up in our inbox asking “How should I write my query letter to satisfy your needs?”

When we wrote our first manuscript, we researched and researched and researched, drank some coffee, and then researched some more.  We read as many articles as we could and were so thankful for the outpouring of information from the writing community to help steer us along our way.  At first, we were surprised people would e-mail us and ask such a question, risk looking unprepared and possibly even dare we say, lazy?

After more and more of these questions rolled in we realized that the authors asking were not lazy and incapable of researching for themselves, they wanted to know exactly what we wanted and were being extremely proactive in assuring they delivered exactly what we were looking for.  The questions also told us that despite a wide variety of suggestions and guidance available in the great black hole known as the Internet, the query letter can still stump even the most prepared person and drive them absolutely crazy with doubt before they hand over something as valuable to their pride as their first born child.


A query letter is first and foremost an extremely valuable tool in your writing arsenal.  The query letter is a piece you will send to anyone while looking for an agent to pick up your piece, whether that piece be a book, a magazine article, a blog post, a play, etc.  You use the query letter to engage whomever you are reaching out to, introduce yourself, and sell your idea.

Why in the world would a publisher care so much about a query letter when they are going to have your perfect manuscript in their hands?

First of all, the query letter introduces us to YOU.  If we pick up your manuscript, we want to have a feeling for you as a person.  The query letter shares your accomplishments, your author platforms, and also gives us insights to how driven you are.  Believe it or not, we can tell the difference between a query letter that you put together in minutes and sloughed off in our inbox and a query letter that took considerable time and effort.

The query letter tells us who you are as a person and helps us connect to why you wrote your book.  If you tell us that you are a five time Olympian who loves running, motorcycles and extreme sports, but send us a manuscript about romance in the 1700s from a time travelling shop-a-holic with a love of fine Italian handbags, we might doubt the ability for you to truly connect to the story and have your own voice.

Publishers not only want stories that will sell, but stories that can be paired with the author to build their brand.  The query letter helps the publisher see if you are writing out of passion, writing in hopes of making money with the hottest genre, or just writing because you think you want to write.

Second, the query letter introduces us to your manuscript.

You will tell us what your story is about, how long the story is (tell us in word count, not page count), and what genre your piece falls into.  I can not stress this enough, research your genre!  We will be talking about individual genres in upcoming posts but trust us, the internet is a wonder hole of information.  Click around a little and find your answers.

Next, the query letter tells us if you are prepared to have a published book.

Believe it or not, you don’t just get published and become an overnight sensation.  Being an author is a lot of hard work and that continues long after you have been published.  This is one of the pieces that drove us to create our own publishing house, afterall, traditional publishers are offering around 10-15% royalties when the author does 70-85% of the marketing and selling.  This is especially true for first time, unpublished authors.

Your query letter tells us how hard you are prepared to work, how driven you are to get out there, and how easy it will be for us to put our heads together and draft a marketing plan that we can mutually execute to push your book ethically and get it into the hands of hungry readers.  The marketing process begins long before the book is actually in print.

In future posts we will discuss ways to build your author platform, including getting your name out there through smaller publishing roles like blog posts and being a contributing writer.

Your online presence is a huge tool in selling yourself and your manuscript.  In your query letter, you should be very happy about all of your accomplishments and tell us about your online life as strong social media can equate to the potential to build a strong platform.

We highly recommend looking at the publishing house’s website before your submission.  Most houses will tell you what they want, what they don’t want, and what they might consider.  If they don’t list their genres they are not publishing, take a look at their books and make sure that your submission will find a good home within their pieces.  If it doesn’t match their existing titles, move on to the next option.  All of this hard work will show in your query letter as you approach the final and perhaps the most important piece, WHY YOU CHOSE TO SUBMIT YOUR MANUSCRIPT TO THEIR PUBLISHING HOUSE.

We want to know why you chose us, why you think you will be a fit, and why being a part of our family appeals to you.

We hope this introduction to the query letter and the brief breakdown of the various parts might help you during your construction and approach.  To recap, a query letter is important because:

  • You tell us who you are
  • You introduce us to your manuscript and show us your ability to sell the story in only a few sentences
  • You show us how hard you are willing to work
  • You tell us why our publishing house would be a good fit for your work

We’d like to know what questions you have about query letters and the submission process.  Leave us a comment and we will address these in future blogs!

Happy Manuscript Monday,

The Pen Name Publishing Crew


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