Manuscript Monday: Why do publishers even want a query letter?

Believe it or not, we get this question quite a bit.

It generally goes something along the lines of, “I’m sending you my manuscript, why do you even want a query letter when you can just read the script?”

Welcome back to Manuscript Monday as today we address why publishers want and need that query letter.

You have in your hands a product that you know everyone on this earth is going to love and realize they can’t live without.  Now, you want us/a publisher to work their magic and get it out into the world.  As publishers, we want to believe that anything we get our hands on that also fits into our brand and publishing house will turn into magic.

However, that isn’t always the case and that is why your query letter is so important.

The query letter is truly the icing on the cake.  It is the pretty wrapping paper to your submission.  It is the olive in your extra dirty martini.  It is the cheese to your wine.  We could go on, but we will save cliches for a post on a different day, a different time.

I’ll be honest with you, a bad query letter often results in that manuscript landing smack in the recycling bin.  Isn’t that a shame?  What if your manuscript is absolutely amazing but you send us your million dollar baby wrapped up in used newspaper?

When we read your query letter, we look for a few things.  First of all, we look for you.  Yes, that’s right, you.  We look for your voice, your style, your passion, your underlying belief that your manuscript is going to be a bestseller and take over the world.  We look for your drive, how hard you are willing to push your piece, and if we feel that we can work with you.

Next, we look for what the book is all about.  We want to see you sum it up and sell it to us in the amount of time it would take you to go from the first to the tenth floor in an elevator.  This is about two or three paragraphs.  Seriously? Yes, seriously.  Trust me, no book is so complex that you can’t wrap it up and sell it to me quickly, cleanly, and make me a believer in under two minutes.  If you can’t do this, do you really know your book?  If you can’t, get to know it.  Even though we think we know our books by the time they are finished, our emotions are so invested that we have a hard time stepping away and proving that we have a relationship with what we have written.

Finally, I want to know why we absolutely can not live without your book.  I recently got a query letter that made me fall in love with the author and I emailed an offer before I even finished the first page of the manuscript.  I knew from the query letter that the book was going to follow in the same voice, style, and personality.  The first page didn’t let me down on that promise and I took the bait.

A query letter is your most important tool in your arsenal.  While it may seem tempting, you might want to rethink copy and pasting the query with a different address attached to each one.  Different publishing houses have voices as different as each and every author.  Investigate where you are sending your letter and match the personality of the house you are sending your piece off to for consideration.

Your query letter is 1-2 pages of hardcore pitch and selling of your piece.  The query letter isn’t some tossed cover letter that we brief and then push to the side to dive into your manuscript.  The query letter is the piece that convinces us if we are going to dive into your manuscript or toss it aside.

With all of this wrapped up into a pretty little package to catch my attention, are you still unsure of why we want the query letter?  Hopefully not, but as always, leave us your questions and thoughts and we will address them in a future Manuscript Monday post!

Manuscript Monday: How to find a publisher

Guess what?  It’s Manuscript Monday again!  

Who knew MONDAY could be so fun?  First of all, we hope you had a fantastic weekend and enjoyed yourselves.  If you didn’t enjoy yourself, we at least hope you got inspiration for a great story!  (Let’s try to stay positive here, though, it’s the best side of life to be on.)

Last Monday, we talked about the dreaded QUERY LETTER.  *shudders*

We had great responses and great questions arose during discussions.  Those questions will addressed in an upcoming Manuscript Monday blog, so keep them coming!

Today, we are going to discuss another question we get often.  How do I find a publisher?

First of all, what a HUGE question.  The question is almost too huge.  We could answer it ambiguously and tell you to go to Google and search, or we could tell you what you’re really asking.  On average it costs between $6,000-$11,000 for a publisher to create a book for public consumption, and that doesn’t count royalty advances.  Understandably, we want to invest wisely and to avoid wasting your time, figure out how and where to submit your manuscript for optimum exposure and publishing potential.

Let’s break down the questions.

How do I find a publisher?

Which really means how do I find the right publisher for me?

But what you’re really asking is how do I find the right publisher for my book?

Then what you should be asking is how do I find the right publisher for my book’s genre?

You might really be wanting to know how do you find the right publisher for your inexperience?

And what you are dying to know is how do I find the publisher that will give me the right experience?

Let’s start from the bottom instead of the top.  In this case, it makes sense.


How do you find the publisher that will give you the right experience?

Write down the following:

  1. What you want your experience to be
  2. Your goals for your book
  3. What you are and what you are not willing to do with your story
  4. How much control you are willing to give up
  5. How much work you are willing to do to sell your book

In publishing you have three options.  Submit to a large house/agent, submit to an independent press, or self-publish.

All have their advantages.  A large house might be a fancier package but you might find yourself barely able to make back your royalty advance.  Did you know it’s estimated that 85% of books that get a royalty advance never make that advance back?  That means many authors are pushing their books at 8-10% royalty for large publishing houses in HOPES of starting to earn royalty checks, only to never make it out of that hole.  We don’t want to bore you with math right now, we will one day in the future, but this is something to think about.  You will have less control, and you might not always have a direct and personal contract.

However, large houses can and will push what they feel will be the next big seller.  They have access to awards, large and flashy displays at conferences, and most of all, they have an industry respected name and process.  You know going into it that if your manuscript is accepted it will be tossed over and finally delivered to you as a final copy with little to no input from you.  Larger houses might be willing to put you out on a book tour although they are being more conservative with extravagance these days.  Their advertising budget is also significantly higher, although it is important to understand the difference between advertising and marketing.  (This will be discussed continuously as we blog.)

Independent Presses are smaller and some may be refining their craft and finding their voice.  Many independent presses do not offer large royalty advances, or even royalties at all.  For example, we do not pay royalty advances but we offer some of the highest royalty percentages in the industry with 60% net on eBooks and 30% net on print.  HOW?  Very careful planning and a deep wish to support our authors as we feel they should be supported.  What you earn with our publishing house in royalties on 1000 copies wouldn’t even be 1/35th of making your royalty advance back in a major publishing house.

The downfall to independent presses is it might take a little bit more work to get into major bookstores as our catalogues are smaller and our displays aren’t as flashy.  However, what we lack in flash, all independent presses can and will give you extreme care, more control over your editing and cover design, and help in crafting a marketing plan to push your book.

Self Publishing is growing into a huge business in the digital age.  A little bit of marketing and research and you can dig your way through ISBN’s, copyrighting, listing, distributing, formatting, designing and editing.   To self-publish you have to be extremely driven.  You can’t just pop a book on Amazon and think it will sell hundreds of copies overnight.  No one will buy your book if they can’t see it, how driven are you to make it seen?

If you are going to self publish, you must know that you can be easily preyed upon by vanity presses.  While vanity presses will sell you a package to format your book and get you going, you’re losing money on things freelancers could do for you if you did a little more research.  Look at options like ODesk or ELance, maybe even Craigslist but always agree upon prices and establish a contract first.  Also, know that a true house will NEVER ask you to pay for ANY part of publishing your book.  You will have expenses in marketing, unless you are extremely creative and driven, but you should never, ever, pay a publisher to create your book.


How do you find the right publisher for your inexperience?

Guess what?   Inexperience is okay!  While being published in journals, blogs, magazines, and/or various freelance work is excellent, do not let being unpublished deter you.  It is 100% about your professionalism and packaging.

A smaller house, like us, might really look at your online platforms to see where your author platform is standing.  It is never too early to build your author platform, as soon as you start writing, start talking to like minded people.  Get on EVERY social media creation in the world and start making yourself known.  Not only will this make people familiar with your name and your book, regardless of the size of house you go with it will help your sales.

A larger house might not look as much at the individual, although as the world goes digital, it is becoming more and more prevelant.  Trust us, if you have ever submitted before, you will hear about the author platform over and over and over again from every person you approach.


How do I find the right publisher for my genre?

Okay, this one is easy.  First, know your genre.  This will be a subject of many upcoming blogs, don’t worry but as always we can not stress this enough.

Find a book that is in your genre and you feel could be a cousin or best friend for your manuscript.  Approach their publisher.  Put the book title into Amazon and see what Amazon suggests for similar reads.  Approach those publishers.

In your research make sure that you can submit your book to multiple sources as some publishers prefer sole choice on submissions for a certain period of time.  Also, make note of submission requirements and follow them.  Trust us, EVERY publisher will list their submission requirements on their website and many of us will tell you what we don’t want.  Don’t waste your time if you can read that the publisher doesn’t want it.  Put your efforts into where it is most likely to be rewarded.


How do I find the right publisher for my book?

Hopefully it is a little easier now.  Know what you want, know what your book is and what it represents, know what you are willing to do and how hard you want to work, and follow the stated submission requirements.

If the publisher likes your initial submission, they will ask for the completed manuscript.  Be ready, that manuscript should be finished before you start the query process.  If I see something I like, I want it and I want it right now.  

If the publisher says that they do not allow you to shop your manuscript while they are reviewing it, make sure that you would actually want to publish your book in that house if they do love it and offer you a contract.  If you turn down the contract to shop it somewhere else, you might not have that contract to come back and sign.  Do NOT play games with a publisher.  We get tired of it and we don’t have time for games.

 I have had emails saying, “Have you read my script yet because xxx publisher is offering me xxxxx.”  What was my response?  “Fantastic, congratulations, enjoy being published!”  I was countered with, “Well, you can still make a higher offer as I am not decided.”  They say every person has a story in them and if you do not approach your submission and pursuit professionally, we are not going to waste our time. Neither will other houses, if we want a bidding war, we will instigate it on our own accord.

Know yourself, know your book, and know what you want.  If you have a good handle on these three pieces, you will insure that your book is in the hands of right publisher who will handle you according to your dreams.

How do I find the right publisher for me?

By now, this should be easy.  As the author, introspectively you are the most important part of your story.  Know yourself, your limitations, your stress threshold, your reason for writing, your audience, where you are going to push and market, how you feel comfortable pushing and marketing, your budget, your communication strategy, and how much of your book you are ready to relinquish control over.

If you can figure out 70% of these, you will inherently know what publisher is right for you.


So now, talk to us!  What do you still have questions on?  What do you love or hate about the submission and publishing process?  Share your thoughts in the comments below!

As always, stop by our website for more information: