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!