As one of Ooligan’s acquisitions managers, I read a lot of query letters. Like any other publishing house, we see lots of them, and because we accept unagented submissions, we see a lot of query letters that are written by authors who might not know what should be in a query letter. Sometimes this means that the letter includes irrelevant information or too little information. It might be too informal or it could obviously be a form letter that’s been sent to many publishers without regard for what they actually publish. We understand that sometimes authors just don’t know what publishers are looking for in a query letter. So I thought I might offer a few tips to any prospective query-letter-writing authors out there.
A good query letter should be short, to the point, and information packed. One page is the sweet spot. Your letter should include a summary of your manuscript—a one-paragraph summary. Your letter should also include a paragraph about who is going to enjoy your book. Who is the audience? This should be specific. “Adults who like to read” is not going to cut it. You should also mention the market for your manuscript: Where is it going to sell? Does it belong in a specialty market? What books are already out there that are similar to your manuscript, and what makes yours different? Publishers need to know how your book will fit into the market with related titles.
Another important thing to include near the end of your letter is a bit about you. Have you published anything before? If so, what was it and where was it published? Do you have a blog? How many followers or readers does it have? Do you ever serve as a panelist at conventions? How about at writers’ workshops? The point of this paragraph is to tell the publisher what sort of author platform you have. If you’ve never written anything before, that’s fine, too. Just explain why you are the perfect person to write this book. What do you bring to the table that someone else doesn’t?
Lastly, don’t forget your contact information. This is doubly important if you’re sending your query through snail mail rather than email. If we don’t have a return address or email, how can we tell you we love your story and would like to see more?
This might seem like a lot of information to pack onto one page, but I assure you, it is possible. The person reading your query letter, likely an intern, has to read a lot of query letters in a short amount of time in order to keep up with work flow. Be considerate and don’t let your letter run away with you. Short and to the point is key.
Perhaps the most important advice I can offer is this: read the submission guidelines. You may have written a beautiful, perfectly organized query letter, but if it’s for a supernatural romance and we only publish literary fiction, then it’s going straight into the reject pile. Reading the directions is just as important now as it was when your grade school teacher kept insisting on it. For an example of submission guidelines, you can check out Ooligan’s submission page. On it you’ll see what Ooligan expects to see in query letters, and I think you’ll find that most publishers will expect similar things—but you still need to read their submission guidelines just in case.
Flush with the power this knowledge affords you, go out into the wild and write those query letters. Astound us with your story and and your beautiful query. We can’t wait to read it!