Besides keeping your query letter short and to the point, having a good subject line, and highlighting our background, PR, and how you plan to support the book, there are certain things to say or not say in your letter. Here are some keys of what to do or not do.
– Describe in brief what the book is about followed by the highlights of the story combined in two or at most three paragraphs with up to 4 or 5 sentences each.
– While you commonly want to leave the reader hanging in the sales copy for a book or poster for a film, you are writing this letter for editors, agents, or producers, who usually want to know what happens. So don’t leave the ending a mystery.
– Include in the subject line a very short statement of what the book or script is about and include its genre or type, such as: “Action/adventure novel (script) about a sea captain who faces down pirates on the high seas.” Avoid using the title itself, especially if a very short title, in the subject line, since the title by itself generally doesn’t indicate what the story is about, such as a book or script called “Montana” or “House in the Trees.”
– Include the title in the first sentence of the body copy, along with the genre and short statement of what the book or script is about, though use different wording from the subject line, such as “MONTANA is an action/suspense thriller about a postmaster who goes missing after the last post office in a small town shuts down, leading to a discovery of hidden secrets and a chase for his killer.” Keep this initial introduction to 1 sentence.
– If relevant, describe how your book or script might have the appeal of other books or films in this genre.
– Instead of starting with “Query…etc.”, start off with the book or scripts genre and/or key selling point, such as another book or script from the author of a previous top seller.
– Keep your description of the story short, highlighting the main characters and plot points. While a more detailed synopsis is commonly about 1 to 1 ½ pages single space (about 400-700 words), this should be at most 2 or 3 paragraphs totaling about 150-200 words. Avoid trying to detail the many twists and turns and characters in the plot. The reader is likely to get lost. If anything important gets left out in condensing the story into 2 to 3 paragraphs, you can later clarify or correct anything when you send in the more detailed synopsis or full manuscript.
– Keep your bio to one paragraph of 5 to 6 sentences, and highlight what is most directly relevant to your book or script, such as previously published novels or books, previously produced scripts, and work that inspired the story. Highlight any publicity you have gotten in the past, any major speaking engagements, and any extensive following in the social media (such as 10,000 or more fans on Facebook and 50,000 or more followers on Twitter. While it might be helpful to include if you are a Ph.D., especially from a prestigious school, don’t list all of your academic credentials, such as getting an M.A. or B.A., and don’t list technical scholarly publications or journals or specialty literary magazines, since this can be a turn-off for editors and agents thinking about a mass market.
– Avoid long explanations about how you how you decided to write this book, how this is your first novel or script, how you have worked with a coach, mentor, or teacher in a class on writing, since this marks you as an amateur.
– Avoid ending with a “thank you for your time in considering this,” since this sounds like begging, rather than submitting a work that may prove very valuable for the editor, agent, or producer.
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GINI GRAHAM SCOTT, Ph.D., is a nationally known writer, consultant, speaker, and seminar/workshop leader, who has published over 50 books on diverse subjects, including business and work relationships, professional and personal development, and social trends. She also writes books, proposals, scripts, articles, blogs, website copy, press releases, and marketing materials for clients as the founder and director of Changemakers Publishing and Writing and as a writer and consultant for The Publishing Connection (www.thepublishingconnection.com). She has been a featured expert guest on hundreds of TV and radio programs, including Good Morning America, Oprah, and CNN, talking about the topics in her books.