by Deb Brammer
Let’s say you have an idea for an article or short story. You search a publisher’s writer’s guidelines and read sample articles from that publisher. As far as you can tell the publisher should be open to your piece, but you are still unsure. Some aspect of it may make you wonder if the editor will be interested.
If it’s a very short piece you might as well write it, polish it, and send it off. Then the publisher can give you a definite answer.
But maybe your piece is longer, or you wonder which way an editor wants it slanted. You might need to send a query letter.
Maybe you are writing a book. You’ve got an idea in mind. You have studied other books that publisher publishes and their website and writers’ guidelines. You still think the editor might be interested. You’re not ready to write a full book proposal but you want to know if the editor is interested in the basic idea. You might want to write a query letter.
Remember your query is probably the editor’s first impression of you. Make it an example of your best writing.
Always address an editor by name. Check the website or market guide for the name of the person to send it to. If you cannot find the appropriate name anywhere else, make a quick call to the publisher or send an email and ask who you should address your letter to.
If you have met the editor or corresponded with her or share a connection with a writer she knows, quickly give that connection. Or you may want to start with a sentence that grabs her attention.
Summarize the content of the article, story, or book in one paragraph. What main idea are you trying to get across?
If it’s a book, list your target audience. Your editor does not want to hear that your target audience is “all readers everywhere.” That is much too broad. Though others will read your book, she wants to know who you have specifically targeted. It might be adults who are new Christians or “the teenager who has grown up in church and is trying to take ownership of his parents’ faith.”
Give your credentials. If you’ve been published by other publishers, give a quick summary of who they are. Christian editors often like to know what your general background is. You could mention your church or the Bible college you graduated from or a Christian ministry you work with.
Thank her for her consideration. Mention if you have enclosed an SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope) for her response or, if the writers’ guidelines suggest, an email address. If you are sending simultaneous submissions (the same piece to more than one editor at a time), mention that, though I don’t recommend this.
The query letter should be no more than one page long.
Here’s a sample query letter for a book of mine that was never accepted for publication. (Most writers have manuscripts which, for some reason, was never accepted for publication.) When one of my books is published I don’t keep query letters for it, but I still have this one. It is out of date now but will give you a good idea about what to include in a query letter.
Dear Jane Doe,
“He who rides the tiger finds it difficult to dismount.” It’s an old Chinese proverb which proves to be true in the fiction book I am writing. Rowene, an M.K. from Taiwan, is adjusting to life in the States. A Chinese man in a silver Mercedes trails her everywhere. What does he want? Fear forces Rowene to trust her life to a total stranger. When danger lurks in the most unexpected places will the faith of her parents work for her? In Riding the Tiger Rowene unwittingly becomes part of an illegal scheme. She teams up with INS (immigration) to solve the mystery.
I am writing Riding the Tiger for the Christian teen who has accepted the faith of his family in the past, and is now attempting to make his faith his own. Many Christian teens believe in Christ and the Bible largely because their parents do. As they grow toward independence, however, they need to personalize their faith. My book shows how Rowene’s faith is tested and made personal in times of crisis. She learns to trust God when there’s room to doubt.
I have cleared my plot line with a US Customs agent in an unofficial interview. She assured me that the plot is completely credible and helped me correct several details. I have established the correct procedure for transporting cremated ashes internationally with the American Institute in Taiwan. I have also carefully researched all the locations mentioned in my book.
I have had about 125 articles and short stories published by Regular Baptist Press. Bob Jones University Press has published two of my pre-teen fiction books. I have also had three full-length Christmas plays, a variety of articles, recitations, and programs published by Standard, Quality Speech Materials, and other Christian publishers. My husband and I have served with Baptist Mid-Missions for 16 years in Taiwan and now in New Zealand for 6 years. I am a graduate of Faith Baptist Bible College in Ankeny, Iowa.
I am enclosing a short synopsis in case you would like a quick idea of the plot of my book. Upon your request I can send you a full book proposal with a more detailed synopsis and sample chapters. I envision a final word length of about 50,000 words.
Please let me know if you are interested in my book. I am enclosing an SASE for your convenient reply.
Sincerely in Christ,