Congratulations! You’ve just written the next Harry Potter.

Or maybe the next Da Vinci Code, Game of Thrones, or Fault In Our Stars. Now you want to find someone to publish your masterpiece. Sure, you could self-publish, but you really want to give traditional publishing a shot first.

After all, you’ve wanted to see your book on the shelf of your local library or book store ever since you were a kid. That’s the dream. That’s the vision that gets your blood pumping and sends that little thrill down your spine.

I can relate. I’ve had the same dream.

So how are you going to make it happen? Agents and publishers receive hundreds of submissions from aspiring authors every year; how do you make yours stand out from the rest? How do you convince them that your book is the diamond in the rough? 

Here’s a clue: it’s not just about your book.

Don’t get me wrong, the story is important too (I’ll talk more later about how to make your story stand to agents and publishers), but there are also a few specific things about you as an author that can give you an edge, such as…

  • Publishing credentials
  • An existing online platform
  • Marketing expertise
  • A unique background or angle

Your primary method of communicating everything that makes you and your book worth considering will be a well written query letter.

Why You Need an Awesome Query Letter

No matter what you have to offer in terms of your manuscript or book idea, having a killer query letter is key if you want to grab the attention of an agent or editor. The query letter is the very first (and often last) contact you will ever have with the “gatekeepers” of the publishing industry, so it has to represent you and your work in the best possible way.

This is the bare minimum. It’s the price of admission. Get this wrong, and the rest won’t matter, because no one will ever read about it.

Why Are Query Letters so Hard to Write?

Many authors struggle with query letters, and the primary reason for this is easy to understand: query letters have to be short!

Agents and editors (especially the good ones) have the unenviable privilege of sifting through massive piles of submissions week after week, searching for that one-out-of-a-thousand that might be a good fit for them. This puts the burden on the writer to clearly communicate the value of their submission as quickly as possible, and in a way that will set them apart from all the rest.

So, not only does the author have to distill their entire story or book idea down into few short paragraphs, but they have to do so a way that’s more interesting and attention-grabbing than everyone else. Not an easy task. In fact, it’s the kind of thing that can paralyze you with indecision.

Information Overload

The other obstacle authors run into is overwhelm. Writing query letters is one of those topics on which the amount of information and advice available is staggering.

When I first began to research this topic, I found it difficult to decide which blogs to read, what books to download, and whose advice to follow. After taking the time to weed through the mess, I was able to find a few reliable sources of information, and use their advice (along with some valuable critiques from various sources) to write my first query letter.

In the process, I identified some key elements of a query letter and what they should contain, and developed what I believe to be a good process for querying agents and publishers.

The Query Letter Guide

Over the next several posts I’ll share with you my process for writing and submitting queries. Following these steps could save you some of the wasted time and frustration that I had to deal with when writing my first query letters.

Here’s what we’ll be covering:

  • Part 1: What is a Query Letter
  • Part 2: The Anatomy of a Query Letter
  • Part 3: Submitting Your Query
  • Part 4: Examples of Great Query Letters

I hope this guide will save you some time and metal energy so you can get to the business of querying that much sooner, and get your work out there in the world.

Look for part one next week!