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The Query Letter—From a Marketing Standpoint

In a previous issue we talked about what information you should include in a query letter. Now let’s look at the business aspects of your query and focus on marketing. How can you be sure you’re pitching your novel or book in a way that demonstrates savvy marketing know-how?

Every day literary agents and editors receive countless query letters and unsolicited manuscripts. As they sift through the backlog (sometimes called slush), they are looking for one thing and one thing only: work that will sell.

Publishing is an industry, and if the editor can’t get a clear idea of what kind of work you are submitting, he or she can’t tell if it is marketable. It’s your job as the author to craft a strong book that will have inherently strong market appeal.

Think of it this way…

Visualize your book or novel as a commodity. Suppose you approach a store and tell Mr. Jones, the owner, you have a brilliant new gadget that would sell well in his store—but you hem and haw and never quite make it clear to Mr. Jones what your product is or who might buy it. There’s a long line of salesmen waiting outside to pitch their products, so the owner dismisses you, irritated that you have wasted his time.

Address the following when composing your query letter:

Fiction or nonfiction

It may seem obvious but clearly state what you’re submitting.

Genre

Editors and literary agents are pressed for time. So it’s important to make your genre clear right away. This is a 100,000-word historical fiction romance.

Horror, science fiction, romance, Western, chick lit, children’s lit—if you don’t know what genre your work is, learn more: Genre Fiction Rules: Find Out If Your Novel Meets Publishers’ And Literary Agents’ Criteria For Publication.

TIP: Find other books that are similar to yours. Either do a Google search or go to the largest chain bookstore in your area and hunt down those titles. If your book would fit in with the others on the shelf, you’ve found your genre.

Submit to Review Board

What makes my book different?

You don’t want to approach an agent with a query that says, “I have written something just like Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.”

Your book might appeal to the same readers who would purchase Atwood’s book, but it must be unique in some way. Compare your book to a similar title that has sold well if you can, but don’t expect to sell a Harry Potter knockoff unless you’ve found a truly original angle.

Marketing

Publishers have their own marketing departments, but you should do some brainstorming of your own. Writers who have significant publication credits are sometimes regarded as writers who are willing to do the legwork to get their work out there. For that reason, it may help to build up your publishing credits before approaching a literary agent. NOTE: Writer’s Relief can help.

It’s impressive to note that you’re an expert in your field and have some valuable contacts who may help with visibility. Or you have an idea for a Valentine’s Day tie-in and have some verbal agreements for book signings. Show the agent or editor that you’ve been thinking of your work as a commodity, and they will too.

You may consider starting an author website. Or you can follow these steps to build your reputation as a writer.

Making Submissions That Hit Their Target

You’ll need to start by researching literary agents. This lends you credibility and professionalism—and increases your chances of a bull’s eye.

Read trade journals to narrow the field, and do your best to find the most current listing and the correct spelling of his or her name. If the editor does not publish horror, do not send horror.

If you’re not sure of an agent’s gender, do not make assumptions. (Address your letter to the agent’s full name to avoid any embarrassment.) Read more: Savvy Salutations: How To Write “Dear Someone” In A Query Letter.

And, above all, give the agent or editor exactly what he or she needs to make a decision. This alone will set your query apart from the others.

One final note: Writer’s Relief can research the literary agents who will be best-suited to read your particular work. We not only cross check ALL public sources for submission guidelines, but we have private sources as well. We have limited openings, but we welcome the opportunity to review your manuscript during a call for submissions.

REMEMBER TO CHECK OUT OUR LIST OF WRITING CONTESTS and ANTHOLOGIES! You won’t find a better list anywhere (AND IT’S FREE!) of upcoming anthologies, calls for submissions, special-themed journals, and contests.

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