When I sat down at the keyboard three and half years ago to write my first novel, I had little in mind beyond actually getting a story down, complete with a beginning, a middle and an ending. I moved through the chapters swiftly, working to bring my characters to life, taking care to place them in believable situations and doing my best to move the story forward to a satisfying conclusion. In a matter of months, I had completed my first book. Now what?
Since that time, I have placed two of my novels with a small publisher and recently, a friend of a friend contacted me for advice on the process of trying to find a publisher. Three years ago, I could not have offered a single word of advice. But once I had finished that first book, I began to investigate my options. Months of dedicated research and literally years of trying and failing and trying again ensued, to a point where I now feel that I have gained enough experience to offer advice to a new writer.
The first thing I did was go out and purchase the latest version of A Writers Guide to Book Editors, Publishers and Literary Agents. I studied this enormous volume as though I would be tested and listed every publisher and agent who might handle the type of book I had written. By the time I began contacting some of these agencies and publishers, I had learned the meaning of a few very important terms that popped up on nearly every page. The first of these formerly alien words – query.
Until now, I had assumed that the word was a synonym for the word “question” and in a way, it is. But in the world of book publishing, to query is to contact an agent or an editor by way of a short, tempting letter. As a writer, your job is to gain the interest of the agent or editor by presenting a teaser about your book.
In a query, or query letter, you do not detail the entire plot of your story – you simply present enough information to grab the reader’s attention and force them to want to know more about your book. A query letter is not an easy thing to write, but fortunately there are many writer’s sites on the Internet, as well as samples in the aforementioned writer’s guide, offering clear and concise advice. So you compose this letter and send it off, right? Well, yes, but don’t forget to include a SASE. Huh?
SASE refers to “self-addressed stamped envelope,” which until very recently, was an absolute in the world of publishing. Now, some agencies and even some publishers accept queries by Email. But you can’t go wrong by including a SASE when sending your queries by regular mail. It is a courtesy and whether or not the recipient chooses to use your envelope, I think it is best to include it.
Some editors or agents may request, instead of a query, a “synopsis.” This is an entirely different approach. A synopsis is a longer, more-detailed description of your book that includes the outcome.
Most publishers and agents will list in their guidelines exactly how long they wish the synopsis to be, and it is always a good idea to give them exactly what they ask for. Why get on their bad side before they even read your proposal?
A synopsis is not any easier to write than a query letter, but again, new writers can find help on the Internet or at your library or local bookstore. And don’t forget the SASE and always close your cover letters and queries professionally, thanking the reader for their time.