Author Scott M. Baker continues his series on writing...(read Part 1).
Let me add a few observations to my last blog about query letters. These are only my opinions, and should not be taken as gospel for getting published (or as legal advice). Alternate styles and formats may work better for different authors. For example, if you have no published works to your credit, list your qualifications for writing a novel. If you’re a lawyer whose manuscript is about a courtroom drama, or if you’re a recovering drug addict detailing the struggles of rehab, state that in your query. Also, if your published works have received good reviews from reputable sources (your mother’s blog does not count), include links to those reviews.
Here are same basic guidelines to follow:
--Publishers/agents are specific in what they want you to submit with your query, usually asking for sample chapters and a synopsis, and occasionally for a bio or a marketing strategy. Sometimes they ask for sample chapters to be submitted in a certain font or style. If you submit a query, be sure to provide what they ask for in the style they ask for. Although the main reason a publisher/agent asks for sample chapters and a synopsis is to get a feel for your writing style, your query submission also gives them a feel for how well you follow guidelines.
If a publisher/agent asks for a three-page synopsis, one sample chapter in Courier 10 font, and a marketing strategy, and instead you send a one-page synopsis, three sample chapters in Times New Roman 12 font, and a bio, you immediately send the impression that you cannot/will not follow simple guidelines. Publishers/agents will be cautious about contracting with you, fearing that you may also be unwilling/unable to follow their editorial guidance and meet deadlines. [NOTE: While I’m willing to make certain changes to the text of sample chapters per the request of a publisher/agent – such as fonts, line spacing, or margins, all of which can easily be done on a computer – I refuse to entirely reformat my manuscript for a query. I did that once. A publisher's webpage said they were accepting manuscripts for consideration, so I spent two days preparing the submission to meet their strict and unusual formatting guidelines, e-mailed the query, and got a response less than an hour later saying the publisher was no longer accepting submissions. Needless to say, I never made that mistake again.]
--Every publisher and agent I have talked to has decried simultaneous submissions (sending query submissions to more than one publisher/agent at a time), each of them relating how they spent several hours reading a submission, got excited about the work, and called back the author only to find that he/she had contracted with someone else. While I understand their rationale for refusing simultaneous submissions, I find it unreasonable. It can take months for a publisher/agent to respond to you, if they respond at all, and more often than not they are not interested in seeing the entire manuscript. That restriction against simultaneous submissions places an unfair burden on aspiring authors. I see no problem with sending queries to more than one publisher/agent at a time.
However, and this is vital, show professional courtesy. If you have a manuscript with one publisher/agent and a second one asks to see it, let the second publisher/agent know that someone else is currently looking at it. Publishers/agents will understand if they contact you based on a query and someone else has scooped up the manuscript before them. However, if they read the entire manuscript only to find out that others were currently reading it and have already contracted with you, you’ll earn a reputation you do not want to have in the industry.
-- Finally, do not feel compelled to accept any contract offered to you. I’ve been very fortunate that my publisher treats its authors fairly and with considerable respect. Not all of them are like that. Two years ago I was contacted by a publisher who said how much he loved my manuscript and wanted to send me a contract. When I received it I laughed. The publisher wanted all rights (print, electronic, audio, radio, TV, movie, as well as the rights to the characters) to my first four books in perpetuity (i.e. forever) and offered a measly 10 percent royalty on all profits. The contract should have been emblazoned with a skull and crossbones in the corner. If the contract doesn’t settle right with you, trust your instincts and question it. Do not sign on the dotted line out of fear that no one will ever again offer you another contract. You worked too hard on that book to give away all the rights to someone else. As an aside, two weeks after rejecting that ridiculous offer I signed a contract with a very reputable publisher for The Vampire Hunter series.
When it comes to discussing query submissions, this blog just touches the tip of the iceberg. But at least it gives you a framework to start from. Here's a sample query letter to use as a guideline.
While researching potential publishers for my manuscript, I discovered your homepage and decided to contact you to gauge your interest in my book.
The Vampire Hunters are Drake Matthews and Alison Monroe, two former cops who turned in their badges for stakes, and Jim Delmarco, an engineering student with a knack for developing lethal weapons against the undead. Their target is a nest of more than a dozen vampires located in Washington D.C. and led by two masters, one of whom prefers to indulge his decadence rather than ensure the nest's survival, and his mistress who will go to any lengths to gain control over the nest. Driven by a determination to rid the city of this ultimate evil, and armed with nothing more sophisticated than low-tech conventional weapons, the hunters wage a relentless and violent war against the undead in the streets and back alleys of the nation's capital.
In The Vampire Hunters I flesh out the vampires so they are an integral part of the story but, unlike many contemporary novels, I depict my vampires as vicious and inhuman. With the recent success of such books as David Wellington's Bullet series and del Toro's/Hogan's Strain trilogy, The Vampire Hunters is perfectly poised to take advantage of the growing interest in vampires as evil, non-romantic characters.
The manuscript is 78,000 words in length and is ready for immediate submission.
As I noted above, the manuscript is the first in a trilogy. I have completed The Vampire Hunters: Vampyrnomicon (the introduction of the Master vampire, Chiang Shih, and her plan to establish a vampire kingdom), which is 100,000 words in length. The final book in the trilogy, The Vampire Hunters: Dominion (the final battle between good and evil), will be completed in the spring of 2010 and should be 100,000 words in length.
As for previous writing credits, I have authored several short stories, including “Rednecks Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things,” which appeared in the autumn 2008 edition of the e-zine Necrotic Tissue; “Cruise of the Living Dead,” which appeared in Living Dead Press’ Dead Worlds: Volume 3 anthology (August 2009); “Deck the Malls with Bowels of Holly,” which appeared in Living Dead Press‘ Christmas Is Dead anthology (October 2009); and “Denizens,” which appeared in Living Dead Press’ The Book of Horror anthology (March 2010).
Per your guidelines, I have included the first thirty pages and a synopsis so you can get a feel for my writing. I can forward the entire manuscript upon request.
Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.
Scott M. Baker
NEXT: Finding a Publisher or Literary Agent, Part 3 (where to find them).