Mar 27 2009
Novelists write a query to convince a literary agent or publisher that…
- The book’s concept is exciting and well-designed. If they don’t like the concept, they won’t read the sample chapters.
- The book is marketable and could find an audience.
- The book has some sort of advantage or angle that will allow it to compete with similar books. Why will readers pick up this novel instead of a competing title?
The formatting depends on which literary agency or publisher you’re submitting to, but usually it will feature the following sections:
1. Summary. Introduce a complete stranger to your book in 1-2 pages. The Levine Greenberg Literary Agency recommends that you write this like a backcover blurb designed to hook readers. This MUST excite the agent/publisher and make them want to keep reading.
2. Author’s bio. In one page, describe why you’re the best person to write and sell this book. Do you have writing experience? Have you been previously published? Have your previous books sold well? Do you have some sort of helpful training/experience? Do you have some sort of special connection to your target audience?
3. Target audience. Who are you writing for? (Note: please do NOT say “everyone”– that will make you sound like an unrealistic amateur). What age and/or gender do you have in mind? What will your book do for these readers?
4. Competition. Which books would you compare yours to? Please do not say “this is actually a completely unique novel; there’s nothing like it.” That will probably scare away publishers because there’s probably not a market for something completely new. Instead, compare your book to competitors that have sold fairly well. Why is your book well-prepared to compete with them? What’s your edge?
5. Marketing and promotional opportunities. What can you do to help market or promote your book? Do you have a popular website? Do you have a newspaper column somewhere? Are there unusual places to sell your book that a publisher might be interested in? For example, if you were writing a book about how to write superhero stories, it could probably be sold in comic book stores as well as traditional bookstores.
6. Manuscript specifications. Propose a word-count (NOT page-count) for your book. How many photographs and illustrations will you have, if any? Will your book need a special size, format or style? When can you deliver a completed manuscript? (If this is your first novel, you should have the manuscript finished before you submit proposals).
7. Outline. Start with a table of contents. Provide annotations that show how the book will unfold in more detail. This isn’t a final commitment, but it’s a clear sign to publishers that you have some idea how the book could go. Give 1-3 paragraphs about each chapter’s content and how that content moves the book forward.
8. Sample chapters. Give them a representative taste of your work. Usually this is 1-3 chapters. LGLA says that it does not have to be the first chapter. However, I really recommend including the first chapters because they’re usually the most inviting to strangers.