How to . . . Submit a Query Letter

Christine Trent PortraitGuest blogger Christine Trent landed a two-book deal with Kensington Books. Her debut novel, The Queen’s Dollmaker, a historical with strong romantic elements, is due to be released in January 2010. I interviewed Christine September 3, 2008. Three weeks later, she sold, and on October 31, 2008 she shared her exciting story of receiving The Call.

Christine has learned a great deal as she’s traveled the path to publication, and I’ve invited her to pass on some of her tips to you. Join us as we explore four topics so important to those eager to receive a contract offer:

April 13: How to . . . Complete a Manuscript

April 16: How to . . .  Submit a Query Letter

April 20: How to . . . Interpret a Rejection Letter

April 23: How to . . . Get from First Sale to Publication Wisely

Be sure to follow the comment trail, where Christine will stop by to respond to your questions. As usual, there’s a drawing. Find out about my biggest giveaway yet at the end of the post.

And now, here’s Christine  . . .

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A Writer’s Tool Kit: Part 2

How to . . . Submit a Query Letter

by Christine Trent

“I have finished the race”
Christine’s Top 5 Rules for Query Letters

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Today we’re not going to go into the mechanics of writing a query letter, as there are vast amounts of material out there on creating a perfect query. Instead, I’m going to discuss the etiquette of writing query letters. In particular, I’d like to cover five things I think every writer should know.

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1. If an agent/editor invites you to query, DO IT RIGHT AWAY, THEIR WAY

If you get an opportunity to pitch an agent/editor at a conference or elsewhere and are invited to send in a partial, it is imperative that you send within a week of the invitation. If you don’t, the agent/editor may forget you, and it also suggests that you may have difficulty with future deadlines. If you wait a month or more to send in your submission, you have probably missed your window of opportunity. Think of it this way: if someone knocks on your door and asks if they can give you a proposal to paint your house and you say yes, what is your opinion if the painter doesn’t show up with an estimate for a month?

In addition, learn what the agent/editor wants, and submit exactly how they want it. Some want you to send you query by e-mail, with the first three chapters in the body of the e-mail. If so, then do not send it as an attachment! If you’re asked to query only by snail mail with a two-page synopsis, do not mail in your entire manuscript.

Do exactly what is requested. To ignore their requirements suggests that you may not be able to follow their directions after you are contracted.

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2. Don’t Query One at a Time

My heart has gone out to writers who submit one query at a time, waiting to hear back from individual agents/editors before sending out the next query. You don’t need to do this! I have typically sent queries in batches of ten at a time.

Now, sometimes an agent/editor may ask you for an “exclusive read.” What does this mean? It means they want to have an opportunity to read your manuscript without worrying that someone else will contract with you before having a chance to finish it

So, what do you do? My personal advice is that you send in your submission with a letter that includes a statement like: “I am happy to offer you a three-week exclusive read on this manuscript, to conclude on <DATE>.” If the agent/editor has asked for a specific time period for the exclusive read, graciously give it. Just don’t let it be open-ended.

During the exclusivity period, you will have to refrain from sending out other queries, of course.

My other caution is that even though you can send multiple queries at one time, you should still be careful and selective about your mailing list. Do your research. Sending your paranormal time travel to an agent/editor who specializes in American westerns may not be the best use of your time or his!

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3. Don’t query if your manuscript isn’t FINISHED

If you have not yet finished your manuscript, I urge you not to begin the query process. This is mostly for your own protection. If the agent/editor reads your partial, loves it, and wants to see more . . . what are you going to do? You’ll be in the same position as the writer who doesn’t respond immediately to a positive response to a pitch. You won’t be able to deliver, and the agent/editor will be left with a bad impression. Although it is very tempting to query before completing a manuscript, whether because you think you will finish soon anyway or because you want to see what interest is out there, it truly is not a good idea for your career.

One caveat: This doesn’t apply to non-fiction. Non-fiction writers frequently sell from book proposals. First-time fiction writers, though, need a finished manuscript.

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4. Send a thank-you note

Even if you get a rejection, send a quick note to the agent/editor to say you appreciate the time spent reviewing your manuscript. If an agent/editor has e-mailed me a nice rejection with helpful comments, I frequently reply with a thanks and an inquiry as to whether or not she would be willing to review my next work in progress. You’d be surprised how often you get a “yes” to that.

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5. Be patient

As with justice, the wheels of the publishing world can turn slowly. I’ve sent out query letters and waited agonizing months for that regrettable rejection. I’ve also waited months and figured my manuscript was propping up a broken desk leg somewhere, only to have an agent/editor come back and request a full. Then send me a rejection several more months later. 🙂

Ironically, when I finally sold to an editor (the lovely Audrey LaFehr at Kensington), it was at a lightning-fast speed I did not expect. You just never know when you’ll get The Call.

You can sell your manuscript. It may take a lot of time, tears, and travel to the post office, but there are loads of success stories out there. The market is always open to a great novel. The secret is in persisting, in finishing the race, in keeping the faith.

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Can I answer any questions about query etiquette?

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Leave a Comment for Your Chance to Win

I have a plethora of prizes to give away while Christine’s posts are active. This time I’m keeping the prizes a secret. Yes, each winner will receive a package with a minimum of three mystery items that range from note cards to necklaces or memo pads to magnets.

I’ll choose 11 winners from those who leave a comment for Christine between April 13 and 23, one each day, and will post the winners’ names as they are drawn.

To be entered in the drawing, please include an email address when prompted, which I don’t share. Each comment counts as an entry, and you may enter as many times as you’d like.

Winners: #1 Leslie Carroll, #2 Leigh, #3 Jessica, #4 Eileen Astels, #5 Karen Fraga, #6 Sherrinda, #7 Margay

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You could also win a First Sale Scrapbook!

If you’d like to have a chance at winning a First Sale Scrapbook created by your blog hostess, Keli Gwyn, leave a comment on any post between now and April 30. Make sure to include your name and email address when prompted if you want to be entered in the drawing. (Your information will not be shared.) Click red link above to see samples of covers and pages.

On May 1, Keli will choose one person who will have her choice of five covers on an 8×8 inch, twenty-page scrapbook in which s/he can document that long-awaited first sale. The pages will cover various milestones including The Call, signing the contract, receiving the first advance payment and holding your “firstborn” in your hands.

(No scrapbooking skills required. You just add your photos and journaling.)

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Learn More About Christine

Visit her Web site: www.ChristineTrent.com

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Learn More About Her Debut Novel

The Queen’s Dollmaker
Coming January 2010 from Kensington Books

“An exuberant, sparkling debut. Beguiling details of doll making are a joy in this rags-to-riches romp. Brims with Dickensian gusto.”
–Barbara Kyle, author of The Queen’s Lady and The King’s Daughter

A young woman, struggling to expand her London dollmaking trade, finds a surprising customer in Queen Marie Antoinette, an avid doll collector herself.  This seemingly innocent exchange puts Claudette’s life in danger when she is lured to Paris under false pretenses.  Money and jewels are being smuggled in dolls destined for the Queen, and have now been discovered by the fledgling revolutionary French government.  Her only hope for escaping the guillotine is a man she pledged not to love, who has no idea she has even been imprisoned…

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About Keli Gwyn

I'm an award-winning author of inspirational historical romance smitten with the Victorian Era. I'm currently writing for Harlequin's Love Inspired Historical line of wholesome, faith-filled romances. My debut novel, A Bride Opens Shop in El Dorado, California, was released July 1, 2012. I'm represented by Rachelle Gardner of Book & Such Literary. I live in a Gold Rush-era town at the foot of the majestic Sierras. My favorite places to visit are my fictional worlds, other Gold Country towns and historical museums. When I'm not writing I enjoy taking walks, working out at Curves™ and reading.
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19 Responses to How to . . . Submit a Query Letter

  1. Margay says:

    If you give an agent an exclusive, how long after the end date should you wait to contact them if they haven’t contacted you? And how would you word it so that you don’t come off sounding pushy or accusatory?

    Margay

  2. Christine Trent says:

    Hi Margay,

    If you have other agents you want to get your manuscript out to, I might drop a line right at the end of the exclusivity period to say something like:

    “Dear Agent, thank you for requesting an exclusive read on my manuscript. As you know, the exclusivity period ended , but I am happy to extend it five more days in the event that you have not had an opportunity to review it. After that date, I will assume you have decided to pass on the manuscript. Thank you for your kind interest in my work.”

    Or something similar!

    Good luck, Christine

  3. Christine Trent says:

    Margay, something dropped on my response to you. The first bit of the agent letter should have read:

    “Dear Agent, thank you for requesting an exclusive read on my manuscript. As you know the exclusivity period ended on DATE, but…

    Don’t know why that dropped!

    Christine

  4. Christine, thanks for sharing all this great info!

    At conferences I’ve heard one of the biggest pet peeves agents and editors have is that they receive so few proposals of the requests they offered during the conference.

    But then as a writer I know many of those requests are just given as courtesy, so why waste our time if you feel in your gut it’s just that. That they really aren’t serious about your piece, when each one wants something different as you said in the proposal according to their specific guidelines.

    How best can we discern which requests to follow through with, and which not to?

  5. Christine, this is terrific real-world advice. It’s so important for not-yet-pubbed authors to treat their career as a business, even if they also have a survival job, family pressures, ongoing wedding plans — whatever. Once those “good study habits” are formed, it’s easier to maintain them once you’re published and you have to add hard-and-fast deadlines as well as promotion, plus writing your next opus, to the lineup of plates you’re juggling every day.

  6. Jessica says:

    I think sending thank you cards is so important.
    I have a question and am a little bit worried. After a rejection on a full, an editor said she’d enjoy seeing future manuscripts in the future. So, three months later I finish and send a partial. Now I’m worried that maybe I waited too long? I know it wasn’t a request, per se, but I’m still being paranoid. LOL And not very patient.

  7. If I may answer Eileen’s question as well — agents and editors are insanely busy people who often bring their work home with them and work nights and weekends; agents have a hard enough time managing their current client list, and editors are often editing multiple manuscripts at a time, in addition to attending sales/marketing conferences and meetings.

    So if an agent or editor requests your manuscript, THEY’RE SERIOUS! Courtesy-shmurtesy! Send it and uphold your end of the deal, or you’re shooting yourself in the foot.

  8. Keli Gwyn says:

    I second your thoughts on submitting requested material, Leslie.

    I was at the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference just last week and attended a workshop on coping with rejection led by top-notch agent Steve Laube. He told us one thing that never ceases to amaze him is that a significant percentage (can’t remember if it was 40 or 60%) of those conferees he, other agents and editors invite to submit never do. He said the publishing professionals have plenty of work to do and wouldn’t request something if they didn’t honestly want to see it.

    So, Eileen, I’m another one encouraging you to submit anything that’s requested.

  9. Margay says:

    That’s a good bit of advice, Christine, especially the option to give them five more days. I like how you worded the example. Thanks!
    Margay

  10. Anne Barton says:

    Christine, it’s good to know that a thank you note for a personal rejection is appropriate. I’ve often wondered whether an agent or editor might find it weird, but I think you’re right. It could end in an invitation to submit future projects, and at the very least, it helps establish some sort of rapport.

    Great questions and comments here too. I’m learning lots. 🙂

    –Anne

  11. Anonymous says:

    Eileen,

    And to chime in with the other comments: regardless of whether an agent or editor has extended an invitation for you to submit as simply a courtesy — jump on the opportunity! Even if it was a courtesy, you never know when yours is the manuscript the editor has been looking for her whole life.

    And it’s just bad form not to submit once you’ve been invited! 🙂

    Christine

  12. Christine Trent says:

    Leslie,

    Thanks for your comments. I’ll be looking forward to your next opus. Soon, I hope. 🙂

    Christine

  13. Christine Trent says:

    Keli,

    That’s an amazing number of “no-show” manuscripts that agent cited. Wow! Lots of missed opportunities…

    Sounds like a very informative conference.

    Christine

  14. Christine Trent says:

    Anne,

    A thank-you card is never unappreciated. 🙂

    I’m glad you’ve found some of the comments useful. Happy writing!

    Christine

  15. Christine Trent says:

    Jessica,

    If the editor said she’d like to see a future work, I don’t think three months is an extraordinary amount of time. You’ll want to mention in your query letter that she invited you to send in a future work, and that you’ve just completed your work in progress.

    But in this type of situation I think you’re just fine sending it in three months later.

    Christine

  16. Karen Fraga says:

    I really enjoyed reading this blog, very interesting.

  17. Keli Gwyn says:

    I’ve enjoyed reading your comments and Christine’s great replies.

    Time for some more winners. And they are: Eileen Astels, Margay, Karen Fraga and Sherrinda. Congrats to all of you. I’ll be in touch.

  18. Keli, Thanks for much for drawing me in your grouping of winners!

    And thanks to those who helped me see the light. I’ll be sure to do follow-ups when I receive the requests regardless of how unhopeful I may be.

  19. Margay says:

    I just wanted to second what Eileen said. Thank you!
    Margay

Comments are closed.