Perhaps the most pressing question in any writer’s mind is: How do I get my book published?
It’s a very good question because it’s notoriously difficult to find a publisher who’s willing to take a risk on an unknown writer. The problem is compounded by the fact that publishers are inundated with manuscripts and cover letters from writers who are just as desperate as you.
How to get a Publisher’s Attention
First, you need to decide if you’re going to write a cover letter or a query letter. A cover letter accompanies a synopsis of your book and some sample chapters.
A query letter doesn’t come with any extras. It’s a short letter that succinctly summarises you and your book.
Some publishers prefer the cover letter package and some prefer a simple query letter. You can improve your chances of getting your book published if you find out which format is preferred by publishing companies.
How to write a cover letter
Advice abounds on how to write a cover letter good enough to get a publisher’s attention. Here are some common tips:
- Address the letter to a real person and not the company at large. Contact the publishing company to find out who the correct contact person is and use their name.
- Make sure you know how to spell the person’s name; get it wrong and your book may end up in the bin on principle.
- Don’t waffle. Publishers aren’t interested in the story behind your inspiration. Keep it to your writing experience and your publishing history. If you haven’t been published before then just leave it out; don’t draw attention to your lack of experience.
- Sum up the story as succinctly as possible. It’s your first baby, so you probably want to tell everyone how perfect it is. Remember, publishers see this kind of spiel every day, and all that self-aggrandisement tends to blur after a while. A short, sharp hook that includes the genre, theme, length and characters is much more effective.
- Tell them why your book deserves to be published – without being a zealously proud parent.
- Thank them for their time.
- Don’t send them more than three chapters. If you haven’t caught their attention by then, you’re not going to.
- Keep the letter to one page. Don’t cheat and use really small font.
- Always, but always, have someone read over your letter before you send it. They might spot spelling mistakes (a kiss of death when you’re trying to sell yourself as a writer), and they can tell you if you’ve overdone the sales pitch or if the letter is too bare.
How to write a query letter
As with cover letters, there is no shortage of advice online. Most of it is similar to the advice for cover letters, particularly the tips about brevity. They are more difficult to write, though, because you don’t have sample chapters and a synopsis to back you up. A query letter is the only thing between you and a rejection letter, so no pressure. In general, queries letters comprise four paragraphs with a fairly rigid format – but it depends on the publisher, so be sure to make that one of your questions when you contact the company to find out to whom you should address the letter. Here are some top tips:
- Query letters are short – not more than one page.
- The first paragraph should be the hook. This could be a one sentence tagline or your book’s introductory paragraph, which should be absolutely compelling as a matter of course.
- Follow it up with a mini-synopsis – mini being the operative word. Don’t fill half a page with all the twists and turns and character development. Remember, brevity is your watchword.
- Give a bit of information about yourself. Don’t talk about your kids, your hobbies and your day job. Talk about your credentials as a writer.
- Thank publishers for their time.
- Have someone else proofread it before you send it.
Important points to remember
There are two temptations you need to resist if you want to impress publishers and get your book published.
1) The temptation to over-sell your book – the proud parent syndrome.
2) The temptation to come out of left field and write something completely bizarre. You might think you’re being creative and quirky, but there is difference between thinking you’re creative and quirky, and actually being creative and quirky. It’s not something that many people can pull off. More often than not you sound like you’re trying too hard. Or you come across as a sad class clown.
The rule is that publishers like plain and simple, so give them plain and simple.
Bear in mind, however, that plain and simple doesn’t mean dull and boring. If you can demonstrate your creativity and writing skill in a cover letter, publishers should be champing at the bit to read more of your work.
This brings up to the most important tip:
Practice writing cover and query letters before you actually send one. You wouldn’t consider your book finished after one draft, would you? Don’t make that mistake when you only have one chance to get a publisher’s attention and have your book published.