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What to expect when you query

August 27, 2022
Posted by:
Ron Seybold

"Is the book a strong commercial prospect for success?" That’s the question an agent or publisher asks. A debut author at a Big Five house — that’s a rare thing. The coveted slots often go to writers who have something of a profile already in writing, but the exceptions can prove that rule.

Yes, you'll always use a query letter, even for a requested manuscript. A good synopsis, written in narrative form (no bullet points or lists) or simply a summary of one page in length, helps some agents. Give the agent a chance to skip ahead after they request your pages and see if the book is going to play out as others have — other books that sold well. Get a good handle on what a comp is for your boo. Instead of a bio, use a sentence or two about why you were compelled to write the book. Don’t sell a series beyond, “My characters and setting may have series prospects."

Lately, the commercial aspects of a novel can sometimes be enhanced with a proposal. You demonstrate the concept for your business plan with a proposal, along with sample chapters and a detailed study of comparative books. Most important, you identify your audience.

We submit these queries and samples because everyone needs to make money, especially the publisher who invests in pro services like a cover, edits, and to some degree, advertising and publicity. Authors like to call it marketing, but that’s just one element of publishing. You are marketing the commercial promise for your novel with a query.

After self-publishing my memoir about baseball and fatherhood, I got a clearer picture of what a good publishing contract could deliver beyond releasing a book yourself. It’s worth the agent chase, for a while, so send your queries. After that, you can pitch your book straight to any editors at the publishing houses who accept non-agented books. Some of the more independent presses will extend an initial offer that prints paperbacks only after the ebook edition takes flight.

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