I see a lot of unedited material come across my desk. You'd be surprised at the number of manuscripts I receive with misspelled words and basic grammar mistakes. (Basic = incomplete sentences, mixed verb tense, punctuation mistakes, etc.) Now, I understand that there's no such thing as a perfect manuscript. I don't even blink at a few errors here and there. I'm talking about multiple mistakes PER PAGE!
Then there are the content errors. I get manuscripts where the main character's name is spelled several different ways. Or their hair color changes part way through. Or a secondary plot line is started, then dropped, never to be picked up again or resolved.
These are basics. These mistakes will get you rejected. A publisher won't do that much editing on a book, even if it is a wonderful story. Also, these types of mistakes are interpreted as a sign of unprofessionalism, ignorance or laziness. If an author isn't serious enough to do the bare minimum required to put their best work forward (ie: run the spell checker), then I'm not going to spend serious money publishing it.
To avoid these mistakes, you need readers. Remember, no one can edit their own work. At a minimum, I'd say have several (6 to 10) readers go through it looking for errors before you submit. These readers need to be competant spellers and grammarians, and have a sense of what makes a good story. Fellow writers, particularly published writers, are usually good at this. IF, after you've revised and corrected based on your readers' comments, you feel you've got a pretty clean manuscript, then go ahead and submit.
If your manuscript keeps coming back, particularly if an editor/publisher in any way indicates that your book needs editing, then you should consider hiring a professional.
Two undeniable facts in writing and publishing:
- Every book needs a professional edit.
- No one can edit their own writing.
Even the cleanest writer needs someone who is new to the material to give the book a final read-through before going to press. A professional edit can make the difference between a book that's difficult to sell and a hot-off-the-presses blockbuster.
As a distributor of self-published books, unedited works break my heart. I absolutely hate it when someone submits a self-published book that hasn't been professionally edited. Most of the time, it's a classic case of being "penny-wise, but pound-foolish." Self-publishing is expensive and too many authors try to save a little by not paying for a professional edit.
I've had to reject many books for distribution due to poor editing--books that I would have happily accepted if they'd been edited properly. What is really unfortunate is that by the time I get involved, the author often has 5,000 copies (or more) sitting in their garage. They can't afford to reprint until they sell the old ones, but the old ones aren't selling--or they can't find a distributor--because they weren't edited well.
Every manuscript requires a professional edit. A professional editor is someone who has edited for pay and who has happy, repeat customers--not a friend or relative who majored in, or even teaches, English. (It's a different skill set.) A good editor is familiar with current publishing and grammar trends (yes , grammar rules change over time). A professional editor is more than a proofreader. A proofreader finds grammar mistakes, misspellings, and typographical errors. A professional editor helps polish your writing, finds plot holes, catches inconsistencies, finds flat characters, and does so much more. A good editor is worth every penny of their fee.
Editing is a necessary process in creating a great end product. Like having a baby, it can be painful, but it must be done. If your baby needed surgery, you'd want an experienced surgeon. When it comes to editing your manuscript, you should want no less.
Please, don't anyone send this back to me with all my mistakes circled. Remember, no one (not even me) can edit their own work.
I know, let's do something fun. How about a CONTEST? (I love contests like these because you do all the work and I have all the fun.)
Below are three writing prompts. (Thanks G. Ellen at LDS Writers Blogck for the idea and rakrose for the link to Writers Digest, where I kifed these prompts. Since they're publicly posted and I'm not making any money off this and I've given them full credit, I think this is legal.)
Pick a prompt below and write 50 to 100 words on the topic. Then e-mail it to me. You can submit to one prompt or to all three, but only one submission per prompt, and send each submission in a separate e-mail. I'll post all submissions, make comments, and select a 1st place with two runners up for each prompt, and an overall grand prize winner. Prizes will be bragging rights and you can link back to the post where I pronounce you winner.
Unlike other e-mailed questions, I won't be changing any names on this one. So if you want to be anonymous, don't put your real name in the message.
You've invented a new soft drink that not only tastes great, but also improves a person's ability to [fill in the blank]. Write an advertisement for your new soda.
Create a national observation day (e.g. Talk Like a Pirate Day). Include the origins and any special rituals of your day.
Two characters meet at a church barbeque.* Write about their meeting without using any dialogue. Now write the same scene using dialogue only.
Let's see...you've got until next Friday, June 2, 2006, to submit. Ready--Set--Go!
*the original prompt had them meeting at a bar, but I changed it since I'm sure none of us have ever been inside a bar. I know I haven't. Really. No honest, I've only seen them on TV...)
Why are all the LDS fiction books I've ever seen published in trade paperback format and why do they cost thirteen or fourteen or even more dollars? Can you tell me something about the reasoning behind this? For the most part, at least that I've seen, mainstream fiction is published in "regular" paperback format and costs considerably less, which is very tempting when you want more books for your reading bucks. I'd love to read more LDS fiction, but I just can't afford to buy everything that looks good, so I have to pick and choose very carefully, often having to pass over several tempting offers....Will any LDS publisher ever switch over to the smaller and cheaper paperback format?
I don't know anything about economics, but I suppose this would probably affect the royalties that the authors would get, at least in the short term. On the other hand, wouldn't it encourage more people to buy more books and therefore have a positive impact on the royalties in the long term?
--Budget Book Buyer
Let's start with a quick review for readers who may not be familiar with some of the terminology. Generally, a book is first published in hardback. Hardbacks are considered to be a long-term investment intended for personal libraries. They are built to last through many readings. They are well bound, printed on high quality paper, and expensive.
After the hardback is released, the book comes out in "trade paperback." Trades are printed on nice paper with a heavy paper cover. They can be nearly the same size as the hardback or as small as a 5.25 x 8". For most readers, the quality is adequate for their personal libraries but not nearly as expensive as the hardback. Sometimes a book will skip the hardback printing and go straight to trade paperback.
If a book does really well, it will also be released as a "mass market paperback" (what you called "regular"). These editions are smaller than a trade, have a thinner paper cover and are printed on thinner newsprint-type paper. They are considered "throw-away" books--being made from inferior materials which start to fall apart after the second or third reading. Mass market books are cheaper because they are printed in "massive" quantities. A mainstream publisher will not offer this format unless the book is selling really, really well in the other two formats.
Now to your question of why LDS books are in trade and not mass market formats--it has nothing to do with royalties.
The quick answer is mainstream (as in large, national/international) publishers have a broader consumer base than us small, niche LDS publishers do. A good mainstream title will sell over a million copies. A good LDS title will sell a couple hundred thousand. If you're selling a million copies, you can spread them over several formats and still have large enough print runs to get a very low price per book.
A small mainstream print run is in the tens of thousands. A small LDS print run may only be 2,000. They're paying $1 or less per book; we're paying $2-$3 per book.
We have to be able to build in a certain profit margin between the cost to produce the book and its retail price. We need to discount it to the retailers, cover the cost of distribution, advertising, overhead, royalties, etc. If the profit margin isn't big enough, we can't afford to produce the book.
In the small print runs that most LDS books sell in, there is just not enough profit margin to support multiple formats, so we have to pick one. Hardbacks are expensive and harder to sell. Mass markets fall apart and are only cheaper than trades when printed in very large quantities. So that leaves the standard LDS trade format as a nice compromise--it gives you a level of quality for a price that most consumers will accept.
Will LDS publishers ever switch over to the smaller, cheaper paperbacks? Yes, as soon as our consumer base supports large concurrent print runs in multiple formats.
I received a very vague rejection letter today. “Thank you for submitting [My Wonderful Novel]. Unfortunately, it does not fit our needs at this time.”
What the heck does that mean? [Sorry. Unless it was my letter, I have no idea what that really means. You’d have better luck asking a magic 8 ball.]
If my novel stinks, why can’t they just come out and say so? [Because we want you to keep writing.] Or if it’s for one of the other reasons you discussed previously on this blog, why can’t they tell me so that I don’t like, go off and do irreparable damage to my laptop or something? [Because we don’t want you to go off and do irreparable damage to us!]
And would it really kill them to offer just a couple of sentences of feedback? [There are days when it almost does.] Sometimes I wonder if they even read one sentence of my submission. [Uhm, we’re in the business to find manuscripts. Trust me. We always read the first sentence. Unless you’re a flamer (see last paragraph).]
As a submissions editor faced with an unpublishable manuscript, I’m caught between a rock and a hard place here. On the one hand, I love authors and I want to give you as much information as I can to help you get that manuscript published. On the other hand, there are only so many hours in my work day and I need to spend most of them on tasks that will earn the company money. If I don’t, we go out of business and nobody gets published.
I’ve been asked why I can’t create a form letter that says, “Your manuscript was rejected for the following reasons…” then check all that apply, or leave a space and insert 2 or 3 sentences. I’ve tried. It doesn’t seem to make the process any easier for me or for you.
In my experience, specific feedback ticks people off. (Funny, no one got mad when I gave specific feedback as a free-lance editor and charged them $40 an hour for it. But when it’s free, they don’t like it.)
A personalized rejection takes a lot of time and thought to create, and it usually comes back to bite me. When I sent the more personalized rejections, a lot of the authors would call to argue with me or send flaming e-mail messages.
But guess what. Nobody argues with a vague rejection letter. Maybe 2% of the authors who get the vague letter call or e-mail back. Interestingly, those who do are generally very grateful and respectful of both my time and my opinion when they ask for additional feedback, and so I generally oblige.
So if you want more specific feedback, first cool down. Then send a very short and polite e-mail asking for it. I’m guessing most editors will respond if the tone of your message is respectful and not argumentative. In our company, we keep a log with brief notes on every submission. It’s not too hard to copy and paste those notes into a reply e-mail.
Or if you’ve sent a full, include a large SASE and ask the editor to send their notes. When I read a full, I keep my pen handy and put notes in the margins of changes that need to be made if the manuscript is accepted. I don’t send these notes unless I’m asked for them because they’re really honest. Most people do not want to read, “Give me a break!” written in the margins of their masterpiece. So if you ask for it, be prepared to accept it.
When you get the feedback, you don’t have to agree with it. And you’re more than welcome to rub my nose in it later if you want. Just file it away and bring it out to show all your friends after you’ve become a rich and famous author, while I’m still a little podunk publisher. That’s fine. But please, please, please, don’t argue with me about it. I won’t change my mind. It won’t earn you any points if you try to submit another manuscript to me in the future. I note these follow-up communications in the submissions log. If I put “called 10 times to argue with me” or “sent 17 flaming e-mails” in that log, you better believe I’ll never read another sentence of anything you send me.
I'm wondering what the market for LDS science fiction is like at this moment. I've heard that there isn't any, that while LDS audiences do enjoy mainstream sci fi and LDS books as separate genres, they don't want them combined. Is this true? If it is, could it change in the near future?
I guess what I'm really asking is, should I hope to publish the space opera that I'm currently working on which uses Book of Mormon themes? Or should I abandon my labour of love and turn instead to romance and/or mystery, although I'm secretly wondering if the market for those two genres is not slowly becoming glutted?
Is there such a thing as LDS sci-fi/fantasy, otherwise known as speculative fiction? The answer is a definite Maybe.
Clean Speculative Fiction: If you mean are LDS readers interested in these genres and themes, the answer is a resounding YES! With the national speculative fiction market becoming more and more saturated with sex and violence and the occult, the LDS reader is having a more difficult time finding "safe" books to read. There is definitely a market for clean, non-graphic, clear-cut 'good vs evil and good wins' stories.
LDS Publishers of Speculative Fiction: If you mean do LDS publishers accept and publish speculative fiction, the answer is also yes, but it is not quite so resounding. A few current examples: James Dashner's YA fantasy series (CFI); Stephanie Black's futuristic The Believer (Covenant); Obert Skye's fantasy Leven Thumps (Shadow Mountain).
I think that the future will see more speculative fiction available through LDS publishers. This genre really lends itself to teaching thinly disguised correct principles and moral values in a non-preachy way. It also lets us take a good hard look at ourselves and our society without being overtly offensive or ruffling too many feathers. And the basic fantasy plot line is one we as LDS people believe in--the little guy learns of his own unique, usually divinely bestowed powers (often connected to birthright or high moral character) and uses those powers to champion over evil. We love this archetype. It's repeated over and over in our scriptures. My company would love to find some good manuscripts in this area.
Mixing Speculative Fiction with LDS Culture: If you mean can you openly place LDS theology and culture in a fantasy or occult setting and have it published by LDS publishers and enjoyed by LDS readers, the answer is NO. (Futuristic setting is probably okay.) You cannot have bishops performing magic and you can't baptize a vampire family. You can't have the angel Moroni come down to teach a young woman with special powers how to part the Red Sea with her magic wand. Even Orson Scott Card, an incredibly gifted writer of speculative fiction, offended lots of LDS readers with his Alvin Maker series and his Homecoming Saga (loosely based upon the life of Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon, respectively).
This type of treatment is highly offensive to many LDS readers. For this reason alone, it is not a cost-effective area for the LDS publisher. Take into account the fact that many LDS publishers are also personally offended by this mix and the probability of getting it published is reduced even more. I don't know of a single LDS publisher who would touch it with a 10 foot pole. Will it change in the future? Well, you never know who will hang a shingle and be willing to try it. But I can safely say that my company would never, ever consider it. Now, we might consider something along the lines of the Magic Treehouse or the Good Times Travel Agency Series for children, but it would have to be handled very carefully.
So, about your space opera. I can't speak to that directly because I haven't read it. Book of Mormon themes are probably okay. Nephi's descendents preaching to Lamanites on Pluto, probably not. You'll have to make your own best judgment on that and see what happens.
Glutted Market: The reason the market seems to be glutted with LDS romance and mystery is because that's what the readers want--and I don't see it slowing down soon. I have several friends who are romance junkies who would buy and read 1 or 2 new LDS romance novels a week if that many were available. (That's 104 romance novels a year. I don't think the combined LDS publishing industry is producing that many yet.)
These friends also complain that there are not enough quality LDS romances out there. They read what's published because they're clean and safe, but they yearn for more top-notch writing. So I'd say if you lean that direction, and you can create a solid, quality, well-written manuscript, give it a try. There will be a place for it. Same for the mystery and suspense.
But if your heart is in speculative fiction, don't let go of that dream. Keep working on it. And if the LDS publishing market isn't quite ready for your masterpiece, take out the overt LDS references and go for national. The national speculative fiction market is going gang-busters right now. And despite what you see on the shelves, I really believe there is a demand for clean speculative fiction and it's just a matter of time before some smaller publishers step up and fill that need.
I've been reading your blog ever since I discovered it about two weeks ago, and I'm really impressed. I check your blog every day, several times a day in fact, hoping for a new update, because it's not only informative, it's entertaining as well. (Thank you!)
I have a few questions. You say that sometimes a book is rejected because the publisher has already filled their schedule. Does that mean that it's better to submit a manuscript in the first six months of the year, or at the end of a year so that they're accepted by January? Do the schedules vary by publisher, or does this matter at all?
Publishing schedules vary by publisher. Some publishers work 2 to 3 years ahead, accepting in 2006 for a 2008 release. Some publishers only work a few months ahead, accepting in January and releasing in June. Some may schedule their whole year at once. Others may work on a quarterly or 6 month schedule. Still others have no schedule at all and will accept a good manuscript whenever it arrives. As a writer, you may not be able to determine how the publisher you're submitting to works because they may not tell you. Or they may tell you their "plan," but their reality is something else entirely. (see below)
This is how my company works. In January, we look at sales and profits for the previous year and estimate how many titles we think we can publish for the coming year. Then we make a wish list broken into genres with a loose release schedule. For example, we may decide we want to do 2 romances, 2 suspense, 2 young adult and 6 non-fiction in a calendar year. (Genres and numbers adjusted to maintain my anonymity.)
This is "the plan." In reality, the plan never works out. We may not get any good solid romance manuscripts during the entire year. Or we may get 6. Or even 12. Or maybe we're flooded with suspense. Or maybe we get some exceptional non-fiction manuscripts. So then we look at what we've got and change the plan as we go.
By December of 2005, we pretty much had our release schedule committed up through LDS Booksellers in August of 2006. After the convention, we wil look at what sold, what bookstore buyers were looking for and unable to find, and then in September, we look at our submissions and decide what, if anything, we want to try to rush out before Christmas. Everything else goes on the 2007 schedule. Then in January, we'll evaluate the schedule and see what we have room for.
So, the short answer is just this: don't worry about hitting a schedule because no matter how well you and/or the publisher try to time it, everything is subject to the "mice and men" phenomenon. Submit your work when it's ready and hope for the best.
And don't tell anyone I said this, but I have been known to jiggle the schedule myself to make room for a really spectacular manuscript. If it's May and I've already committed every penny for this year, I'll go ahead and put it on next year's schedule. And if that won't work, and there's absolutely no way I think I can publish it in the next three years, but I love the book and I think it really needs to be published soon, I'll forward it to a colleague with a letter of recommendation (with the author's permission, of course).
The problem with traveling is that sometimes I hit a motel without wireless internet. (Yes, those behind-the-times locations do still exist.) No internet = no e-mail and no blogging. Then, when I get back to the office, there's the mountain of catch-up work to do before I take off for the next trip.
Therefore, I apologize in advance for a sporadic posting to this site. Please don't think I've forgotten your questions. I haven't--and I promise I will get to them. I will post daily when I'm in town and when my work schedule allows it, so check back often. But for the summer, if I miss a few days here and there, please be understanding.
(BTW--I have been amazed at the response to this blog. I very much appreciate all the kind and wonderful e-mailed comments I've been getting. I also enjoy reading your opinions on what I have posted--whether you agree or disagree. I'm sure other readers of this blog would love reading your comments and opinions as much as I do. I encourage all of you to consider posting comments and opinions in the comments trails, and e-mailing questions to me.)
- It's not in our niche. We just don't publish [insert your genre here].
- We've filled our schedule. Believe it or not, publishers do not have money trees out behind the warehouse. If we can only fit 5 or 50 or 500 books in our budget, and your manuscript is number 6 or 51 or 501, we have to reject.
- We don't think we can sell it. You may have written a masterpiece, but if there's a glut in the market for that topic or that genre just isn't selling well at the moment, we will probably reject.
- Your treatment doesn't fit the market. This is an LDS market and some treatments will not fly here. If your murder mystery is too bloody, your romance too explicit, your fictionalized history takes too many liberties with the accepted version of the story (example: biblical stories or events from early Church history), then we won't publish it.
- Your topic is contrary to LDS doctrine. I shouldn't have to explain this one, but based upon some submissions I've received, apparently it's not as obvious as I think it is. When you submit to an LDS pubisher, your manuscript must support LDS beliefs. You wouldn't expect a Catholic publisher to accept a manuscript proclaiming the pope to be a polygamist or a Christian publisher to accept a manuscript proclaiming Christ to be a myth, would you?
- We have recently accepted/published another book with a similar plot or theme.
Regardless of the reason, rejection can be disheartening, but don't let it stop you. There is hope behind every rejection.
If you're rejected due to writing quality, keep writing. Writing is a skill. The more you practice, the better you will get. I believe that there is no manuscript that is so bad it can't be fixed with enough time, patience and rewrites. I also believe there is no such thing as a wasted effort. Even if you choose to scrap your original manuscript (or your first dozen manuscripts) and start on something entirely different, the process of writing those first unpublishable works is invaluable.
If you're rejected due to one of the reasons listed above, keep submitting. Submit that manuscript to other publishers, as many as you can. Submit new manuscripts to publishers who've rejected you before. Eventually, you will find that serendipitous moment when the manuscript you've submitted fits the needs of the publisher you've submitted it to. And that makes it all worth the effort.
Web marketing is a wonderful tool. It's one of the least expensive ways to market and promote yourself as a writer and to let people all over the world know about your books. Every author should have at least one website with their writing name as the URL. If you write under several pen names, create a website for each one. If possible, create a unique website for each of your books with the title as the URL. The more ways that people can find you and your books, the better.
Websites are great, but you can't just slap up a one pager and hope that will do the trick. You need to create reasons for readers to visit your site, over and over. E-newsletters, daily blogs, contests, prizes, freebies, interactive activities--the sky is the limit. Spend a little time surfing the web for ideas. Google some of your favorite authors and see what they're doing. Which sites make you stop and look? Which ones did you bookmark and why? Which ones will you probably not visit again? Make a list of ideas and then brainstorm ways to make them your own and use them on your site.
As a publisher, I spend part of nearly every work day looking for new and exciting ways to promote my authors and their books. Finding good promotional ideas is part of my job, and it's part of your job too. Here's a link to an article on Web Marketing for Writers to get you started. (Note: I am NOT promoting this site, this company or their services. Just this one article.)
Here are links to a few LDS authors who are using some of these web marketing ideas, chosen from a completely random sampling of about 40 LDS author websites.** I've decided to give them "Webbie" awards.
HONORABLE MENTION "WEBBIES"
"Webbie" for Promotion of New Release:
Robison Wells (the two sites promoting his upcoming release: The Unknown Patriot and Trial of the Century)
"Webbie" for Free Give-Aways & Contests:
Shirley Bahlmann (free e-book)
Julie Coulter Bellon (contests)
"Webbie" for Great Visuals & Other Cool Stuff:
James Dashner (great visuals and music)
Jeffrey Savage (contests, newsletter, "secrets", "cool stuff"--makes you want to click on the link)
"Webbie" for 'I Might As Well Earn Money While I'm Doing This':
Julie Wright (google ads earn you money)
OVER ALL RUNNER-UP "WEBBIE"
Lisa J. Peck (e-news, interlinked websites for CTR Club books, Escaping the Shadows, Surviving Abuse, Mothers of the Prophets series)
FIRST PLACE "WEBBIE"
Rachel Nunes (very interactive & has everything I've mentioned as being good ideas for a website)
**Obviously, I have not visited every single LDS author's website, nor do I intend to. This was a completely random sampling gleaned from various author forums and support sites. If you think you do a great job of web marketing and you are not on this very short list, feel free to add your link in the comments trail.
If I get a lot of comments and links on this post, maybe we'll do it again in a few months, and you can nominate sites for me to go look at.
If anyone knows of anything I can do to jiggle the settings and/or code that will make this site display better on a Mac, please e-mail instructions.
Also, just curious, what is considered an average number of copies of my book that the publisher will print? And do I get any of those copies free? Or do I have to go to the store to buy them like everyone else?
Like word count, this depends upon the type of book. It also depends on things like how confident your publisher is that it will sell well, how much money they have to invest in your project, how energetic you are about marketing and promoting your book, how many pre-release orders they get, how the industry is doing, whether they print in the USA or overseas, which way the wind is blowing that morning and whether or not they’ve had a recent fight with their spouse. (Oh, no. Strike those last two.)
For the LDS market, an initial print run on a new book/author is 2,500—5,000 copies, although this does vary between companies. If you’re a big name (like a prophet), the first print run is probably closer to 10,000, maybe more. If your initial print run sells through quickly (in the first 3 months), then the next print run could be much higher.
Most companies will give the author a certain number of free copies, then allow you to purchase additional copies at a wholesale price, which you can give away or sell yourself. The terms and conditions for purchasing and reselling your own titles are usually spelled out in your contract. You should never have to go buy your book at the store.
Is there a particular way of formatting my manuscript that I should know about? If I do it wrong, will they automatically reject me?
Check your publisher’s website and see if they have any special formatting guidelines. You will find that most of them are pretty similar. 99.9% of publishers will be satisfied with the guidelines posted on this website. (Except I prefer Times, rather than Courier. Easier on MY eyes.)
If you do it wrong, it may or may not lead to rejection—depending on what it is you’ve done. I absolutely refuse to read a manuscript that is smaller than 10 pt type and single spaced. Or if the margins go all the way to the edge of the page. Or if it’s in some really obnoxious font that is hard to read, or set in all caps. Or if it’s printed on neon or patterned paper, or paper that has been wadded up and then flattened out again. Or if it’s been sprayed with perfume. Believe it or not, authors will do this thinking it will set them apart from the rest of the slush pile. It does, but not in a good way.
Received a letter that asked several questions all in one. I'm going to break it up into chunks for easier reading.
I’m working on my first novel and I was wondering if there is a
minimum/maximum word or page count that I should aim for? If my novel is too short or too long, will that cause it to be rejected?
Word count is secondary to the quality of writing, but it is important.
The average length of a book depends on what you’re writing. A children’s novel is 20,000 to 40,000. YA or middle grades are 40,000 to 60,000. Adult fiction is 70,000+. These are the general rules of thumb, but they are not hard and fast. As we’ve seen with Harry Potter, if the story is captivating enough, you can go longer--but probably not on a first book. Sometimes you can go shorter, but then you get into the psychology of price vs perceived value.
For first novels, I recommend sticking close to the averages if you can. A word count outside of the averages will not necessarily produce an automatic rejection, but the quality of your writing, the freshness of your story must be able to support a deviation from the norm.
As to figuring word count: Unless your publisher tells you to do so, do not figure word count based on your software word counter. Format your page according to industry standards (see post on formatting) and then figure you have an average of 250 words per page. Multiply that by the number of pages and that is your word count.
2. Finish your manuscript. A fiction work needs to be completed before you start sending queries. Make sure it’s your best work. If there are any parts that you feel aren’t quite up to snuff, work them out.
For non-ficton, a solid outline is usually adequate in the query stage, but I’m going to have to see finished product before I send a contract. Until then, you’re writing on spec. Hopefully, you write fast because “hot topics” can change quickly.
Before you call it done, have your manuscript read by 6 to 10 other people who know something about writing in general and your genre/subject area in specific. These need to be people who will be completely honest with you and won’t pull punches. (Recommended: a good writers group; Not recommended: mother, sister, husband, best friend.) Clean up your manuscript based on the suggestions of your readers.
3. Do research. Research the publishing house you’re sending it to. Read the submission guidelines on their website. Make sure they are looking for manuscripts in your genre/area. Make a quick call and ask the secretary who to address the submission to. Also ask them how to spell the editor’s name correctly.
4. Address. Address the query to the right person, name spelled correctly. If you use a title (Mr., Mrs., Queen-of-the-World, etc.), make sure you use the right one.
5. Introductory Paragraph. Introduce yourself briefly, making realistic statements about your writing ability and how much I might enjoy the book. Also, tell me how you came to submit to me. A referral by a current author or another publisher or someone I personally know is a plus. But don’t name drop unless it’s legitimate. I will check up on you.
If you don’t have a personal referral, just tell me how you heard about me and why you think I might like your book. Example: "I saw your company listed as an LDS publisher on the XYZ list. I went to your website and noticed that you’ve published several [genre or topic]. I believe my book will fit nicely with those…"
6. Pitch Paragrpah. Tell me about your book. What is the genre? Give me a brief synopsis. Who is your target audience? Why will they buy it as opposed to the 27 others like it on the shelf? Again, be realistic. You could say, “Readers who enjoyed ABC might also enjoy this book.”
7. Credentials. Brief description of your publishing credentials, if you have them. (Self-publishing only counts if your books were carried in bookstores and you sold more than 2,000 copies.)
Don't be afraid to say this is your first book. Every single published author had a first book.
If you’re submitting non-fiction, this would be where you tell me about your expertise in the area. Example: a nutritionist writing about a new weight loss program. I also consider life experience to be a credential, if it applies to the subject area. A formerly 300 pound homemaker can speak to weight loss as well.
8. Conclusion Paragraph. If you have some good marketing ideas, you might do a 1-2 sentence pitch on that. Otherwise, just say something polite and end the letter.
9. Clean Up. Run the spell check. Let it sit for a day, then print it out and read it to make sure you haven’t left out words, etc. Print your query in an easy-to-read font: 12 point type, Times, regular spacing. If you e-query, do a virus check before sending it. Also, do not attach a document file as your query letter. Just copy and paste it straight into the body of the e-mail.
10. Include SASE. (I know some of you don't believe in SASEs, but you asked for MY tips for a good query, and this is one of them.)
If you e-query, put the editor’s e-mail address in your address book so the reply does not bounce back. Also, if you have any of those annoying programs that make people “register” before they can send you e-mail, turn it off. Or get a separate e-mail address just for submissions, and don’t give out the address to anyone but editors or publishers. (And an address like firstname.lastname@example.org is probably not the best for creating a professional, businesslike impression.)
If you need more specific help, ask your published writer friends if you can see the query they used to get their book accepted. But don't cookie-cutter it. You are original. Your book is original. Your query should be original too. (And whatever you do, don't buy one of those software programs that writes your query for you!)