Writing a Query Letter for Your Novel

 

Back in the day, a writer could drop the full manuscript of his or her novel over a publisher’s transom (thus the term “over-the-transom,” or unsolicited, submission). . . . The prospective editor would then read the manuscript, love it (or hate it), and a novel would be born (or die). Publishing was simple. Life was simple.

Life is not as simple these days, and neither is publishing. Editors at the publishing houses get so many submissions now, if they were still to accept over-the-transom manuscripts, they wouldn’t be able to push open the door to their building in the morning, let alone read all the manuscripts blocking their passage.

Today the proper route to take is to first find an agent (unless, of course, you’re planning to self-publish, but that’s for another blog post entirely). And don’t even think about sending a full manuscript off to an agent unsolicited.

But how does a manuscript get solicited?

The simple answer is: the query letter.

There are many styles of query letters and numerous how-to books telling you how to write one. But if you find yourself overwhelmed and unsure where to start, try getting your feet wet with some simple guidelines laid out by my colleague at the L.A. Editors and Writers Group: Kristen Weber on How to Write a Perfect Query Letter.

Good luck and keep the faith!

Weathering Rejection

 

The first time I had a piece of writing rejected (which was the first time I sent a piece of writing out), I called the first writer I had ever met (my mom, Hindi Brooks) to deliver the bad news.

“I got my first rejection,” I said. “They’re not going to publish my story.”

“Congratulations,” my mom said to me. “Now you’re a real writer!”

A ray of sun broke through the dark cloud hanging over my head, and I stood a little taller.

I tucked that one into my belt and sent out another story.

Thanks, Mom. You helped me weather the storm of rejection that every writer must walk through on their way to getting published.

Do You Have to Write a Book Proposal?

 

Many new writers are daunted by the prospect of writing a book proposal. And not without reason. A good proposal requires a substantial amount of work. But if you do it right, you’ve also done some of the hard work of writing the book itself. You’ll end up with a solid, detailed outline, a polished chapter or two, and a clear sense of what your book will look and feel like, as well as who your audience is. You’ll even have an idea of what you need to do to sell your book.

Sell your book? Won’t the publisher do that? Yes and no. Even if you do get a publisher, rather than publishing your book on your own, you will need to do a lot of the promotion. And much of that promotion will begin long before your book is published. In fact, the promotion should begin even before you approach an agent; this early “promotion” is called building a platform.

Are there ways around writing a book proposal? Well, first of all, book proposals are primarily for nonfiction (though many agents are now requesting query letters, which are a sort of mini-proposal, for fiction as well). The only way around writing a proposal for a nonfiction book is to independently publish, which is now a viable and respectable alternative (but is itself a lot of work, since you’ll be the sole promoter).

To find out more about writing a proposal, including what kinds of information you need to include, check out this article by my colleague Christina Blackett Schlank.

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)

 

Did you know that November is National Novel Writing Month? That’s right. Every November thousands of slightly crazy people all over the world (200,000 last year) participate in this month-long novel-writing frenzy. “The goal,” says the NaNoWriMo web site, “is to write a 50,000 word (approximately 175 page) novel by 11:59:59, November 30.” But wait, fingers off that keyboard! You can’t start before November 1. You can prep (i.e., outline, make notes, etc.). But the NaNoWriMo guidelines say you’re not allowed to actually start writing the novel before the “starting gun” fires.

Some of you may be thinking: “Oh, that’s not for me. That’s for veteran writers with several books under their belt.” Not true. Sure there are lots of experienced writers who participate. But NaNoWriMo is actually perfect for the individual who has always wanted to write a novel but is too daunted to actually begin.

“Because of the limited writing window,” says the web site, “the ONLY thing that matters in NaNoWriMo is output. It’s all about quantity, not quality.” The site goes on to say, “Make no mistake: You will be writing a lot of crap. And that’s a good thing. By forcing yourself to write so intensely, you are giving yourself permission to make mistakes. To forgo the endless tweaking and editing and just create.” Perfect for breaking the meanest of writer’s blocks!

There’s even plenty of support and community surrounding NaNoWriMo. Just check out their web site (below); there are forums, groups, and ways to share the experience.

Have I ever participated in National Novel Writing Month? Hell no! (My body hurts just thinking about sitting at the computer for that many hours.) But if you think you can do it without hurting yourself, then go for it! It’s certain to get you past any writer’s block.

So, get yourself ready. NaNoWriMo starts in just 4 days. But don’t forget to sign up!

To Sign up for NaNoWriMo: http://www.nanowrimo.org

To read more about NaNoWriMo: http://www.nanowrimo.org/en/about/whatisnano

For the guidelines: http://www.nanowrimo.org/en/about/hownanoworks

Writing Is Rewriting

 

Barbara DeSantis, a colleague of mine from the Los Angeles Editors and Writers Group (LAEWG), has just written an insightful article for our LAEWG web site about rewriting.  She includes a helpful, and humorous, list of writing Do’s and Don’ts. For a reality check on whether you really need to write that second (or third or ninth) draft, go check it out on our Write Angles page.

Nomi’s Blog

 

Nomi Isak (aka Nomi Kleinmuntz) is an award-winning book editor and writing coach. She has been the editor on more than 35 published books, and her clients include the J. Paul Getty Museum, Time-Warner AudioBooks, University of California Press, and numerous individual authors. She was the developmental editor on Illuminating the Renaissance (J. Paul Getty), which won the international Eric Mitchell Prize in 2004. She is also a writer herself and has been published in regional magazines. Currently she is at work on a novel.