Are You Making These Silly Query Mistakes?
Beth Ann Erickson
Sitting on this side of the editorial desk is amazing. I hear stories about how hard it is to get published, all the while reviewing queries that cross my desk.
This unique perspective has vividly illustrated an interesting phenomenon in the publishing world: It's not hard to get published, what's evidently hard is writing something publishers need. Let me explain.
When it comes to queries and proposals, we rarely reject a manuscript due to sloppy writing. Writers tend to be an educated and talented lot. Nine times out of ten the problem lies in one of these areas:
The author hasn't read the submission guidelines.
We publish (maybe) one piece of fiction per year. Yet 99 percent of all queries received are for fiction. We're clear about this in our guidelines, yet the queries flow in. Of the remaining one percent, most queries are not in our genre. We probably receive one appropriate query every six months, if that.
Next problem, getting the name wrong. My name isn't “Bart.” Maury's name isn't “Mary.” Our name isn't “editor” either. Personalize the query for a better chance of getting it read.
Finally, we don't publish books over 100k words. We say this in the guidelines. Yet, we receive queries for (up to) 250k words. That's simply too long. It makes for a big, expensive book that we'll have trouble selling.
Simple fix? Read the submission guidelines carefully before submitting. Your competition isn't doing this so you've got an automatic leg up.
Snail mailing a query without a SASE will usually not receive a response.
When I've got my marketing hat on, I know it's imperative to make it effortless for a prospective customer to respond to my offer. I slip in a SASE. I make the order form easy to navigate. I do everything I can to make the process simple because even one extra step can depress response by a LOT.
Not including a SASE is a big mistake. Some writers will include an e-mail address, but I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for a response. That would require effort on the part of the publisher. I'm not saying we're a lazy bunch, but I can say we're busy and sending rejections is not fun. Any “not fun” activity gets put off until... well... until we've got a spare minute to craft a response, correctly type in the e-mail address, and hit “send.” And that spare minute can be a long time in coming.
Also, sending queries via e-mail can be tricky as well. More than once, I've received a frustrated e-mail from an author asking why I didn't respond to their query. Sometimes I didn't realize they sent a query.
Spam filters can catch your e-mail. Sometimes an overzealous “deleting” session can toss it in the “trash” unread. Who knows?
Follow up your queries with a polite e-mail or send it snail mail and include a SASE.
Not researching your target publisher
Know your reader. It's every writer's mantra. If you can touch your reader, you'll sell your work.
The same goes for the query process.
Capture the voice of your intended audience... the publisher. Read what they've published. Find out what they're looking for and give it to them. Ask yourself, “Who are their readers?” “How can I serve them?” “What can I do to make their readers' lives better, easier, more fun?”
Once you've answered these questions, you can better write a query that will literally knock off their socks. :)
Demonstrating no marketing knowledge
Most queries focus on the author. “I'm the author of...” “I've written...” “My education includes...”
Sure, this is important information, but there's a better way to frame it.
Whenever you write something... anything... always write directly to your reader. This creates an interesting situation for you as a writer. Your article, book, whatever you're pitching should speak directly to your reader while your query should speak directly to the potential publisher about their readers.
Sure, you may hold an important degree in a particular subject, but why should the reader care? What's in it for them?
If you concentrate your queries on answering the all-important “what's in it for me” question that inevitably dominates all reader's minds, you've just increased your chances of making the sale.
When you concentrate on your reader, compellingly answer “what's in it for me,” you're demonstrating solid marketing knowledge. Your potential publisher will appreciate your marketing savvy.
Your book doesn't have a large potential readership
Publishing is all about readership, not authors. If your project has a limited readership, your work likely won't get published.
Now, don't get the terms “limited readership” confused with “niche.”
A niche consists of a small, targeted subjects, a sliver of overall readership. Dominating a niche is a good thing. Even becoming a leader in a sub-niche is good. Once you've mastered a niche, you've got it made.
“Limited readership” on the other hand, is selecting a readership so small that you can't drum enough readers to support your writing habit.
For example, it's been my experience that it's really tough for a poet to make a living as a writer, not because poetry isn't cool, it's an art form I truly admire, there simply aren't enough readers willing to shell out the dough to purchase poetry. Fiction runs a close second.
The late Gary Halbert said that to become a success in your market, “find a hungry mob, then build a hamburger stand in their path.”
I agree. Find a niche, become the resident expert, master rudimentary marketing techniques, carefully read the writer's guidelines, and most of all... have fun.
And that's when things get really interesting. :)
Beth Ann Erickson is the “Queen Bee” of Filbert Publishing. She’s also the author of numerous titles as well as the Creative Mindset Newsletter. Pick up the first seven copies today. She’s also a busy copywriter, speaker, and publisher of Writing Etc., the free e-mag for writers.
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