My Cheat Sheet Checklist to Querying your novel (with advice and links)
I just queried my novel for the first time and let me tell you it felt harder than writing the novel itself!
After knowing our novels inside and out, and all the twist and turns, how can you possible take a 100,000 word story and write a pitch in just a page? It feels impossible.
Apparently, even seasoned authors struggle with this, which is why there are publishing teams that help with such things. But what about the rest of us who are un-agented?
We have to do it ourselves. But the nice thing about that is there is a huge community of writers and authors who can shed some light as well as some trusty blogs with detailed instructions.
With great appreciation to the resources that helped me, I thought I’d do a one and done checklist for anyone looking to query in the near future.
The articles and advice listed below are from other fellow writers and professionals who’ve been around the block...
1. Read the submission instructions of the agent or publisher you are querying very carefully.
If you don’t understand what they’re asking, do some research. I had to do that many times to ensure I was following directions properly. The last thing you want to do is mess up the format or forget to include a document they've asked for. Don’t let that be the reason they pass on your work.
2. Prepare each document with care.
Some publishers may ask for the full manuscript, some may ask for the first ten pages. Some may want just a query letter alongside it and others may want an additional separate author bio and synopsis. Nonetheless, ensure you do your best to include the appropriate information in each document.
3. The Query Letter.
Often this is what a publisher or agent will read first. If a synopsis is also required in addition to the query letter, make sure you include a quick pitch about your book, including tidbits about your plot and characters.
"It’s basically a teaser, and will make them more likely to check out the synopsis." - This is the advice I received from seasoned author Joe Powers who is a great mentor and creative writing guru. His online class - Crafting The Short Story, helped me start and write my first novel.
For more information about Joe and his novels, please checkout his website and bio at the end of this post.
The best way to prepare your query is to see examples from others. Here are example query letters I found online. 161 Examples of Successful Query Letters from Famous Authors
When I queried Berkley, they outlined what they like to see in a query letter and this described format seems common across the board: “A query letter is an introductory one page letter that tells an editor something about the story, something about the writer, and why Berkley should publish the book.”
*Make sure to include links to your author website and social channels within your query letter.
More tips from author Joe Powers when querying:
“It's a good idea to look at other books in your genre, and get a feel for what the pros are doing with their blurbs.
“Touch on the most exciting points of your book and don’t go into boring details or backstory. Think of it as a movie trailer. You have 30 seconds or less to convince people to read your book. There's lots of time for back story once they’ve started reading the book. The sharpest hook snags the juiciest meat, as they say.”
“Run your blurb/pitch past your fellow writers for feedback. People know what grabs them, even if they can't always identify why.”
“Remember not to be too vague, and open a door that makes a reader want to step through and see what the fuss is about.”
The best articles I found on crafting a query writing were:
The following articles provided great insight on how to write a novel synopsis:
Tips from author Joe Powers when writing your synopsis:
“Your synopsis should go more in-depth. Some publishers want the ending/spoilers included, some don't. I've done it both ways. Generally, if I'm unsure I include the ending. I figure if they don't want it spoiled they should specify that in the submission guidelines. Plus, most publishers want to know if they like the ending before they bother to put any time into it, only to be disappointed. Again, it varies a lot. At the end of the day, trust your instincts.”
5. Author Bio
Make sure your author bio highlights information relevant to your credentials as a writer. Even if you haven't been published before, ensure you write your bio to reflect what has influenced you as a writer and your prior experience. If it's not relevant to writing, don't include it. See the links below for more guidance!
6. Preparing your manuscript
Number one rule: finish your manuscript. Even if the agent or publisher asks for the first ten pages, they expect your book to be fully finished. You don’t want to send your ten pages and have an agent be interested only to find the book isn’t finished! We writers are always so eager to share our work, but in this case, patience is a virtue. Get that book done, and then query.
Get feedback from fellow writers on your story and first ten pages. Having someone review and critique your work can make it that much better! Your critique partners will be able to spot if your voice is engaging and if your genre is apparent in those first few chapters.
I received great feedback from fellow writers, and I also had the opportunity to participate in Writer Digest’s workshop The First Ten Pages Bootcamp in November 2021, where an agent reviewed my first ten pages and provided feedback. It helped me so much in preparing my first query.
Make sure the manuscript you submit is fined tuned and edited for grammar/spelling. Have someone you trust proof read before you hit submit, because we all know what our brains do when we write and re-write a document a hundred times - you get blind to mistakes.
Read the directions very carefully to ensure you submit your manuscript to your publisher or agents preference. Some may want the full manuscript and others may want the first ten pages (2500 words). Also make sure to note how they want it submitted. Do they want a PDF attached or want it pasted right into the email as text? Make sure you don’t miss that detail.
For guidance on preparing the first ten pages of your novel, check out this article:
7. Formatting your manuscript
Here were the articles that helped me format my manuscript:
8. How to Write Your One Sentence Pitch
Many publishers want to see a one sentence pitch of your book. Here is an article that helped me:
9. Make sure to give yourself lots of time.
Sometimes there is a window period where publishers will accept submissions without agent representation, so ensure you stay in the loop on upcoming submission windows seeking work in your genre.
10. Enjoy the process.
This is a big deal! You finished your novel and are sharing it with the world. All you can control is what you put out there. It may not be what the agent or publisher is looking for at the time, but it doesn’t mean it isn’t good and it doesn’t mean it isn’t a future best seller. Don’t give up!
It’s hard to say if my manuscript will be considered, but at the end of the day I’m so glad I took this leap and learned how to query! It will only help me grow as a writer.
I hope these articles and pieces of advice help! Best of luck in your querying.
Does anyone else have amazing resources or advice on querying? Please let me know in the comments!
Berkley Open Submission Program
If you’re ready to submit your book, Berkley has an open submission up until January 9th!
A big thanks to my friend and mentor Joe Power for his querying insight!
Please checkout Joe Power’s website!
Joe Powers is a Canadian horror writer and long-time fan of all things scary. From his introduction to the genre on a stormy Saturday night at the age of six - his first viewing of Bride of Frankenstein - he's been hooked. Among his many inspirations he lists Stephen King, Jack Ketchum, Michael Crichton, Rod Serling and Richard Matheson.
Joe enjoys introducing the reader to flawed, believable characters and leading them on dark journeys with an unexpected twist. His work has appeared in various anthologies and collections, both at home and abroad. He’s published two novels, Seventeen Skulls, a paranormal crime thriller, and western/horror crossover Terror in High Water. In his spare time he's an avid hockey fan and creative writing instructor. He lives in New Brunswick with his wife, Sheryl, and an assortment of furry creatures. Follow Joe at www.joepowersauthor.com