Wednesday, October 19, 2005

How you can simplify the query and submission process

We need to simplify, people!  I am sitting here reading a giant stack of query letters and I don’t really understand why they are so different.  My web site has a lengthy article on how to write a query letter (my favorite query today actually mentioned that article, but the query itself, well, sucked).

So, I thought I would give you a bit of feedback on how to simply format and write your query letter.  Do go read the other article also, but add what you read here to what you read there and put it all together.

Your Name
Your Address
Your telephone number
Your email address

Dear Mr. Zack:

Write no more than three sentences designed to catch my attention.  For example:  When a young, idealistic law school graduate gets the job of his dreams, he couldn’t be happier...until he comes to realize that all is not right at his new firm, and that his new firm is actually just a front for a very old business:  the Mafia.  Can he get out of the offer he couldn’t refuse?  Or will he and everyone he loves swim with the fishes?

Next, write one paragraph synopsizing the story.  Now, since I read the book many years ago, I won’t try and sum up The Firm here, but I bet you get my drift.

Next, give me three sentences about you.  Who are you?  Is there anything I should know that brings a “nonfiction hook” to this story?  Are you a lawyer?  Are you in the Mafia?  You get the drift.

Enclose a #10 self-addressed, stamped envelope, preferably self-sealing.  Don’t use a bigger envelope, please.  Do not send anything that needs to be returned.

Additionally, if you visit the submissions page of my web site, you’ll find statistics on how many queries, submissions, etc., I’ve gotten over the year.  For example, in September 2005, I received ninety-seven queries and declined ninety.  I also received twenty-two requested sample chapters (please, please, please don’t send me a sample chapter unless I request one), and rejected seven.  I also requested thirteen.  So far, for October, I’ve received seventy-eight queries and rejected twenty-nine (this would explain the giant pile of queries I am currently looking at!).  I’ve gotten in thirteen requested sample chapters and rejected thirty-three (gotta love plane and train trips for the reading time!).  I’ve requested an unprecedented four full manuscripts, of which I have received one.

Also, on the submissions page, you’ll find the following:  “If you queried us prior to June 1, 2005, you should have had a response, one way or another.  If you have not, then the response was likely lost in the mail and you should send us a new query.  If you sent us a requested sample chapter in January 2005 or later, we have likely not yet considered it.”

Why do I take the time to post all this?  So that you can check the status of your submission without following up with me directly.  Now, the truth is, I think I’m up to about March 2005.  If you sent me a requested sample chapter prior to that, and haven’t had a response, chances are the response was lost in the mail.

Now, I don’t claim my tracking system is perfect, so there may be exceptions (I recently discovered that one pile of reading was out of order and about twenty partials that were far older were buried under some newer ones; I fixed that and am now reading the older ones), but I think that March date is accurate.

Here’s a tip on putting together a requested sample chapter and synopsis:  Put a cover letter on top, reminding me that I requested it.  Next, a title page with your contact info on it.  Next, your sample chapter.  Finally, your synopsis, which should be five pages, max, double-spaced.  Don’t staple or paperclip anything.  Use a small binder clip to put the whole package together.  Much simpler, no?

Thanks so much for paying attention to these suggestions.  Hopefully they will assist me in moving through material more quickly.



Bernita said...

Very clear.
Thank you.

Companion said...

Mr. Zack,
One comment on queries and SASEs coming from Canada. I recently sent you a query, but unfortunately could only provide a voucher for a stamp - the Canadian post office does not sell US stamps. Although I included the voucher, I hardly expect you to use it (as it requires you to go down to the post office). I am sure, however, that all Canadians who send you a query would appreciate a respone of some sort. Would it be possible to reply via email?

Mike Stewart

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