In preparation for the open submissions period I’m reading for at Dragon Moon Press, I posted a list of quick last-minute tips for sending out query letters.
Here’s the continuation. Tips, part two: some helpful things to keep in mind when giving your queries a last look-over, to help you avoid some common mistakes.
In no particular order:
1. “Double spaced” refers to the space between lines, not the space between words. Also, word processing programs have a setting to adjust line spacing. Please don’t do it manually with the “return” key.
2. Word count guidelines may have a bit of wiggle room, but 40,000 words on either side is not a wiggle. Consider the guidelines for each market. If they specify a general length, it’s because that’s what they print. Use your own judgment if your word count is close, but remember that submitting something much too long or much too short is not much different than giving them the wrong genre: even if it’s good, it’s something they can’t use.
3. You do have a bit of wiggle room with the request for sample pages. Please end the sample at the end of a paragraph. Or at least, at the end of a sentence. You don’t have to cut off the submission mid-sentence (or in the middle of a hyphenated word!) because that’s where page ten ends.
4. Pitches need to be easy to follow. It is essential to explain your plot in a way that other people can understand. If they can’t follow it, they won’t care about it.
When a pitch is too complicated to follow, it’s usually for one of two reasons: either the author is trying to squeeze in too much secondary information, or there are a lot of ambiguous statements or misplaced/dangling modifiers, in which case the information needs to be rearranged into a more logical flow.
5. A pitch has to hook an editor, agent or reader on the story. Please tell me who the main character is, what conflict happens, and what’s at stake.
See #4, above. You do not need to cover every subplot in your pitch. Who is the main character, and what is the main conflict? Boil it down to that, and make it interesting. If you can’t do that, you need to think about your story more clinically, from a distance, without getting entangled in subplots and complications. Boiling it down that far may force you to leave out a lot that you think is important. That’s okay. A pitch isn’t the place for all the details and subplots. It’s just a quick, compelling hook that raises questions and makes someone want to know more.
6. A pitch should not be a list of the “kinds of things” that happen in the novel. I’m not interested in a book that’s a disconnected series of events, I’m interested in a book with a good story. Telling me “this is an adventure involving kidnapping, police-chases and a run-in with a rogue band of lemurs” doesn’t tell me why those things happen or why they matter. The fact that those things happen doesn’t actually tell me very much about the book.
7. You don’t have to query to ask if it’s okay to query. Many of the pre-query notes I receive explain that they’re checking in advance so that they don’t waste my time. That’s very considerate and well-meaning, but it takes just as much time and consideration to read a pitch that doesn’t call itself a query as it does to read a query. I’m still reading through the letter and trying to decide if the manuscript would be a fit for my list… I just have less information to go on, and it’s not in a format that makes it easy for me to see what I’m getting. At least if you go ahead and query properly, you’ll have a chance at the end of it.
8. Please pick only one manuscript to submit to a given market at a time, unless the guidelines request otherwise — either the one you feel is your strongest, or your completed manuscript that best suits the guidelines.
9. No colored or fancy text or fonts means just that. Not even a little bit of color or fancy font to highlight specific words for emphasis.
10. If you have prior publication credits, please tell us what they are. Book name and publisher helps.
11. When we say “please include your contact email address in the body of the message,” we really mean it. Please. It’s not just a test to see if you’re following directions. Sometimes forwarding programs can handle the address field strangely and the address can be lost.
12. If you are asked to supply an attachment, please make sure your name and contact info are on that, too. Also try to incorporate your title and/or last name (preferably both) in the file name so that it can be identified as yours at a glance.
13. The name and subject fields are your first impression when you send an electronic submission. We all get nervous and make simple mistakes, and I try not to count nervous mistakes against anyone — I’ve made them, myself. But when I see a typo in the book title in the subject line, it sets an expectation about what I’ll see in the body of the message, whether I want it to or not. Just, take an extra moment and look everything over one last time before you hit “send.” You’ll be glad you did.