Monday, March 16, 2015

Marsha Hubler's Writing Tip: The All Important Query Letter


Marsha Hubler's latest project is for ladies of all ages. Moving from juvenile fiction, she has written an Amish/Mennonite romance series entitled THE LOVES OF SNYDER COUNTY. The first book, BACHELOR'S CHOICE, was released by Helping Hands Press on July 2nd of 2012, with two sequels to follow, TEACHER'S PET and LOVE SONG FOR LOUELLEN. She also has written 12 short stories about her Amish/Mennonite characters in her series. All 12 stories have been released as separate e-stories over the last year in the SNYDER COUNTY'S QUILTING BEE SERIES I compilation. Marsha is presently working on the second set of 12 "shorts" for the SNYDER COUNTY QUILTING BEE SERIES II. She's also working on a girl/horse juvenile fiction series entitled THE LOVING HOOFS RESCUE RANCH SERIES, title one called SNOW, PHANTOM STALLION OF THE POCONOS. Living in central PA in a community populated by the Amish and Mennonite folk, Marsha's accurate portrayal of their lifestyles enhances her writing style, bringing life to her Snyder County characters. Marsha is the author of the eight-book best-selling Keystone Stables juvenile fiction series by Zonderkidz. She also is the author of three other kids' books, a Bible study guide for ladies, and a homeschooling helps book. She has a master's degree in education, has over 40 years experience in education, and is presently a homeschool consultant in central Pennsylvania. Marsha has always loved kids and horses. She's been a foster parent and had owned horses for over 20 years. Her "Skye and Champ" stories in the Keystone Stables books reflect many of her own "wild" experiences with kids and horses. She also loves dogs and has two mixed terriers, Skippy and Bailey, who she adopted from a no-kill rescue shelter. Living in a rural farm area of Pennsylvania affords Marsha the luxury of enjoying her three-acre property with her husband and dogs. She has a goldfish pond and a gazebo in her backyard. Most of all, she is thankful to God for allowing her to write books. She accepted Christ as her Savior at the age of eleven, and now she can look back and see how God prepared her to write books. She considers it a special calling to write, especially for young people, and share biblical principles with which her readers can have happy and productive lives.Marsha loves to hear from her fans and horse lovers.

That Important Query Letter

As a published author for the last 20 years and as an acquisitions editor for the last eighteen months, I can’t  emphasize enough the importance of writing a good query letter to catch the eye of that key person at the publishing company.

I’ve known more than a handful of newbie writers who didn’t do their homework, some not even knowing what a query letter is, and contacted editors in a very unprofessional manner. A few writers (right off the bat) sent their entire manuscripts to publishing companies in hard copy (even in this electronic age), and when they heard nothing from the editors, they were perplexed, some insulted to the core that they had been ignored.

Well, folks, that’s not how it’s done! (Their manuscripts probably landed in File 13!)

Editors are extremely busy, and it only takes one of them with years of experience to read a paragraph of anything a writer submits to decide whether to read on. A writer who sends more than a query letter at first decreases his/her chance of even being considered, let alone being read.

A well-written query letter will get the attention of that editor, nothing else, but how important is that? So let’s take a look at the components of a good query letter, which should be no longer than one page:

1.      Introduction of your work. (Include any awards or credits the work has earned if submitted to any contests and placed)

2.     Short synopsis of the work, including the main character, the plot, the time frame, the genre, and word count.

3.     Explanation of why your target audience would like the work.

4.     A list of your related credits (If you have a long list of publications in genres not related to this project’s genre, delete them.)

5.     Thanks to the editor for considering your work.

6.     Closing and signature

7.     Sample pages attached IF the guidelines request them.

Now, let’s look at an excellent sample query letter (compliments of

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Dear (Editor’s name, if at all possible):
According to your agency’s website you’re actively seeking middle-grade fiction, so I’m pleased to introduce my novel, A Smidgen of Sky. This novel won me a scholarship to attend the Highlights Foundation Writers Workshop at Chautauqua. It was also awarded honorable mention in the Smart Writers W.I.N. Competition. A Smidgen of Sky is the story of ten-year-old Piper Lee DeLuna, a spunky, impulsive dreamer, whose fierce devotion to her missing father is threatened by her mother’s upcoming remarriage.
Everyone else has long accepted her father’s death, but the fact that his body was never recovered from his wrecked plane leads to Piper’s dream that he might one day reappear and free her from the secret guilt she harbors over his accident. Her stubborn focus leaves no room in her affections for her mother’s fiancĂ©, Ben, or his princess-like daughter, Ginger.  Determined to stop the wedding, Piper Lee schemes up “Operation Finding Tina”—a sure plan to locate Ben’s ex-wife and get the two of them back together. But just as Piper succeeds with step one of her plan, a riot breaks out at the prison where Ben works, and suddenly nothing seems sure.
Since middle-graders care deeply about things and people and love to daydream about their future, I think readers will identify with Piper Lee and find her an appealing heroine as she learns that you can both cherish the past and embrace the future. This story, set in the coastal region of Georgia, runs about 33,000 words and is somewhat similar in tone to Kate DiCamillo’s Because of Winn-Dixie.
I’m a 1990 graduate of the Institute of Children’s Literature, and my work has been published in U*S* Kids, Child Life, Columbia Kids, True Love, Guide and StoryPlus.
Thanks very much for your time. I have included the first ten pages and look forward to hearing from you.
Yours truly,
(Signature)
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I have two last thoughts. If you’ve submitted queries to other companies, list the companies’ names and the dates you sent the queries. Also, although this query letter sample suggests sending ten pages of the manuscript with the letter, I beg to differ. I believe that’s a little too presumptuous on the part of the author. I’d submit the query letter only and wait for feedback from the editor. If he/she wants to consider your work, he/she will ask for a proposal or the entire manuscript.
So, write a good query then be prepared to wait. Sometimes it takes three to six months to hear from a publishing company. Unfortunately, some companies have the policy that if you don’t hear from them at all, they’re not interested. And that’s a hard pill to swallow, but that’s the way the publishing business is.
Work hard to craft an excellent query letter, and you’re on your way to being published!
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Note from Patti:  Marsha, thank you so much for sharing your expertise.  Query letters can be tricky and the information you provided is something I know I'll be using, as well as many others!
 

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