Another sample query letter

Below is another sample query letter from one of our upcoming novels, Damewood: Demons of the Past. This query not only gives a pretty good idea of what the book is about, it is written in a format that makes the reader think about what the author is saying, not just processing the short synopsis.

The best part of this query is that it jumps right into the novel. It does not open with “I would like to offer up for consideration of my novel…” or “My name is Joe, and I have been writing since I could hold a pencil…” By going right into the “hook,” it demands attention and forces our eyes to go on, wanting to read more.

Dear Mr. Ishitani, Acquisitions Editor;

What if, in the not to near future, modern civilization were to come to an end? The technological advances of mankind have flourished beyond the highest expectations, and have escaped the controlling hands of the human race. Cloned humans and genetically engineered creatures prowl the lands, while androids and security systems move beyond the known parameters of Artificial Intelligence, pushing the earth over the edge to a third World War.

What if, though, the world did not understand this? A world that, after a prohibition of science and technology spanning nearly four centuries, had regressed to a feudalistic state unaware of its advanced past. A land that lived in fear of mutated “demons,” of shadowy forests, and of the frost destroying their spring crops. A land where only the secret of society’s past is known by a few trusted officials and mentors—who seem to have their own agenda on the upcoming successions of thrones.

What if there was a young girl who would strike out on a mission to save her kingdom and to find the answer? Nadia, the eldest princess of Damewood flees for her life after the castle is attacked by an underground cult of revolutionaries bent on bringing society back to it’s “roots.” Disguising herself as a knight, she joins a hunting party along with her “demon” horse to put an end to the massacres and retrieve a stolen key that will unlock the mysteries of the ominous Order, and the history of her people.

Cloning, world-ending wars, and futuristic technology has never been more popular as can be seen with recent books and movies such as “Armageddon,” War of the Worlds, and “I, Robot,” my novel Damewood: Demons of the Past takes those stories one step further by delving into the mind of a young girl from a land that turns its back on the ideas of race, country and technology, and is thrown into the midst of these issues with no warning or protection save her sword and trusty steed.

Thank you for your consideration of my novel. If you would like to see the rest of the book, I can be reached via phone or email. I look forward to working with you.

Sincerely,

Erin Durante

Does word count really matter

This post stemmed from a conversation over on the Editor Chat page, and since it is a question we’re emailed several times a week, I figured it would probably be a good idea to post it here.

The question was whether to use Microsoft Word’s word count tool, or to use the manual page x 250 formula.

…He gave a rule of thumb for newbies on word count as somewhere around 80,000 words for a first book, but he reccomended against using the program “Word’s” auto- count function saying it was wildly accurate. Instead he recommended calculating the word count using a formula…

In my opinion, both methods are not foolproof. Word picks up on items that aren’t really words, many times giving you a larger word count than the manuscript really is, but overall it’s fairly accurate.

The other method–multiplying the total number of pages by 250 (not 225 like the agent advised) is also inaccurate as far as word count because of the way text is laid out on the page.

For example, when it comes to dialogue, many times you will have several lines of only a few words each in an exchange that can last three to ten lines. This would skew the word count with the manual count because while the sentence “Are you serious?” is only three words, it takes up an entire line on the page, as opposed to a tight sentence of description. Both take up one line on the page, but their word count is very different.

Here, take a look.

Example 1:
“Are you serious?”
Max nodded. “Yup.”
“I can’t believe it.”
“Well you better, I heard it myself.”

Example 2:
The moon hung low in the dark sky, the waters of the black lake calm and silent.

See the difference in space that is taken up? Yet both examples are 17 words each. Same word count, but it will change the number of pages in a finished book if it keeps up those patterns.

So honestly, you can use either method. In my opinion, the exact word count doesn’t matter when a book first comes to us. Granted, we want an estimate so we know whether it’s a novella or a freaking epic that should be cut into four volumes, but that’s about as far as it goes. Especially, since no manuscript comes through our edit-happy fingers without going through some tweaking and multiple rewrites, the original word count doesn’t really apply anyway.

Once a book is edited and goes into production, word count doesn’t matter. The layout guys don’t really give a damn whether there is 84,209 or 91,659 words, they’re just going to make it look nice on the page.

Now, don’t get me wrong, exact word count is not important, but a rough estimate is. Like I said, there is a difference between a novella and a short story, just as there is a difference between a novella and a novel (and a novel and a manuscript that would eat up a redwood… ) and we do need to know what type of book we are looking at. A rough word count gives us an automatic general idea on how long the book will be, page count wise, in the finished product in multiple sizes (trade, paper, hard), which is something we do take into consideration. If you’re only talking a few thousand words, it’s not going to make much of a difference to us, just as long as you still stay in the “novel” versus “novella” categories, as we don’t even consider novella length pieces (sorry if I sound contradictory, but there is a difference between the two, and a very big difference in regards to publishing ).

So in all honesty, I wouldn’t worry about it too much. If it makes you feel better, when submitting you may include both word counts on your cover letter so that the editor can go by whichever he or she feels most comfortable using.

Another reminder about submitting

Ok, so it seems I must repeat myself–again–on our submission guidelines.

Leucrota Press has explicit instructions on what we are looking for in novels as well as how to go about sending it in. While the submissions for the most part have been following the “what we want” part by not sending us westerns or how-to books, submitters have been ignoring the “how we want it” when it comes to electronic submissions.

Submitting Your Manuscript Electronically

Lately, we’ve been getting a lot of submissions where the author just puts “Here’s a submission for ya, hope you like it!” and then pasting their three chapters (and sometimes the entire novel) into the body of the email.

…In case you’re a little behind, that’s not what we want. It’s annoying as hell to read such a long email, a pain in the ass to try to copy and paste it into Word so that we can read it later.

So, as I’ve stated before, we’ve decided to stop.

If you decide to paste your submission into the body of your email, fine, by all means go right ahead. And this is exactly what will happen:

“$#*! again? For someone who calls themselves a writer they sure don’t know how to read $#*!ing directions.”

The editor quickly scrolls the cursor across the screen to select the reply button. His fingers twiddle over the keyboard for a moment before rapidly clicking across the keys.

“Dear Author. You failed to follow directions. Sorry.”

He shakes his head, thinking about how badly he needs a drink, and hits send. He opens up the original email, and with a flick of the wrist clicks delete. He stretches his neck and moves on to the next submission, forever forgetting the naughty writer who didn’t follow directions…

Sound harsh? We thought so at first, but after giving chance after chance, it’s become the norm here. And it’s not like we’re doing anything different than what the “big houses” do. In fact, many other publishers might not even bother responding at all. So no, we’re not being mean. We’re being practical–we don’t want to deal with authors who can’t follow simple instructions on something as simple as an email.

Postal Submissions

As a quick note, those authors that have been submitting by mail have been rather good at following all directions. Though just remember to include all of the required materials when submitting by mail: ie. a SASE.

Or at least an email address or phone number. Just remember–no contact information means no response. ‘Tis the way it goes…

Just as a reminder…

Alright people, I think it’s time to refresh your memory about the purpose of this blog:

This blog is for the Editors of Leucrota Press to discuss facets of the publishing business, tips for writers, and to blow off some steam. If any writers have questions regarding our press, the publishing industry, or about submitting and manuscripts in general, please view our “Ask the Editors” tab above.

By doing this, we hope to create more writer/editor communication and understanding. Please don’t feel threatened, skittish, or reserved about asking questions, making comments, or saying things that might offend the editors – hell, we won’t hold our tongues. Come on, jump in the conversation, get involved, and help us improve by letting us know what you, the writers, need.

Note: All articles, posts, and comments are opinions of that posting editor, and may or may not be the opinion of the entire staff. These opinions are by no way meant to cover every editor at every publishing house, merely ours.

Why am I bringing this up?

I’ve gotten several emails over the weekend, regarding our wants and likes concerning our submission guidelines. Several of the most common complaints are:

“Your concerns are different than other publishers….”
“You are a lot pickier than some of the larger houses I’ve submitted to….”
“Your rejection letters are mean….”
“Your example of query letters don’t match the ‘good’ ones that I read about in this book….”

Well, sorry. What else do you want me to say?

We are NOT every other publisher, and therefore we have our own likes and dislikes, and concern ourselves with different things than the small press down the road. We care about detail, character development, plot, and style. Not saying that other houses don’t; but as far as our press, we would rather turn out less books and make sure those books are of the highest quality than just accept and print something just to raise our catalogue numbers.

As far as us being mean…welcome to the publishing world. As editors, it’s our job to be critical, to be picky, and to say it like it is. As we’ve stated on both our blog and our website, every submission will be told WHY it was rejected. None of that “not at this time” bullshit. So if you didn’t like the fact that we said your plot had no substance, that you lack detail, or that the writing itself needed a million-dollar makeover, get over it. At least we tried to be a bit helpful and give a reason your book didn’t make it, so maybe you could actually think about that reason, and maybe do something about it to improve your work, either to resubmit to us or to another publisher. To make it in this profession you need to build up a thick skin to get over the pile of rejection slips you’re going to get in your lifetime. Be more like the faithful Lotto players – they buy tickets every week, hoping for that big one but knowing their chances are slim. But they don’t cry at each drawing when their numbers don’t show up, do they? No. They go out the next day and buy another ticket. Try it….

Lastly, to those who said we don’t conform to what they read in a book….

….Maybe I’m just deranged, or simply “out of the loop,” but that book was written by an author (or two). Just like every other book out in the rotating world has been written by an author. Does that mean that whatever is in print is the final law? If someone came out with a self-help book telling readers they can clear acne by swimming to the bottom of the Dead Sea, does that mean it’s absolutely and undoubtedly true? …I’m sure there are a few readers out there that…

The point I’m trying to make is that there is NO absolute law when it comes to publishing. There is NO absolute law when it comes to editing fiction. Granted, there are laws when it comes to universal things like grammar and spelling, but how does one define the laws of “fiction?” Well, truth is you can’t. Experts can set guidelines and boundaries, just as experts can give out “perfect” examples of query letters on how to “hook” editors. Let me tell you something – it’s THEIR opinion on what works, or at least what has worked for them. But it’s not a steadfast rule and obviously does not work all the time. Otherwise, all those people that have supposedly read that book that doesn’t coincide with the examples and guidelines I’ve set for Leucrota Press would have been grabbed by an editor by now and wouldn’t be submitting for the umpteenth time… right?

So, back to my original point.

What is read and posted on this blog DOES pertain to Leucrota Press and it’s editors, and MIGHT pertain to a lot of other smaller publishers – especially when it comes to style, submission reports, wants and needs. So when I say the editors here hate the SAW movies and anything to do with teen angst stories, you might get another editor at another house that stays up late after the kids are in bed to read fan-fiction stories online written by bored and unbalanced 15-year olds…

It’s OUR/THEIR choice. That’s one of the beauties of having so many smaller presses, because each one has a different eye for the thousands of books out there. You just need to make sure you find and submit to the right one.

Should you submit before your manuscript is finished?

Below is a question that was posted on my previous-albeit boring entry…

The last aspect I am scratching my head over regards timing. I am anxious to start the wheels turning on the evaluation process of my manuscript’s worthiness for publication. At the same time, I still have about half of the manuscript to edit and revise. Taking into consideration that there will be an evaluation period before any additional chapters are requested, would you think it advisable to send off the submissions packet even though editing and revisions of the later chapters of the manuscript are not complete?

The answer to this question is a double-edged sword.

Most editors and houses would automatically say “do not submit until you have a final, polished manuscript ready to send out at the drop of a hat…” Well, yes, in an ideal world. Just like in an ideal world a writer would send off their manuscript to a few houses and in three months get a positive response back.

In a realistic world, neither of those really happen–at least that often. Wait, I take that back. There are many writers out there that will polish their manuscript for months on end, then send it off to multiple (though in some cases, one) publishers and sit on their hands waiting for the mail to come. Then there are those that polish their manuscript and send it off, and sometime in the six months they are waiting for a response from a big house they pull out the red pen, change a few things in the middle and end, maybe kill off a minor character, and change a love scene–all without the publisher knowing the difference.

So, where does the double edge come in?

One side:
It’s understandable for someone to edit their manuscript the best they think they can and send it off, knowing that they will do more edits, rewrites, and tightening up while waiting for a response. Sometimes the response time for a large house can be anywhere from three months to nearly a year, and most people want to at least get the process started. Like filling out a check while waiting in line at the store…instead of waiting for your turn to write out the entire thing, you’re trying to get a bit of a jump start so all you have to do is fill in the amount. It’s the same for a book. A writer wants to send it out and polish the grammar while waiting for their book to even hit the editor’s desk. It’s completely understandable.

Side two:
It’s annoying as hell, and is an immediate turn off for an editor when we request to see the rest of the manuscript, and either the plot has changed significantly from the earlier-submitted synopsis (the synopsis, by the way, that we LIKED and caught our attention), or the author makes excuses about mailing in their manuscript and saying they need a few weeks to get to it (…this is 2008, it’s not like you need to chop down your own freaking tree to make the paper to print your manuscript. Go to Kinko’s and have it done in a little over an hour). Few weeks = “I’m either in the middle of editing, or I never finished my manuscript so I’m going to whip something out for you to send in.” Thus, few weeks = REJECTED.

So, the answer?

It’s really up to you.

If you’re just talking tightening up the text to make it an even shinier polish, then there’s nothing wrong with sending in the manuscript and tweaking it a bit later. This way, you’re comfortable enough with your manuscript that if an editor were to come back two weeks later asking for the entire thing, you can just stop what you’re doing and have it in the mail (or email) by the next day or so.

Though if you’re talking a lot of basic editing (in the above mentioned question, half the manuscript), you’re talking about a lot more necessary changes and time. Time is the big thing here–you want to be able to just stop and send off the manuscript if asked. If you don’t think you’d be able to do that, then I would suggest NOT submitting until you are. Otherwise, that glimmer of hope you got from an editor’s “request full” may wither up pretty quickly when that editor’s temper is stirred.

A good timeline: less than three weeks. I would say as a general rule that you could be pretty safe submitting a manuscript that needs just minor editing if you believe that you can successfully complete the edits in less than three weeks. Of course, this may be less if it is a small press and their response times range from 1-4 weeks; as they might read and respond within two. But for larger houses, or presses that have more than a six week response lag, then you should be fine.

Though of course, mind you, that you must at least have the first three chapters (the ones you are submitting) completely and perfectly editing before sending them off. You DO NOT want to edit those again after an editor has already seen and liked them–because then it’s obvious that you went back and edited, and made changes, which brings up a lot of red flags.

And, please, just as clarification I want to reiterate that I’m talking about minor edits here. You should not even consider sending off a manuscript until you are done and satisfied with your writing–satisfied that an editor would like it AS IS (or, at least hope they’ll like it). The last-minute changes after submitting should only be done for those perfectionists out there, who, left alone with an endless supply of caffeine and New York style bagels (with strawberry cream cheese, mmmmm…) would stay at their desk for years and still not be completely and utterly satisfied with each word choice and placement.

So again, it is a personal choice, and a choice that has many variables depending on the response times of the markets and the amount of editing needing to be done. But, in the end, it is a choice that each person will have to make and ultimately, live with the results should they not have their edits done on time if their manuscript is requested. It’s a chance.

Sample query letter

Some of you have asked for examples of good query letters as a follow up to my query guidelines. Below is the original query letter from author T.J. Vargo, whose book Low Man will be released later this summer. **Note: contact info has been deleted, but generic spacing left in to let you know where the required info belongs.

T.J. Vargo
Street Address
City, State Zip
Phone #
Email address

Dear Mr. Ishitani,

I recently completed a novel, THE BULLET MANIFESTO, and am interested in knowing if you would consider reading it with an eye toward publication. The synopsis is as follows:

Robbed at gunpoint while working the nightshift at a convenience store, Benny Assissi takes stock of his life. His good-paying factory job is gone – outsourced overseas. His wife sits in a hospital emergency room with his dying son. And there’s a gun under the counter, one he never saw until now. Determined to gain control over his life, he grabs the gun and runs after the thief. One bullet later, he finds out how precious life is and how far he must go to keep it, even if it means walking straight through Hell. In the fog of death, he discovers that life isn’t about what you have, but how much you love – and how far you’ll go to see your love again.

I have been fortunate to have PEN/Faulkner finalist, Karen Joy Fowler, and National Book Award finalist, Dan Chaon read this novel while it was a work-in-progress. Both authors commented on the excellent writing and the engaging storyline.

My novel UNBOUND was published by Willowgate Press in 2003. In response to a poor review by Publishers Weekly, I committed myself to improving my writing and joined a writing group led by Professor Neal Chandler at Cleveland State University.

I’ve included chapters one through three for your review. The manuscript is available upon request. Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,

T.J. Vargo

This is a good example of a simple cover letter/query that could be sent alone, or with your submission packet. The letter includes just enough information about the book to want an editor to read more, gives plenty of background experience on the writer and lists publishing credits. It is well written, clear, flows, and has all of the required contact information.

While you really could do without the first paragraph and just jump into the novel summary, as it doesn’t do anything for the letter, it doesn’t exactly hurt it either.

Annoying Multiple Submissions

Mkay….it’s been a while since I’ve ranted, so I’m going to take a few moments here.

Multiple submissions.

Most houses don’t accept them. Almost all don’t like them. We’re included.

While we might look at another submission by an author within a short timeframe, it’s not cool for the thirty-year writer to submit four books to us at once, begging us to take at least one of them. Why is it not cool? Well, for starters it makes the author look naive and unprofessional, and it immediately raises our hackles rise and makes us want to step back yelling “whoa the **** back, dude!”

Example:

It’s especially annoying when an author sends multiple novels in a single email. A perfect recent example:

Dear Sirs,

Given your likely overload of MS submissions and queries, I am (with your approval I trust) only attaching two synopses of recent titles for your consideration. One (or both) may fit in with your forthcoming publishing plans, and I would therefore welcome your opinion regarding the two proposals attached. Both (though I say it myself !) are somewhat innovative and unusual suspense thrillers, one being platformed in the sci-fi catagory.

The “NOVEL 1” is a rather dark and highly unusual story being based on historical fact. Some may see it in the vein of The Da Vinci Code but this is far from the case as it diverges in to a contemporary gothic suspense thriller, making no claim for authenticity other than the historical material in the opening chapters. “NOVEL 2” has it’s own cynical and disturbing quality. Those that read it will tend to see it as a tale of determined revenge, taken by one man against a faceless corporation implacable and inviolate in its power. Yet the story has an unexpected twist and, as noted above, is technically categorised as Sci-Fi, though the reader only comes to understand this in the last two pages.

Please let me know if any of the two synopses strike home; if so I will forward a complete MS.

Your response would be appreciated.

Well, a little professionalism would be appreciated as well. Not only did we not get a single clue as to what the novels were about, the cover letter simply threw the five-sentence synopsis at us in a single rushing breath, cramming in the author’s attempt at grabbing our attention between name dropping and unneeded commentary. So for the author to ask if either synopses strike home…the answer is no. Besides none of the sentences being of quality enough to be considered a synopsis, they didn’t provide even basic information about the novels.

If in doubt, ask

There have been a few authors that have been rejected, or have submitted a piece and mentioned that they have a second novel they would like to submit, and ask when would be an appropriate time to resubmit or multiple submit. This is great! Questions work, people, remember that. If you’re not sure on what protocol to follow, or your question may not be clearly answered in the publisher’s FAQ or submission guidelines, email and ask. It’s ok. Trust me, most editors don’t mind. We’d much rather receive a polite emailed question than an email with twenty attachments any day.

Once (or in some cases, if) the editor responds, listen to what they say. If they say three months, then wait the three months. If they say go ahead and send it in, get your ass to the post office. But don’t send out a submission the next day if the editor said to wait a month…you’d just be cutting your own throat because you’ve already brought attention to your name and submission, and chances are it will be fresh in their minds when your next one comes in. It’s annoying. Don’t do it.

Our take on multiples

While I think mulitples can be great, they’re not always wanted. Which was why I was relieved when I was assured I was only having one baby….

Here at Leucrota Press, we prefer to only view one manuscript from an author at a time. If an author does have another manuscript typed up and ready to go, hold onto it. After we send out a response to an author, whether it be an acceptance letter, a hold, or a rejection notice, we don’t want to see anything from that author again for at least another three months. Why? Well, because it gives us time to refresh our eyes with new writing, new styles, new names, so that when an author resubmits a new novel we’re not biased in any way, and our judgement is not tainted by our feelings on the last book. Especially if the experience with the previous submission was not a pleasant one.

Trust us, it’s in your best interest to follow directions, and not pile on stacks of your manuscript on an already crowded editors desk. Give us some breathing room, take a breath after that last rejection letter, go back and evaluate your writing, and take into account the comments the editors made on your first submission before sending in another. It will only help you in the long run.