Monday, June 13, 2005

Develop A Query Checklist

One of the most difficult things to proofread is something which isn’t on the paper.  It’s a skill that editors need to develop when they work on books or magazine articles.  For example, as a magazine editor, many years ago, I recall leaving a critical bit of information off the cover of the magazine—probably the month of the publication. Despite several of us proofreading the publication at various stages of the publication process. It was overlooked because it wasn’t on the page. Imagine our chagrin at printing 200,000 mistakes. The only redeeming factor is that in general, magazines are not kept for a long period of time (particularly the organization magazine that I was working on at that time).

This skill isn’t only for editors but an important skill that writers need to acquire as well. As the Fiction Acquisitions Editor,  I receive a steady stream of query letters in the mail as well as online.  You would be surprised how often the writer leaves off a critical detail for the editor. Here are a few things to make sure you include in your query letters:

1) Double check the query before mailing it or before emailing it.

2) Do you have the editor’s name spelled right? Despite my photo across the Internet, I regularly receive query letters addressed to “Ms. Whalin.” Wrong! Or “Terry Whalen.” Again wrong!  If you make this mistake, it makes an instant impression on the editor and they think, How many other details are wrong? It’s not the impression you want to leave with the editor.

3) Did you have a title for your manuscript? A compelling title? A number of queries for book ideas don’t include a title. It’s a mistake and an oversight from the writer.

4) Do you include the length of your manuscript and whether it is completed or not? Again many writers leave off this detail. If I want to know the detail, I will ask the writer—or maybe it’s easier to reject it (something writers don’t want to happen). If you leave out this detail, then you’ve set yourself up for the easiest answer for an editor to give you—no.

5) Did you include a way for the editor to respond? An email address or an SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope)? It happened again last week. I received a large priority mail package from a first-time novelist (a manuscript I asked to see more detail) yet it included no SASE or instruction about what to do with the novel if rejected. As I process this manuscript, I will have to initiate correspondence with the author about what they want me to do with their material if rejected.

Also I’m amazed at the writers who short-change the publisher on the return postage. If it costs $11 from your house to the editor. Why would it cost $7.50 from the publisher to the writer? Is the publisher going to kick in the missing postage? Doubtful. That postage is an unbudgeted and unexpected expense that when multiplied by thousands of submissions could amount to a great deal of postage. And the experience makes an impression on the editor—and not one that you want to leave with the editor.

Another common query that I receive in the mail has no SASE nor an email address to respond to the writer. At times, it is obvious from the printed letter in the mail, the writer found my information on the publisher website—yet they give me no means to respond. It is the writer responsibility to give the editor a means to respond (at the writer’s expense). It is not the publishers responsibility to respond to a query with no SASE and no email address. Writers who send out this material are probably the loudest complaining about the lack of response from editors. I tend to have pity on writer—and stick a stamp on the envelope with my rejection—and a note about it. I suspect that I’m a rare editor to make this type of gesture.

You will have to develop your own checklist before you send your query or manuscript. I’ve been discussing purely mechanics in this entry on the writing life. I’ve said nothing about compelling material which is targeted exactly to the right publisher (another key).  Your responsibility as the writer is to give the editor something they have to publish. 

3 Comment:

At 3:44 AM, Blogger mw freeman Left a note...

Thanks Terry. Your tips were very useful.

At 11:09 AM, Anonymous Anonymous Left a note...

Terry -- Once I've worked to correctly prepare a query and proposal, I'm anxious to send as many as possible each day. How important is it to have an editor's name? Do I have to call each company? If I've researched the Web site and the company's divisions, is it enough to address it to "Acquisitions Editor/Business"?
Barb Trombitas

At 11:45 AM, Blogger Terry Whalin Left a note...

Barb, I understand your eagerness to get your query and proposal to the maximum number of people. Editors are slow and take time to respond. How equally eager are you to have your material well-received and accepted? I would probably guess equally eager. If you address the editor with their name (spelled properly, right sex of the editor, etc.) it will have much greater impact.

I get a number of emails and submissions addressed to my personal mailbox or my personal email addressed, "Dear Editor." It makes no sense to me--and is extremely unpersonal. It does nothing for my relationship with these authors. Hope I've made it clear--take the time to find the right name and use it. It will be worth it in the long run.



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