How to Catch the Eye of a Publisher: All in a Day’s Query Letter

You’ve got a great idea for a book. In fact, people have been telling you to write it for years. But you don’t want to write a full-length manuscript unless you’ve got a publisher, and you’re not sure where to start in finding one.

How do people get book contracts anyway? And how will you convince a publisher that your book is worth taking the risk? It’s the million-dollar question anyone with a book idea faces: how do you catch the attention of a publisher (or agent)?

If writing a book is a journey and the first step begins with an idea, the second step—for those who hope to secure a traditional publisher—is to write a short pitch to showcase the book to target publishers. It’s called the query letter.

A good query letter will typically have the following key components:

  1. explanation of the problem that the book solves or the need that the book fills
  2. insight into why you are the best person to write this book
  3. explanation as to why you’ve chosen to contact this particular publisher

First, why this particular book and why now? Aside from the entertainment value of some genres, such as fiction, memoir, and history, people tend to buy books because they address a need. A single parent wants advice on how to raise a teenage son, a baby boomer looking for a second career needs help figuring out her field of interest, or an individual recently diagnosed with diabetes wants to learn more about managing his condition. Every good query letter mentions the intended audience with a tease of information that shows a need for this particular book in the marketplace.

Second, why should the publisher select you to write the book? A good book idea alone is not enough to win a publisher’s attention. It needs to be clear that the person writing it can not only “deliver the goods” but promote them upon publication. The onus is on you to demonstrate why you are the best person to author that book. Are you an expert on parenting? Have you spent years as a career counselor working with job hunters? Have you discovered secret tips and tricks to managing your own diabetes? You don’t have to be the world’s preeminent expert on your book topic, but you do need to show why you have the credibility to write the book.

Third, why have you decided to reach out to this particular publisher? Although this is the least important of the three components, it helps to personalize a query letter to the particular publisher you are targeting. Publishers see it as a good sign that you’ve done your homework and they appreciate you putting in the effort to make sure you send the query to them only if there is potential for a good “marriage” between book idea and publisher. Publishers receive countless query letters each month; help them see right away why it is that your book idea fits well with their typical catalog.

A good query letter piques the publisher’s interest because it promises a book manuscript that is relevant, saleable, and engaging. A good query letter also conveys that the author has the kind of expertise and enthusiasm needed to move the book off the shelf and into people’s studies and living rooms. The author’s bio and “platform” help to catch the eye of a publisher as much as the book idea itself.

3 Comments on "How to Catch the Eye of a Publisher: All in a Day’s Query Letter"

  1. Randy Nichols May 25, 2010 at 9:29 pm ·

    I discovered your homepage by coincidence.
    Very interesting posts and well written.
    I will put your site on my blogroll.

  2. Melanie Albert October 18, 2010 at 5:50 pm ·

    Hi Bob! Look forward to working with you to pitch my book concept to literary agents. To good nutrition, Melanie

  3. John Robert Young October 25, 2013 at 3:05 pm ·

    Being published has little to do with writing.For the most part it is a question of who you know or have the good fortune to meet along life’s path. Witness the number of poorly written books on the nations bookshelves.

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