I approach querying a book for publication the same as applying for a regular job (even though writing is a hobby for now).
In my experience, a prospective employer is looking at a combination of factors: appropriate education and experience. Those qualifications only get your foot in the door. Interpersonal skills and professionalism also factor into the hiring equation. Being qualified on paper does not mean you are qualified for the position.
What qualifies your book to be published? How do you get your foot in the door?
The query letter is the cover letter and contains a brief description of your book and highlights your education and experience. Let me elaborate.
Have you completed the necessary research for your book? Even fiction requires a modicum of fact-finding. Well-written science fiction, in particular, must be based on sound science. Thorough research will solidify the plausibility of your storyline and win the heart of even the staunchest critic.
Have you enlisted help from a second pair of eyes? Even the most seasoned author makes mistakes. The first draft, and even the second or third, is usually wrought with errors. Self-editing will only take you so far. You wrote it. It's perfect. You think. But are you willing to take that risk? I think not. You have options. Ask a friend, join a writing critique group, or seek a professional editor for a read-through.
An unpublished author can compensate for a deficiency in experience by emphasizing their strengths and what they have to offer. They can note their educational background, highlight writing-related accomplishments, and identify their author platform. A query request is about more than just your book. You are packaging and selling yourself as a brand. Make yourself stand out from the rest. Enthusiasm and innovation can make up for a lack of experience.
I started submitting my debut book to publishers in July 2013 as a completely unestablished author. In my query letter I mentioned my commerce degree and noted the applicability of my completed coursework in English and Communications. At that time, I had only published a short story and I had no author platform, just a Facebook account. I started my blog in January 2014 and set-up my website in December 2014.
A published author can showcase their experience through their published works and accomplishments. They can highlight sales figures and writing awards. They can demonstrate an established author platform and brand. They have built-up a readership eager for their next book.
I took the lessons learned from my first publishing experience and I adapted. Going through the process was a tremendous undertaking for me. To say there was learning curve is an understatement. I realized (albeit a little late in the game) the importance of an author platform. After writing and publishing comes selling and, in order to sell successfully, marketing and promotion is crucial. I took the knowledge gained from my business marketing courses and devised a marketing plan. This plan was not limited to selling my debut book, its reach extended into my brand – me. Establishing me as an author – taking interviews, promoting blog posts, and working with other authors – would create interest in me personally as well as my work – present and future.
Interpersonal Skills and Professionalism:
The combination of education and experience has gotten your foot in the door. Now it's your books' turn. The publisher has looked beyond the query letter. They are reading the synopsis, first three chapters, or whatever sample of your book they requested with the submission. They will assess the quality and marketability of your work based on set criteria.
Is your book well-written? Have the characters been adequately developed? Is your storyline unique? Is your book a suitable fit for the publisher? And – the most important question of all – is your book marketable?
As an author, not a publisher, I can only speculate on the types of questions and level of scrutiny put on a manuscript under consideration for publication. Years of job interviews in the business world has taught me prospective employers all have particular criteria in mind. The publisher (employer) is considering your book for publication (a job). It may differ from publisher to publisher, but they are evaluating your book with their own particular criteria in mind.
The book is the author's resume. It speaks for itself. The publisher will judge you on the merit of your words and deem you worthy of publication or not.
I treat my writing career as a job because I take it very seriously. When I put my mind to something, I am determined to succeed. Whether I actually do or not is another factor altogether! After all, as they say, 'nothing ventured, nothing gained'.
Writing and publishing a book was a brand new adventure for me. I always wanted to be an author. I believe everyone has a story in them and I didn't want to regret not writing mine. I published my first book in 2014 and I'm currently querying my second book, keeping all these pertinent points in mind, of course.
Being an author is a job, at times, a difficult and discouraging one. You face constant rejection from publishers and readers. But it's worth every iota of misery to experience the pure joy of creating.
If being an author is a job, then you need to approach a query submission like a job application. You need to put your best foot forward so you stand out from the rest. You need to equip yourself with the tools of the trade – a well-written query letter and polished writing sample – the author's equivalent of a cover letter and resume.
Then comes the hardest part... The waiting.