I would like to pose a true/false question to you.
True or false: the point of sending a query letter to a book publishing professional is to describe the book you would like them to consider.
That has to be true, right?
Of course it must be, for all of the articles, books, and other literature on how to get your book published explains the importance of describing what your book is about, the category in which it should be published, and its word count. Surely, this forms the basis of your submission materials, right?
The answer to the question is false.
The point of a query letter is most definitely NOT to describe the book to a publishing professional.
The point of a query letter is to compel the professional to request your manuscript or proposal from you.
The point of the query letter is to get them interested.
And yet, from the hundreds upon hundreds of query letters I’ve read in my life, one would think that describing the book is exactly what is necessary for this particular type of content. I read these query letters during my time at Penguin Random House, and one after another, the query letter started off describing the book in as dry and uninspired of a way as possible.
And one after another, these projects got rejected.
If we’re giving a talk as part of a TEDx event or in association with an organization like Creative Mornings, then our success is based on how well we provoke our audience to think about how to solve a problem in a new and different way. If we write a book meant to motivate, like an inspirational work of non-fiction, then our success is based on the extent to which the reader takes positive action in their life. And if we write a book that is meant to entertain, our success is based on how fulfilled the reader feels by the end.
But all of these types of content, while very different in context and purpose, all have something in common: they are intended to enrich the lives of others once we already have their attention. They’ve bought tickets to the TEDx event, or they’ve purchased the book.
A query letter, however, is not like these other things. Nor is a sales letter, a request for charitable donations, an advertisement, or even a product or service description on a website. All of these types of content are examples of prompting – of compelling someone else into action because they are attracted to a new possibility.
This is, ultimately, why we’ve written a query letter – we want to prompt the agent or publisher to want to know more. This is why simply providing a description of a book project along with its word count just isn’t going to cut it.
Instead, there is something else that will ultimately prompt them – that will drive them to learn more. It is a crucial, necessary component of every single successful query letter to a publishing professional.
Would you like to know what that ingredient is?
Are you sure?
Are you wondering why I haven’t stated it yet?
The reason why I haven’t stated it yet is because I’m using that very same ingredient in this section of the article.
Just now, I set up what we call a “curiosity gap.” I planted a mystery in your mind as to what this all-powerful ingredient for successful query letters might be. The title of this article, “The Fatal Flaw With Your Query Letter,” sets up a curiosity gap as well.
Your job with your query letter is to prompt the publishing professional to take further steps – to request sample chapters, a book proposal, or even an entire manuscript. And because they’re only starting with a letter, they can’t be expected to know everything they need to know about this project before deciding to work with you.
But if you get them curious about your project, they will WANT to know.
The success of your query letter to publishing professionals is entirely based on how compelled they are to know more. And this of course is determined by how curious you leave them by the end of your letter.
What must go in a query letter? And how long should it be? More than 99% of all would-be authors make the same five mistakes in response to these questions when they write their query letters, and I’ve boiled them down in a free cheat sheet for you to review.