How I first got published, part 3 – The Query

The following is an encore from 2009, presented here in the hopes that the info will be helpful for aspiring authors. I’ve authored or coauthored five books since, and self-published another four, and most of this still applies. So enjoy. Hope it helps!

Yesterday I talked about the process by which Jim and I began writing A Year of Hitchcock: 52 Weeks with the Master of Suspense. Week in and week out we were either in front of the TV watching Hitchcock’s work or, more often than not, in front of our keyboards writing, revising, and writing some more.

alfredhitchcockIt was midway through the year when we knew we had something publishable on our hands. By this time we has also developed an inertia that wasn’t going to break down, so we pulled the series offline and continued working on the same schedule we had set for ourselves at the start of the year.

Now here’s where we broke ranks with how many nonfiction books are traditionally pitched and published. At this point we ought to have prepared some sample chapters and began to craft a nonfiction book proposal. Literary agent Nathan Bransford talks about the essentials of one in this blog post.

But we didn’t do that. We kept writing. Maybe we should have started querying at this point — in retrospect that’s how I’d do it now — but what we did worked out fine.

So a year comes and goes and we’ve finished our manuscript. We think it’s pretty good. We think we have something worth publishing. We’ve whipped three sample chapters into tip-top shape.

With the book now in hand, what to do with it? Well, first we began to comb through Writer’s Market looking for potential publishers. We compiled a big list, then narrowed that list down as we researched each publisher we initially selected. No need to waste our time and their time by pitching a book to a publisher who clearly won’t want anything to do with it, after all. It would be like pitching your romance novel to Tor, publishers of science fiction and fantasy. Why bother?

Soon we were armed with a list of about 20 first-choice publishers, publishers we thought might have an interest in our work. The next step was to start sending out query letters. “Hey,” you might ask, “what the heck does ‘query’ mean?” A query letter is a letter asking a publisher, “Do you have an interest in publishing my work?” But you can send out any old letter. There are rules and traditions and guidelines, and you either get them right or you look like a rank amateur — which you don’t want to do. Too few people get this right, but there is no need to flub your query. It’s easy to find out all you need to know about such letters. Google query letter and you’ll get somewhere around a gazillion results telling you the ins and outs.

Here’s what our query letter looked like (complete with our original title for the book):


Can one watch, examine, appreciate and understand the full body of Alfred Hitchcock’s work in a single year? We think so. Because that is exactly what we did.

We are exploring potential publishers for our book, A Journey With Hitchcock, a comprehensive 120,000-word chronological examination of the works of acclaimed director Alfred Hitchcock.

Books on Hitchcock fall into several camps: biographies; impenetrable studies of his art; or tightly focused examinations of a single film or theme. Ours is different.

A Journey With Hitchcock is just that, a journey that will ask readers to watch along as we view the bulk of Hitchcock’s entire output in a single year. Spanning 52 chapters, we examine his artistic growth and offer commentary on his films in the context of his life and times. In doing so, we provide an enlightening Hitchcock guidebook for the mainstream viewer and scholar alike.

In a market filled with Hitchcock books that are either too aloof for the average reader or too light on new insights for the aficionado, our chronological, film-by-film analysis of Hitchcock’s films will be accessible and informative to casual film lovers, while offering a fresh take on Hitchcock scholarship for those already acquainted with his work.

We would be happy to send sample chapters or the finished manuscript at your request. Thank you for considering this proposal. We look forward to hearing from you.

That was it. Probably a little wordy for a query letter — brief is good — but it seems to have gotten the job done. We sent out a batch of six initial letters, and shortly thereafter a publisher requested a copy of our full manuscript.

That’s when the real work began.

More tomorrow…

Read part 1 (Introduction), part 2 (Ideas & Execution), part 3 (The Query), part 4 (The Waiting Game), part 5 (Revising & Rewriting), and part 6 (All That Other Stuff), and take a look at the resulting book. Learn more about Eric here, and find out more about his independent editorial services here.

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