3 Query Tips Every Editor Hopes you Forget

Anyone who has submitted a manuscript–from published pro to the first timer–knows the feeling that sets in the second you click “send” on the query letter email. Anxiety takes hold almost immediately. Did I miss a typo? Will she like it? Will she think my letter is too short, or too long? Maybe I should have read it one more time…

Who knows? Every editor’s taste is different. One may prefer YA realism to fantasy. Another may appreciate high-concept middle grade over school tales and picture books. Some editors only publish fiction or non-fiction. But we all agree that a thoughtful pitch is the best way to garner attention no matter the genre.

So as your finger trembles over the SEND button, try to keep these things in mind:

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5 Things Editors Look for in your Manuscript

Your first draft is done and about to go out on submission. Here are five things that every editor will ask herself about your book, when deciding whether or not to acquire it.

  1. Does it have a hook? That is to say: how is this work or proposal unlike any of the hundreds I’ve already rejected this year? If the story isn’t utterly original, but the voice rings clear and true, I don’t many eds who would stop turning pages.
  1. Can I relate to the protagonist? Sure, she may be a kick-butt gal with great skill and a near-vertical story arc, but is she authentic and does she display that quality early on? Will I want to spend 300-400 pages with this person? (Hint: with rare exceptions, I can tell within the first ten pages.)
  1. If the story’s a page-turner, syntax isn’t a big stumbling block. The copy editor is the saving grace of many books and first-time author acquisitions. If you can’t spell but can make me feel, I won’t fault you for not making better use of spell check. (Yeah, yeah, you’re welcome, but seriously, how hard is spell check, guys?) Well-edited submissions make you a teacher’s pet early on. Who doesn’t want that kind of relationship with their editor?! And despite urban myths to the contrary, I don’t know of a single ed who would toss a manuscript for these very fixable offenses, IF THE STORY IS GOOD!

  1. Market appeal. Can I see how your book fits neatly within our house’s publishing plan and sales goals? Which means: did you/your agent do your homework when you chose to submit to us? Does it call to mind 15-20 best-selling novels as solid comparable titles? And if not, is that because you have something entirely new to say (exciting!) as an author with a fresh take on well-worn subjects (also exciting, because as we all know, it has all been done before).
  1. Any reason to root for you. It’s true. As unfathomable, as it may seem, editors want you to succeed. Yes, even you! Who knows when a quiet little gem is going to roar onto a best-seller list or be adopted into a school system or community reading program. It has to happen to someone, and it may as well be you. And no one wants that more than the hopeful editor spending her valuable time with your work. Eds go to the mat with acquisition committees if they truly believe in a book’s potential. If your story strikes a chord, trust that a good editor will do all she can to make sure you’re voice is heard with her in-house colleagues and decision makers.

I know editors seem like faceless people with blood red pens poised to strike. But that’s not true. Submissions are terrifying for authors and the wait is torture. We know it. You know it. And both of us are rooting for your book. Write the best book you can. Edit thoughtfully. Submit it. Let it go. Hope. Rinse, repeat, write.