How do I make the best query or pitch to an editor?

Most editors are inundated with queries, so take this first opportunity to set yourself apart from the rest. The type of query letter you write depends on the kind of editor you’re approaching. Are you looking for an independent editor to improve your work before you shop it around for publication? Or are you querying an editor at a publishing house or literary magazine? You’ll work with these types of editors differently, so you’ll want to tailor your letter accordingly.


But in any query, keep it short and sweet and to the point. Be upfront about your experience and your intentions, and don’t beat around the bush when making your official request, whatever that request might be. Just come out and say what you want plainly — most editors will appreciate it.


Describe the details of your project: title, genre, word count, etc. Either provide a short excerpt, or let the editor know you’re willing to send one if requested. An excerpt can help the editor get a sense of your writing style and editorial needs. If you’re working with an independent editor, describe the level of edit you believe is necessary, as this will help them estimate their workload.


If you’re selling a book-length manuscript to a publisher, imagine you’re a bookseller who only has a sentence or two to persuade a customer to buy it. As you do this, be careful to stay true to the core of the book. It can be tempting to exaggerate or to focus on a peripheral theme if it makes the book sound more appealing. If the editor reads your work and finds that it doesn’t fit your description, he or she may feel misled or frustrated after investing so much time. (If you find yourself only wanting to sell a book you didn’t write, you may need to sit back down at your desk and write that book instead.)


Distill your book down to a few key phrases and highlight why it will matter to readers. By doing this, you’ll provide the tools for the editor to turn around and sell it to the publisher, who can sell it to their distributor’s book reps, who can sell it to bookstores, who can sell it to readers, who can then persuade their bookclub/classroom/great-aunts and second cousins to buy it as well. The query letter is a good place to show you can make your editor’s job just a little bit easier.


Originally published with The Loft Literary Center.

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