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A Novice's Introduction to Publishing

© 1997 by The Great American Publishing Society (GRAMPS)TM  
You may not distribute this information in any form; you may refer readers to this web site.

If you want to know... what is a Query Letter...?
What should I send a publisher for evaluation...?
How do I protect my copyright...?

You're on the right page. 

The Query Letter:

Most publishers prefer that you don't send your complete manuscript to them for initial consideration. This is good news for both you and them-- you don't have to pay copying and postage costs on all 900 pages of your treasured work, and they don't have to read through every page of just to decide whether you have a potential meeting of the minds.

Instead, most publishers ask that you submit something called a "Query Letter". This is normally a simple letter in which you try to sell the editor on why anyone other than you and your family (we assume that  your mother likes it... maybe your kid sister) would want to read what you have written.  Some pundit once suggested that you pretend that you have been hired to write the blurb that will appear on the back jacket cover -- what would you put there to entice a reader to buy the book? After all, this theory goes, if you can't write a description that makes your book sound appealing to a reader, what (a publisher might task) makes you think that what is inside the book cover will interest a reader (other than your mother and ... perhaps... your kid sister)?

Personally, I think that this approach is a bit extreme. But a good query letter should convince the publisher -- in two or three paragraphs -- exactly who might be interested enough in what you have to say to plunk down their hard-earned silver... and why.

In addition, a standard Query Letter should contain a representative sample of the work.

For poetry, you might start with 2 to 5 poems.

For fiction, you should include several representative chapters --  normally the first few chapters. An editor wants to see how you introduce and develop your major characters and themes.

(Personally, I prefer just one chapter with an email submission -- longer email messages often need special care to get delivered successfully.)

Finally, the query letter should contain something about you, the author: just a paragraph to say who you are, what your background is (especially if it is relevant to your subject), and what you have published before (if anything).

Final Tips:

Don't try to "snow" (over-impress) an editor --  they've seen snow-jobs from the best. They also recognize what is good. Be an honest salesperson for your work, and most editors will forgive a bit of enthusiasm.



Under current laws of The United States (and many other countries), you can establish your copyright simply by affixing the copyright symbol © to the first page of your work. If your word processor doesn't offer this symbol, simply type the letter "c" in brackets, like [c] so, or type the word copyright. Windows users can try holding down the right ALT key while typing the numbers 0169 from the numeric keypad.

This should be followed by your name and the year in which you finish or last work on the piece

This establishes your copyright to the work ... from that moment ...  until 50 years after your death.

Proving It:

Establishing your copyright is, however, only part of the process. If someone tries to appropriate your work, you may need to prove your copyright in court. The best way to do so is to have registered your copyright with the appropriate government agency (your Congressperson may be able to get a copyright registration packet for you).

Check this page in the coming weeks for more information on this topic
 -- including Crises in Conventional Publishing... The Odds of Becoming Rich & Famous
(hint: slim) ... Financial Advances (unless you're alread famous, generally even slimmer) ... and more --

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