Right, here we go, the next part of our BubbleCow guide to academic book pitching! I hope you managed to complete your homework regarding the subject area(s) of your book, as it will come in very handy now.
In the last post we talked about how you need to see your query letter and synopsis as sales documents. And now we are going to look at the structure of a successful query letter.
A query letter needs to be concise and focussed. That said, it should be much more than a simple ‘please read my extract’. Last time, we highlighted the four aims of a query letter, these were to show:
- You understand the marketplace, Your book will fit into their current list,
- Your book will sell enough copies to make it worthwhile printing it in the first place, You, as an author, can support and promote your book.
With that in mind, I suggest a four paragraph approach:
Paragraph 1: The opening paragraph is split into two sections. The first is the elevator pitch, which consists of a couple of lines that capture the essence of the book. This is a concise and targeted summary of the book in just a couple of sentences.
This is not easy to do for an academic book. Here are some examples of elevator pitches for non-academic books (although, no.3 was actually written by an academic ;-):
- You can’t choose who you fall in love with and that’s especially true with football teams. (‘The Bromley Boys’, Dave Roberts)
- Belle de Jour is the nom de plume of a high-class call girl working in London. This is her story. (Belle de Jour, ‘The Intimate Adventures of a London Call Girl’)
- Deep in the City something had been woken, something so old and so ordinary that people had been walking past it for centuries without giving it a second look…(‘Stone Heart’, Charlie Fletcher)
The reason this is more difficult to do for an academic book is because being too romantic or dramatic wouldn’t strike the right chord. Therefore, the best thing to do is try to encapsulate what your book does in one or two sentences and make these sentences as punchy as possible. Boil the essence of your book down to its barest essentials and state them clearly but catchily – although be careful not to come over all tabloid about it!
The second part of the opening paragraph is a brief summary containing a few sentences that describe your book in a bit more detail. Include a very brief outline of the book’s contents and the main issues it covers. At this stage, all you are doing is showing the editor the type of book you’d like to write (or maybe have already written) and giving her a chance to see if it will fit into her current list.
The aim of the next two paragraphs is to present your book as a viable product. Yes, that word was ‘product’ and here is where you become a marketer.
- The book’s subject area,
- Notes of any images, illustrations or unusual requirements,
- An indication of if the book is written and if not when it will be finished.
Paragraph 3: This looks at the market it caters to, naming a couple of the courses which would add it to their reading lists and three of the books it compares with. Do note, it’s also good if one or more of these are books already published by the publishing house you are pitching to.
Paragraph 4: This is about you as a writer. In the modern world of internet driven marketing the writer is increasingly becoming an important part of the marketing efforts. Include a brief biography, containing any relevant information such as previously published articles and institutional affiliations or awards. I would also suggest you add information regarding your web presence, if you blog and tweet and generally make yourself heard, let the editor know that. Also add anything that is particularly significant about you and your book. If you happen to be the world’s leading expert on an area because you are the only person to have had access to an archive or experience, then make that clear.
Remember though, this is your query letter and much of what you’ve outlined above will be expanded upon in the book proposal itself. Therefore keep the query letter short and sharp so you don’t run the risk of repeating yourself. Use it to hook the editor (or whoever has the job of sifting through proposals first) into actually reading your proposal in full.
Before we move on it is important to mention that the following information must be included in the query letter: your name, your address, any website details, your email address and your home and mobile numbers.
And while we’re at it, spell everything correctly and make sure you use the right name for the person you are initially pitching to!