Get Your Story Published | best Tips For Querying

Jun 22, 2023 | Ghostwriting

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Breaking into traditional publishing can be quite difficult. There are a number of painstaking steps required to make your mark as a top notch fiction writer, especially if you are keen on connecting with genuine readers. The most important step on this path is getting your work published in reputable journals, magazines or on-line publications. In order to accomplish this, you need to learn the right ways to approach the industry’s many fickle gatekeepers. Here are my tips for querying a publisher.   

The self-publishing revolution is absolutely real. Amazon and other up and coming platforms have blown the doors open wide for a generation of new and aspiring authors. This unshackling of writers’ creativity has been groundbreaking when it comes to exposing readers to new, unconventional content. What publishers might have considered “too risky” before is being offered to eager readers today. 

Despite the reality that you can, with increasing ease and efficiency, publish your own work and reach readers, some still choose the traditional route (still others, the really ambitious, go “hybrid” which means they do a little bit of both). The prestige of finding an agent or publisher, for some, is too tempting to resist. I get it. I really do. Nothing says you’ve made it like industry acceptance. 

While many authors find success, the reality of the present day publishing market however, is that a great many talented writers, with excellent well-written stories, fall short of their ultimate goal. Too many, to be truthful. Go to writer’s conferences and listen to stories, or look at blogs and social media groups, and you’ll be sure to find their stories. 

Here is a little secret I’ve learned over the last twenty years. The publishing industry is now, and always will be, a numbers game. A writer needs to write stories. They need to write many stories in order to get good enough to compete in those top markets. Once they reach that skill level, they need to query and submit their stories with frequency in order to establish first that connection, then, the reputation they crave.

If you’re looking to break into traditional publishing, here are my tips for querying a publisher.  

querying a publisher, erick mertz, portland oregon

Tips For Querying A Publisher: Know Where Your Story Fits

In order to sell a story, you need to know the market where your story fits in. This seemingly obvious tip is of vital importance, but sadly, something more authors miss.

If you write, for example, science fiction, you need to seek out markets that publish in your genre. You can be the next Issac Asimov or Ray Bradbury, a clear line to the godfathers of science fiction, but if you submit your story to a romance market, it’s going to be rejected. 

Why? Romance readers read romance stories. That’s why they pick up the magazine, subscribe to the zine, whatever. They want that story they expect. 

In order to make sure your story really fits the publication, it helps to read a few issues. You see that recommendation in submission guidelines (more on those later) all the time. While it may seem like a pathetic attempt on the part of the publisher to get you to buy an issue, it’s actually a beneficial step. 

Why? Because the genres (I’m talking mystery, fantasy, science fiction, etc…) are broadly defined. Most publications specialize within that genre. Is your story “space opera” or “hard science fiction”? The distinction is quite critical. 

Know your story. Know what it is and where it fits. This will help you narrow your search down to realistic targets, instead of an unrealistic scattershot approach.

Craft a Well-Written Query Letter

Your first communication with a publisher is, very often, a query letter (I say very often because sometimes potential publishers come from personal connections, conferences, etc..). This letter succinctly introduces you, the author and your story, to an editor on the other side. Often delivered in the form of an email, the query letter is the door opener. 

But how exactly do you write one?

Easy to overthink, writing a high quality query letter is actually very simple. First, address the publisher or editor in a direct fashion. You can usually find their name somewhere on the website, or, if you’ve read the magazine, in the publication page. Then clearly state your purpose. You’re submitting a new and original story to their publication. Most publishers (depending on the submission guidelines) request a short summary of that story, as well as an author bio, followed by publishing credentials.

This is where a lot of authors get hung up. Is this your first story? Don’t have anything published yet? That’s OK. Be honest with that. Let them know you are, as of yet, unpublished. While breaking in on your first story can be hard, it does happen, so be confident. 

A few smaller tips for querying a publisher with a letter are to be accurate, succinct, and resist the temptation to be too cute. You might have a whip smart sense of humor, but the query letter is not the place to demonstrate that. Wait until you’re through the door to crack wise about this and that.

Tips For Querying A Publisher – Read The Submission Guidelines

We come down to this. The submission guidelines. These are, in my mind, the most important consideration when it comes to tips for querying a publisher.

Why is that? Because in those submission guidelines, the publisher tells you exactly what they want. That’s right, they spell it out, in plain English, what they’re looking for.

I’m being a bit cheeky there. Why? Because so many authors I encounter all but ignore the submission guidelines of the publication they’re looking to break into. They get excited, seeing a market that seems to fit, and crank out a submission in a heartbeat. It’s either that, or, they’re blanketing every magazine in their market and don’t take the time.

Don’t be that person. Why?

The publishers know what they put in their submission guidelines. What they want in their query letter, how long a story should be, what specific elements they’re looking for. Most publishers are very specific about what they want the manuscript to look like. If you don’t follow those guidelines, again, no matter how good your story is, you’re decreasing your chances of finding a home. 

One of the biggest mistakes I see writers making is assuming the rules don’t apply to them. Whether it’s a misguided belief in their own genius, a bit of laziness, or something else, they tend to look past the obvious. Publishers have specific needs. They know best what’s for them and what’s not. Of all the tips for querying a publisher I can offer, this stands out as the most critical. Follow the rules.