It would be awesome if you could sit down, write a book and the next thing you know it's flying off bookstore shelves.
Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way.
You have to sell it to a publisher first - unless you've chosen to self publish, which will be in another post.
Here's what you do:
Write the book
Read the book
Re-read the book
Find an agent (maybe)
Find a publisher
Write a query letter (this might seem harder than writing the book!)
Finding an agent is the easiest part - if you're going that route. Agents get paid when they sell your book... and good agents won't even take your book unless they're sure they can sell it.
Do not EVER hire an agent who requires you to pay upfront. Just don't do it. They've got their money - what do they care if your book ever sees the inside of a Barnes & Noble?!
If you're going solo and not using an agent, re-think your decision; many publishers do not accept unagented manuscripts (or even queries from unagented writers, for that matter). Examine your reasoning: are you afraid it won't sell? Do you just want to get your feet wet and try on your own first?
Still don't want an agent? That's fine - but you've got to do plenty of research. Figure out exactly what the publishing company you're looking into is looking for this year - they may have all the Harry Potter-esque titles they can handle and only be looking for grownup sci fi, or maybe they only publish non-fiction.
Don't waste time querying publishers who aren't looking for the type of book you've written!
When you do find a publisher who accepts unagented manuscripts and they're looking for what you've got, you can sit yourself in front of the computer and write a query.
There are good queries, there are bad queries, there are horrible queries and there are amazing queries - and you're going for amazing. Amazing is the only kind that sells - well, sometimes an ok query letter sells a book, but the book has to be phenomenal. And if you can write a phenomenal book, you can write a phenomenal query letter!
That said, here's what you do.
- Write your query in a polite but approachable tone (and address the editor by name)
- Be enthusiastic about your book, but don't get all crazy about it
- Give a quick, easy-to-read summary of your book (just like you'd read on the back cover of a best-seller)
- Indicate to the editor that you're familiar with the types of books they publish and point out how your book can complement their existing collection
- If you have a sturdy platform (already been published, thousands of followers on your blog, et c.) mention it briefly
- Ask for money
- Write, "Dear editor"
- Spell anything wrong - at all
- Ask if you can write the book for them - you should already have it written, and they'll completely ignore your query (and feed it to the shredder laughingly) if you haven't finished it yet
If you're pitching a book about a couple who met as soldiers in Iraq, fought two wars together and lived to tell about it, your query would look like this:
Angie Papple Johnston, editor
123 Hukilau Street
Mililani HI 96789
Dear Ms. Johnston,
Battlefield Romance, my 68,000 word novel, is a detailed look inside the lives of two American soldiers who met and fell in love amidst the rubble in war-torn Iraq. It's thrilling and full of adventure, and above all focuses on the power of love.
Specifically aimed at the soft-at-heart, this novel blazes forward and dares touch on subjects many people don't know about - including how Iraqi children live and the differences soldiers make in their lives.
Sergeant Marie Carter is a do-it-yourself, hard-as-nails soldier who finds herself injured by an Iraqi roadside bomb; Staff Sergeant Rob Jackson is the combat medic responsible for saving her life - and winning her heart. The two were on completely different paths until their lives were rocked by her tragedy and his heroism.
Throughout Marie's recovery, Rob is there to encourage and help her heal; when Rob experiences personal trauma of his own, the... (blah, blah, keep describing your book...)
Sprinkled with humor, feeling and hope, Battlefield Romance brings Marie and Rob - and readers - on a rollercoaster of emotion and leads to an exciting climax that no one expected.
Although Battlefield Romance is a unique story, it will fit well with other recent titles you've published, such as What's Under Those ACUs? and Meet Me in the HumVee.
I've written for several fiction magazines, including Love Snippets and Heart Thumpers Quarterly Review.
Per your guidelines, I am including the first three chapters of my novel. I appreciate your time, and thank you for considering Battlefield Romance.
Mush E. Writer
123 Kissyface Street
Loveland TX 98999
Your goal with the query is to pique the editor's interest. If your letter doesn't do that, he's not going to bother reading the chapters you've sent. Shredder food for sure!
After you've written your query, have a few people read it. Actually, have a lot of people read it. If most of them ask you to read your novel afterward (assuming they're avid readers), then it's a safe bet an editor will find something tugging him toward reading it too.