Tag Archives: Tips for the authors

Tips for the authors: How to make a query letter work in your favor.

Despite some popular beliefs, the only purpose of the query letter is to convey information. Query letters are not writing samples (even though any typos of errors in the query letter can speak volumes against you). They are not a place to be witty, or tell your life story and your world views. They are designed for only one purpose, to tell the publisher the following important things:

(1) the basic information about your novel (name, genre/subgenre, and word count), as well as, hopefully, the assurance that it has been completed and available.

(2) a concise summary of the plot, or enough information to give a basic idea on what this book is about. One paragraph is better than two, “concise” is the key word.

(3) your publishing credentials, if any.

(4) the reason you are querying this particular publisher, if any.

(5) the assurance that this submission is exclusive to this publisher — or, if the guidelines permit it, the information that it may be simultaneously considered by someone else.

Within these parameters, the shorter you can make it, the better. Literally.

Clearly, a good query letter will not sell your novel. But it will gain you the benefit of the doubt and will probably make the editor approach your submission much more favorably than they would otherwise.

Here are the five most common elements of the query letter that were definitely held against the authors during our consideration process:

1. “As a child, I have always wondered if…” — Yawn. We don’t have time to learn anyone’s childhood story, not unless we are publishing the book and this information is highly relevant to our marketing plan. At this point the submissions editor will skim to the end of the letter to look for credentials, and then to the sample chapter, briefly, with the expectation that the writing will be bad.

2. “My book is not about…” –yes, seriously. Some people do start their query this way. Usually this is followed by a rant that could be several paragraphs long. The query letter is the place where one should focus on the specifics of the book, ignoring the temptation of making the letter long just because there are no visible page breaks in the e-mail window.

3. “Have you ever thought of…” — No. Well, maybe we have thought of that, but we don’t want to think about it while reading query letters.

4. “The reason I am not published is…” — Being unpublished is nothing to be ashamed of. There could be many reasons, and in case of very good authors out there all these reasons are heart-breaking. The truth is, this has nothing to do with our consideration of this particular novel and thus has no place in the query letter.

5. “Imagine yourself on a spaceship/in a jungle/on a boat, etc.” — We do, usually when we read something we enjoy that is relevant to any of these places. Query letters don’t fall into this category.

Well, this list can go on, really. But each of these examples invariably has to do with information that has no place in the query letter, simply because it is not directly relevant to your submission. If you are not sure what to write, stick to the bare basics and let your novel speak for itself.

Chances are, these basic rules apply to querying most publishers, even if some individual submissions editors may have preferences not covered in our list of bare essentials. Chances are, if they do have such preferences, these preferences will be covered in their submission guidelines. Barring that, we suggest you stick to the basics and avoid the temptation to elaborate.

Happy querying!


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Tips for the authors: understanding Amazon e-book best seller ranks

This week, we decided to do a post on Amazon best seller ranks–the number that is directly linked to book sales but proves to be difficult for authors to evaluate.

While the way Amazon best seller ranks are calculated is not publicly revealed, this number actually ranks the books in order of sales through the Amazon web site. I.e., the most sold book will have rank #1, and the least sold will be in the 6 million or so range, directly corresponding to the number of books available for sale through Amazon. The good news is, if your book has an Amazon sales rank, it means somebody bought at least one copy through Amazon. If your rank is steadily in the top 10 for a few months, you are probably going to get a very hefty paycheck. But that is not very helpful, is it?

Over the year or so we have been selling e-books through Amazon, we have accumulated data comparing the number of book sold (or downloaded for free by Amazon Prime members through KDP Select program) to the best seller rank showing on the book information page. This number can be found down the page after the book description, under the Book Details, and looks something like this:

Product Details

  • File Size: 553 KB
  • Print Length: 272 pages
  • Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited
  • Publisher: Dragonwell Publishing; 1 edition (December 18, 2012)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00AQNG78K
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #48,558 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)

In this example, the Best Sellers Rank tells us that this particular book is currently #48,500 or so on the list of sellers through Amazon, but does it actually tell anyone who many copies this book sold? Actually, it does, to some extent.

To make the top 100 Paid in the Kindle store, a book needs to sell about 1,000 copies or more in one day. Its exact placement then will depend on the other sellers in this ranking. For example, a recent article by Publishers Weekly analyzed that selling 6,000 or so copies per day can land a #1 ranking and keep the book in the top 5. If no more copies are sold (which rarely happens for this kind of books, but could, if the rank was achieved through a short-term promotional discount), the ranks will slowly taper and reach 100,000-200,000 within a week or so, and will deteriorate further after that. However, this rarely happens to the top 100 books, so if you have ever seen your book at this kind of ranking, chances are your book is a real success.

Amazingly enough, the ranks going down from there fall in a perfectly correlated way. The sales of 100 books a day will give you a rank of 1,000 or less, 30 books a day will hover around 3,000 or so, 10 books a day will keep the rank of about 10,000 and so on. If you steadily sell one book a day without fail you will have a rank around 100,000. In addition, if you keep daily track of your ranks, you can always see a boost after each sale, since the ranks are frequently updated, especially for books with the rank of 100,000 or above.

While you may find detailed charts and algorithms in other places on the web, we found that following this simple estimate can enable authors to maintain a fairly accurate data about their sales through Amazon, if these authors are committed enough to do daily rank checks.

These numbers concern e-book sales only, since other platforms and formats cannot be easily tracked in almost real time. And, one can in principle use these numbers further to calculate royalties due. For example, if your contract is for 50% of the e-book revenue, a book with a cover price of $9.99 will bring your publisher between $3.50 and $7.00 (depending on the distribution channel) and you can make $1.75 to $3.50 per each sale. For a book with 100,000 rank this would be your daily income, rounding up to about $1000 per year.

Of course, there are always other venues, including print sales and other e-book retailers.

Good luck!


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