Sample Query Letter Example for Selling Out

The biggest business mistake I've made in the last ten years was making a hash out of my first self publishing attempt, giving up and selling out. I get so much interest on the topic of finding a publisher that I searched through my old documents and found the original query letter I used to sell out. The actual chain of events was that I sent out eight copies of this query letter, got four responses within a week saying, "send us what you have," and spent the next month finishing the book. I also sent out more copies of the sample query letter below (to the very top publishers this time), and got more interest, but at the end of the day, decided to self publish. About a week after I started selling the book on my website without any way to process credit cards, I gave up and put the whole book online. The traffic kept growing and the next year I sold out to McGraw-Hill. The original query letter that drew a 50% response is shown below:

August 9, 1996
Publisher XXXX
Dear Betsy,

There are over 50 million older model PCs currently in use in the US. As companies and individuals move up to newer Pentium models, these "obsolete" PCs are sold or donated to employees, family members, friends, schools and charities. Many of these hand-me-down PC owners immediately find themselves faced with financial decisions about repairs, hardware upgrades and new software. By the end of their "free ride" into the computer age, some find that they've invested more into their bargain box than the price of a new machine.

Thousands of readers, currently over a hundred a day, download my WWW published "Guide to Troubleshooting and Repairing Clone PCs". The questions I receive daily via e-mail have taught me how many non-technical people are struggling to extend the useful life of their PC, and how little unbiased guidance is currently available to them. My new book, "The Hand-Me-Down PC" is aimed squarely at these people who have, or are thinking about acquiring, a pre-Pentium era PC. The book answers three fundamental questions:

1) What is it worth? (What is the real value, both whole and parted out, of a PC)
2) What can and can't it do? (Games, financial management, desktop publishing, surfing the Web,)
3) How do I fix or upgrade it? (And when it's not worth any more cash)

I have personally built or repaired thousands of PCs, and through answering at least as many questions, I've learned that the key to explaining computers to the non-technical audience is brevity. My intention is to keep "The Hand-Me-Down PC" a very short book, less than of fifth the size of the 1000+ page monsters of techno-babble that currently dominate the market. The first half of the book will consist of plain English explanations of the trade-offs involved in owning an older PC. The second half is my expanded troubleshooting guide, with the addition of illustrations. The focus of the troubleshooting guide is not to educate users about how a "Von Neumann architecture" computer operates, but how to get it running again when it's broke.

My professional qualifications include a BSEE in the computer option from Northeastern University (1986) and a MSEE from the University of Massachusetts (1990). I have twice served as manufacturing and technical support manager in clone PC businesses, and have trained numerous technicians and sales people. I've written and edited (under contract) software manuals, and was published this year as the co-author of "Electronic Imaging - Applications and Markets," for which I wrote the multimedia sections.

"The Hand-Me-Down PC" will be finished by the end of September. There will be last minute additions of time sensitive references such as World Wide Web help resources. My on-line troubleshooting guide, along with links to other published writing can be found at: I would be happy to provide you with a full outline and finished sections of the manuscript on request.

Sincerely Yours
Morris Rosenthal
(413) 585-9671


Several things have changed since the sample query letter I'm presenting here was sent out, including my e-mail, phone number and salemanship ability. It's not the perfect query letter, but it did the job, even if it's appreciably longer than I generally advocate. The first paragraph was a build-up to keep the acquisitions editor from laughing about the idea of a book dedicated to old PCs. The second paragraph defines the market and my ability to reach it - nobody ever believed that every old PC out there represented a potential sale - but I could prove that some people with old PCs were looking for information.

The three questions were put in to demonstrate that the proposed book had a real theme and focus. The next paragraph was a little risky, knocking the current state-of-the art in computer books, which is never a great idea in a query letter, but I really believed I was onto something. I also talked a little about my experience and how close I was to the customer base. Finally, I put in my "professional" qualifications, and a link to my website that had given me the confidence to write the book. Frankly, if an editor was sold on the book by the end of the second paragraph, there would be little reason to finish reading it.

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