One of the synonyms of query listed in the thesaurus is inquiry.
The first thing agents and editors ask when you submit your manuscript is a query letter. A query may include an appealing but concise summary of the novel’s central idea, the theme and viewpoint, its title and the word count or the length, plus the category. To what genre does your novel belong? In addition publishers want to know if you as a writer have any qualifications in the field of writing, in other words your writing credentials or references, and if you have any books previously published.
In basic, simple terms then a query is a sales letter to an editor that is intended to interest him/her in your book. We have often heard from the professionals in the writing field that the query letter has a dual purpose: it attempts to convince an editor that your book idea and theme is good and it also tries to make him/her believe in you as a writer. And even though queries are personal, there are some guidelines as well as some technical aspects that you may follow to structure your proposal.
Burford of Lyons and Buford writes:
“One of the things that turn me off in a submission is a long, dense opening letter, telling me why this subject is important, why the market is large, on and on and on. I want to have a five-sentence letter that says, ‘I have written a book on so and so. I think it’s good because so and so. I hope you’ll consider it.’ Then with the backup material, if it’s really startling, I’d like to see something about the market. And the book market can be a very different thing from the market in general”
So according to Buford a query letter alone will not sell your book. He mentions backup material and something about the market too. Most agents, publishers and editors do not require any backup material. They only ask for a query, and if they are interested enough they will ask for more. And in the words of Charles Spicer:
“A concise query letter that describes very clearly what the book is, that doesn’t ramble all over and say, ‘My book is sort of like this, but then also sort of like this, but a little bit like this.’ I find it helpful if [the author tries] to place it in some category. I don’t like query letters that say ‘My book is like nothing else.’
“Every book is like something else, and it helps me if somebody just places it in a particular area. I look at it, and 90% of the time, I say, ‘I’m afraid I don’t see a market for it.’ The other 10% of the time I say, ‘Well gee, there is something here.’”
Is it possible then to sell your story idea regardless of the market and without backup material, when everyone else tells you that queries alone won’t sell?