One of the questions: "Do you have any suggestions as to how I can sell myself to an editor when I have never been published previously?"
Every editor is different so there is no one-pitch-fits-all answer. But generally, it doesn't matter if you've been published. What matters is if you wrote a good book. (Every author used to be an unpublished writer. And every author, regardless of how many well-received books s/he's had published, can still turn out a subpar book.)
Of course an editor will not get to your good book unless you introduce it both in a professional manner and in a way that makes it irresistible. In the query letter, describe your book as if it were flap (or back cover) copy, or even a poster tease, engineered to hook that casual browser.
Here is the query I sent Janet Schulman, the editor who eventually bought Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman (which, at that time, was Boys of Steel: The Subtitle Is Undetermined):
I'm a writer who's authored over [oops—should have been "more than"] 40 books with publishers including Scholastic, HarperCollins, and Dutton. I also write regularly for magazines including Nickelodeon and National Geographic Kids. I don't work with an agent, which is why I'm contacting you directly.I didn't give the title or even specify the subjects of the book. Funnily, the book itself doesn't include the word "Superman" in the story proper. But that's off-topic.
May I have your permission to submit a picture book manuscript? I ask you because of The Boy on Fairfield Street. My manuscript is similar in that it focuses on the origin of another 20th century icon. Here's a one-line summary:
In the thrilling days of yesteryear, after a sleepless summer night, two shy boys create a character who will become the greatest icon in the history of pop culture.
I know the picture book market is tough right now, but this would be the first book on this subject in this format; plus the subject is as kid-friendly as they come. With all due respect to Ben Franklin, Pocahontas, Rosa Parks, and Neil Armstrong, the shelves are starving for some new blood, and my subjects are particularly inspirational. I'm confident that this book would appeal to a whole bunch of libraries, school and public. And there's a whole other active market for it which will be obvious once you read it.
If I may send it, to what address?
The other question the aspiring author asked this week: "What is currently the turnaround time from putting an article or query letter in the mail to receiving the editors acknowledgment and answer?"
There is no "currently." It varies from editor to editor, day to day.
I e-mailed the above query on 2/22/05 at 11:10 a.m. I heard back at 11:26 a.m. But I e-mailed other editors queries before that...and, in some cases, have yet to hear back. So again, it varies.
(I should clarify that industry protocol typically dictates that unpublished writers not e-mail an editor unless submission guidelines or the editor him/herself has stated that is okay.)