The Purpose of a Query Letter
- To introduce the author and the manuscript
- To encourage an invitation to send the manuscript or sample chapters
- If for an article, a query letter saves you time from writing an article that won’t be accepted.
Words to the Wise About Query Letters
- Prove to an editor or agent that you are qualified to write the article or the book by preparing a well-written query letter.
- Check out the writer’s guidelines for the publication you are querying. Many publishers have specific formats for query letters.
- Do not rely on Writer’s Market for the editor’s name. Editors change jobs frequently. Find out the correct agent or editor through current writers’ publications or by calling the publishing house or agency. Be sure to know the correct spelling of names and addresses.
- Make sure the query letter has a professional look.
- Present a persuasive query that will interest the reader into requesting the full manuscript, or at least a partial.
- Be professional. Do not talk about how excited you would be to finally get published (even if it is true).
- Do not sing praises of your book or compare it to some bestselling book.
- Do not apologize if you have not yet been published.
Important Details Concerning Query Letters
- Carefully check for spelling or grammar errors.
- Keep it short, to the point, and focused solely on this particular project. Preferably the query letter should only be one page.
- Address the query to a specific agent or editor. Never address it to “Whom It May Concern.”
- If the query letter (and possibly a proposal) is being sent in response to having met the agent or editor at a conference with their request to contact them, state that fact. If this is being sent in an email, put “Requested Material” in the subject line. If the letter is being sent by regular mail, begin with something that establishes where and when you met the agent or editor.
Parts of a Query Letter
- Use plain business stationery, not perfumed or colored paper.
- Use standard business alignment and spacing: single spaced; 12 point font in Times New Roman, Arial, or Courier New; aligned on the left margin; no paragraph indentations; one space between paragraphs.
- Your letterhead should include your legal name, mailing address, phone number, and email address.
- Send a self-addressed, stamped envelope (SASE) with a regular mail submission.
The Inside Address
- First line: Should include the name and title of the person being queried
- Second line: Name of publishing house or the agency
- Third line: Address
- Fourth line: City, State, ZIP
- Follow the inside address with a double space
- Use a formal address for the editor or agent (Mr. , Mrs., Ms.)
- Follow the name with a colon and a double space
The Lead Paragraph
- This should be a concise, one to two sentence statement about the project that grabs the editor’s or agent’s attention, a hook.
- If you have met the agent or editor at a conference and they requested a query letter (and anything else they requested), mention that fact right away.
- Give the title of the manuscript or article being presented for consideration.
- For a novel, mention the genre or category and what possible line is being targeted.
- For an article, briefly summarize what the article will cover.
- Give the word count of the manuscript or article.
- The hook can set up the era and location for the piece. For example: Set in…., or During the …, or Taking place in…
- The hook can set up the main characters. For example: The story of Annabel, a frustrated dog sitter… or A cozy mystery starring…
- Never start with a casual personal introduction. For example: Hi, my name is Sam….
- Possible hooks for articles include: defining a problem or situation and proposing an article to help solve it; giving two-three lines of facts, followed by an explanation of how that applies to a target audience; posing a question for a problem/solution or informative type of hook; giving a quick personal experience or anecdote to establish your experience in writing on the subject; giving an attention-grabber to make the reader immediately be interested.
- This is where you condense your entire book or project down to a paragraph or two.
- Use approximately 50 words to give the general storyline, including who the main character(s) are, character(s)’ goals, conflicts faced, hint of sexual tension (for romances), hint of mystery element (if any), a hint of the black moment, and a hint of how things work out by the end of the story.
The Author’s Credentials
- Keep this short and related to your writing.
- Briefly list your credentials as a previously published author: titles of published work, where and when; writing awards or contest wins.
- If not published, mention writers groups you belong to and mention any qualifications or personal experiences you have with the basic subject matter.
- First, thank the agent or editor for their time and consideration.
- Second, remind the agent or editor that the full manuscript is available upon on request and state that you look forward to hearing from them soon.
- Follow with a double space to the Complimentary Closing (Sincerely, Respectfully, of Thank you for your consideration).
- Follow with a double space to your signature line (type out your name) and then sign above it.
- Follow with a double space to Enclosures: (list exactly what is enclosed).