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Writing the Perfect Query Letter
A huge amount of emphasis has been placed on the
importance of the query letter recently. For this reason,
a lot of newer writers may feel intimidated by the
prospect of writing a letter of introduction to a
stranger. There is almost a feeling of placing your
fledgling writing career into the hands of a person who
will judge everything you churn out on the strength of
this one all-important query.
Often, a query letter is an editor's first glimpse at
your work. Don't let that get you down though - it's easy
enough to get it right, sound professional and impress
that stranger all at once.
Oh, and by the way, these rules are exactly the same for
trying to attract agent representation for your novel.
Here's a list of Do's and Don'ts for your query letter.
Do - create your own
Don't - cover it in cute
graphics or fancy colored fonts.
Do - Use new, good
quality WHITE paper, laser printed if possible. Always
send a newly written letter on clean paper.
Don't - send recycled or
colored paper. It does not attract attention. Don't be
tempted to send a photocopy either - not even a good
Do - include a brief
list of relevant publishing credits. This includes any
personal achievements that have something to do with your
story - e.g. - If you are a nurse and your story is set
in a hospital, then add this.
Don't - brag, lie or
inflate your own publishing history if you don't have any
credits yet. Keep it simple and professional. Even the
big name authors started somewhere.
Do - your homework.
Address your query to the right person in the correct
department. Be sure to spell the names correctly and take
the time to learn what type of work he or she prefers to
represent. Learn the gender of your query's recipient.
Sometimes names can be misleading, so be careful you
aren't sending a female a letter headed with a masculine
greeting. (e.g. Dear Mr. Smith)
Don't - send in a
general "Dear Editor" or, worse, "Dear
Sir/Madam". This is worse than not checking on the
Do - Include your
full contact details. If you write using a pseudonym,
then specify this. The check will still be made out to
you, not your pen name.
Don't - try to fool the
editor into believing your pseudonym is your real name.
You can't cash a check in someone else's name.
Do - Briefly describe
your work. See if you can keep it to around twenty-five
words. No more than a paragraph.
Do - estimate the
word count - lots of emphasis on estimate. An
editor will not want to see "around 55,437
words" written on your query. Round the number off
to the nearest hundred.
Do - Keep your letter
down to one page in length. Editors are busy people. They
will want to know what you are offering as quickly as
Don't - gush about how
much your family, friends or local critique group loved
your story. And regardless of how many people might
encourage you, you are NOT the next Stephen King/Danielle
Steele/Tom Clancy. And even if you are, the editor
doesn't want to know.
Do - Include a
self-addressed, stamped envelope for the reply. Be sure
the postage amount is correct.
Whew! It seems like an awful lot to remember, doesn't it?
The good news here is that none of it is outside the
bounds of simple common sense. If you remind yourself
that writing is still a business, then you're on the
Here's an example of a simple query letter:
Dear John Smith-Jones,
I am currently seeking representation for my completed
novel "Masterpiece", a 90,000 word
thriller/sci-fi/romance, targeted toward the
Thrill-Seeking-Scientific-Romantics imprint of your
My story is similar in style and target-audience to your
client, Mary Blech's novel, "Futuristic Amazonian
My past publishing credits include: "Wonderful"
- a short story sold to "Blah Magazine" in 1999
and "Amazing" - an award-winning article sold
to "Humbug Publishing" in 2000.
Attached is a copy of the synopsis for
"Masterpiece" The manuscript can be made
available to you at your request and I can be contacted
at the above listings.
I look forward to your response at your earliest
Okay, it's not really a perfect sales letter, but it is
basically the right format. Short and to the point will
grab a busy editor's attention, perhaps prompting him to
read the ONE or TWO PAGE synopsis you so thoughtfully
attached (with a paperclip, not stapled)
The key to writing an effective query letter is
professionalism. Present yourself and your work as a
serious business proposition and the editor is more
likely to view your work in that light.
Copyright Lee Masterson. All rights reserved
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