The Query Letter

Writing the Query Letter
by Sandy Blair ©

No one enjoys crafting a query letter, but here are some tips which might make the process a little less painful.

Basic Tips:

    Use Courier New, 12 point, single spaced. (Many editors say they prefer reading Courier because it’s easier on the eyes, although they do read others. I say, “Make'em happy.”)


    Always check an agent’s or publisher’s web site for submission guidelines before querying. Some take e-queries. Others want hard copy. Some request only the letter, some request the first 50 pages, and others request a three-chapter partial.


    Be sure you have the correct spelling of last names and use a formal manner of address (i.e., Dear Ms. or Dear Mr.--even if you’ve interviewed in person and she said at the time, “Call me Mary.”)


    Be sure you have a current address. Editors and agents do move frequently.


    Have someone proof your letter for typos before mailing.


All query letters should be succinct and capable of capturing the reader’s attention immediately. Avoid rambling introductions and flowery verbiage.

Why: The recipient editor/agent is staring at a mountain of query letters and needs to get through them before her 10:00 a.m. meeting.

What are editors and agents looking for?

ONE page with only The Book, The Look and The Cook.

THE BOOK:

The first paragraph should simply state:

    The manuscript title

    The genre or sub-genre. Include the target line if known.

    Approximate word count by computer word count (easiest and now acceptable) or calculated by multiplying 250 x the number of manuscript pages, that manuscript being written in Courier New, 12 point, double spaced with one inch margins.

    Period/year if historical.

    What the story is about: The manuscript’s Universal Theme (i.e., Love conquers all, two wrongs never make a right, etc.)

        Example:

            Sink or Swim, a 75,000-word contemporary romantic comedy set in the Pacific Northwest, explores the dangers of generalizations and preconceived...blah, blah.


THE LOOK:

The second paragraph should highlight your High Concept, your TV blurb, “your story in a thimble,” told in only a few sentences.

        Example:

            Sparks fly when Women’s Rights activist Alley Murray goes on a much-needed vacation and she finds herself stranded on a deserted isle with the “King of the Conservatives,” radio talk show host Mike Fraser, a man who firmly believes a woman’s place is in the home after his wife left him and their two children for a co-worker. The lone survivors of a tourist helicopter crash, they have to overcome personal prejudices and join forces in order to survive...
   
 
THE COOK:

        This third paragraph of your query letter should include:
        Any books, short stories, or articles you’ve previously sold.

        Any awards this manuscript has won.

        Any significant non-writing awards you’ve won, (i.e., Iron Man Triathlon, Miss California, an Olympic Gold medal, whatever might capture the agent/editor’s imagination...*marketing.)

        Any specific skill sets that make you particularly well-suited to write this story (i.e., you’re a homicide detective and your submission is a Romantic Suspense.)

    Tip: The recipient editor/agent doesn’t care that you’ve been writing since age 4, have read every book ever published, or that your family and friends loves what you write.

   
THE CLOSING:

        A brief thank you

        Mention of the partial and the SASE you’ve enclosed.

        Signature, typed name, addy, and contact email

    Tip: Don’t bother to say that you hope he/she enjoys the story. It’s not only a waste of precious space (you only have ONE page to tell all of the above), but the editors and agents already know that you’re not only “hoping” hey’ll like it but are praying like mad they will.

    SAMPLE QUERY LETTER:

    Mary X
    XYZ agency
    100 5th Avenue
    New York, NY 10002

    June 21, 2010

    Dear Ms. X
    In my 100,000-word Contemporary Romance, Tell Me It’s Not True, sparks fly when Women’s Rights activist Alley Murray goes on a much-needed vacation and finds herself stranded on a deserted isle with the “King of the Conservatives,” radio talk show host Mike Fraser, a man who firmly believes a woman’s place is in the home after his wife left him and their two children for a co-worker.

    The lone survivors of a tourist helicopter crash, they... etc.

    Previous Sales: a romantic short story to Woman’s World, $500.
    Member of Romance Writers of America and NINC

    Thank you for your time and consideration. SASE enclosed with my three-chapter partial.

    Sincerely,
    Author
    100 Glen Lane
    Podunk, AK 12345
    Author@authorgmail.net

    Short and to the point.

    And should you receive a rejection, take it in stride. Remember, your success isn’t solely dependent on your ability to write—your “voice”—but on you getting the right manuscript on the right desk at the right time. What’s popular today may not be six months from now. Don’t chase trends. Write what you love to read and read what you like to write—so that you know “good” from “mediocre”—and do it from your heart.

    Sandy