Articles

Query letters

Why do we send query letters?  The answer to that question isn’t quite as simple as it seems.  The obvious response would be to hook the interest of an agent or editor in hopes they will request more of our material.  The fact is we’re also presenting ourselves to the industry in what we hope is a professional and impressive way.

So how can we do that in one page or less?  Glad you asked.

My first query letter was pathetic.  I only sent it to about six or eight people, but of that group, not a single person requested more.  I knew I had an interesting story and I had found sample queries on the Internet and thought I had written a good query.  I was mistaken.  It was boring, embarrassingly amateurish and didn’t give a hint of my writing style or ability.  Not only that, but it was not effective.  A zero percent hit rate isn’t a good thing.  So, I started over, spending hours looking for advice and samples until I finally figured out a plan or format that worked.

An unpublished writer can usually expect to receive a request for more material about 25% of the time. (That means 75% of letters are going to be rejected.) Once I switched to the following plan, I began getting requests for more material 60 to 70% of the time.  Much better odds.  I thought at first it was just that my next story was more interesting, but the third book also received the high hit rate.  That’s when I knew I was on to something.

So now that I’ve explained the background for this format, it’s time to get busy.

  1. Salutation.  

Dear Ms. Doe,

The salutation on the letter should be addressed to a specific person and should not use the first name unless that person would recognize you in a crowded room and call you by your first name.  Even in those circumstances, a more formal address is preferable.  Remember, this is a professional letter!  And please, whatever you do, spell their name correctly.

 

  1. Paragraph one-

This paragraph should give the reader a quick hook and cut to the chase.  How many words? What is the genre? What is the title?  See the sample below of the query I used for SMALL MEDIUM AT LARGE.

Dear Ms. Agent,

You don’t know me, but your dead brother has been talking to me, is not the way most people would choose to start a conversation with a stranger. Unfortunately Lena Phillips has few other options in my latest 100,000 words psychic romance, SMALL MEDIUM AT LARGE.

  1. Paragraphs 2 and 3.

These paragraphs summarize the work and must show at least one of the major conflicts of the MS.  Notice paragraph one gives a romance conflict and paragraph two points out the external.  Without a conflict, there is no story.  The agent/editor needs to see that you understand that idea.

Example:

Lena is an ordinary schoolteacher with an extraordinary gift. Spirits from the other side find her irresistible.  David Monroe isn’t exactly turned off by her either, but he is of the firm opinion that psychics are either delusional or con artists, so when Lena approaches him with his brother’s warning for his life, he assumes she is just out for money and sends her on her way.

A series of strange events causes David to rethink his position, and he decides to ask Lena for her help in uncovering the details of his brother’s apparent suicide. This decision sends the two of them on a quest that eventually uncovers a murder conspiracy involving a U.S. senator with connections to the CIA.  It also earns them the unfortunate position of being the top priority of a rather cagey and heartless hit man. 

The snippet of story doesn’t need to show the resolution, but it should intrigue the reader enough to want to see more.  It is also important that it shows only the critical facts.  No need to mention the hometown or the heroine’s cat unless that is pivotal to the story.

  1. Paragraphs 4 and 5

This is where you tell a little about yourself.  Remember, the agent is looking for a career association and the editor is looking for a writer they can build and cash in on.  Do not include anything that is not relevant to writing or at least to this manuscript.  If your story is about a kindergarten teacher and you’ve spent ten years with those little buggers, now is the time to tell them.  But be careful not to make it look like that’s the only book in you.  They want to see that you are not a one-book wonder and that you understand publishing is a business.

Example:

As for myself, I am a PRO member of Romance Writers of America and Central Ohio Fiction Writers.   I have three completed manuscripts, one of which finaled in the 2005 Red River RWA “Ticket To Write” contest, and a forth work in progress.

Growing up in the foothills of the Appalachians has provided me with some wonderful exposure to the eccentricity and folklore that lend a touch of whimsy to some of the secondary characters in SMALL MEDIUM AT LARGE.

This is also a good area to include anything specific for that agent/editor.  Mentioning you heard them at a conference or that you noticed on their website they are interested in certain things you think your book addresses.  They like to know that you’ve done your research and this is not a cookie cutter query.  Some authors prefer to mention conference meetings, etc., in paragraph one.  Do what you feel is best.

Example:

I noticed on your website that you study Zen Buddhism.  I think you will find the non-traditional spiritual aspects of SMALL MEDIUM AT LARGE, interesting.

  1. The final paragraphs (can be two or three, but keep them short and sweet)

At this point, most experts agree, you should give the reader an idea of what type of reading base you are targeting.  What is your style?  Who can they sell your work to?

Example:

The witty dialogues of Nora Roberts, the romantic tensions of Lavryle Spencer, and the adorable heroes of Julie Garwood, have all influenced my writing style.  I love the romance genre and have a host of stories bouncing around in my head, begging to be told. 

It is important, however, not to brag that you are the next Nora.  Their response will no doubt be, “Yeah, right.”  It’s tough to support boasts like that.

  1. The closing.

Make sure you thank them for their time.  They are busy people and even though they make their living off your work, there are plenty of others they can use instead of you.  Remember they are people too, and you catch a lot more flies with honey than vinegar.

Example:

I would like to thank you for taking the time to consider my project.  A completed manuscript is available upon request. 

Notice a reminder that the MS is completed.  Also notice that no reference has been made in the entire letter that this project has been rejected by anyone else.  Some agents/editors request that you let them know if it is a multiple submission, however, I personally only do this when a full is requested.

  1. Final sign out.

Be sure to include a variety of ways the reader can contact you and always include an SASE.

Sincerely,

Jane Doe
111 South Henley Street
Somewhere, USA
Jdoe@internet.com
(333-444-5555)

When you finish, your letter should be one page long.  It should have short, succinct paragraphs, and be visually appealing.  You don’t want the reader to open it and think, “Yikes, I don’t want to read through all this.”

It should be 12pt font, single spaced Times New Roman or a similar font.  Put the title of your book in all caps and mention the title more than once.  You want it to stick in their heads.  Don’t use colored paper or cutsie stationary.  You are a pro.  Present yourself like one.

A caveat.  Always check the website of the agent/editor you intend to query.  Some of them have specific requirements for this stage of the process.  Many request the first three chapters with the initial query, for instance.  Finding out their preferences shows them you do your homework.

I realize breaking the query down in this manner makes it difficult to see the overall picture, so I have included the letter in its entirety below.

Dear Ms. Agent,

You don’t know me, but your dead brother has been talking to me, is not the way most people would choose to start a conversation with a stranger. Unfortunately Lena Phillips has few other options in my latest 100,000 words psychic romance, SMALL MEDIUM AT LARGE.

Lena is an ordinary schoolteacher with an extraordinary gift. Spirits from the other side find her irresistible.  David Monroe isn’t exactly turned off by her either, but he is of the firm opinion that psychics are either delusional or con artists, so when Lena approaches him with his deceased brother’s warning for his life, he assumes she is just out for money and sends her on her way.

A series of strange events causes David to rethink his position, and he decides to ask Lena for her help in uncovering the details of his brother’s apparent suicide. This decision sends the two of them on a quest that eventually uncovers a murder conspiracy involving a U.S. senator with connections to the CIA.  It also earns them the unfortunate position of being the top priority of a rather cagey and heartless hit man. 

As for myself, I am a PRO member of Romance Writers of America and Central Ohio Fiction Writers.   I have three completed manuscripts, one of which finaled in the 2005 Red River RWA “Ticket To Write” contest, and a forth work in progress.

Growing up in the foothills of the Appalachians has provided me with some wonderful exposure to the eccentricity and folklore that lend a touch of whimsy to some of the secondary characters in SMALL MEDIUM AT LARGE.  I noticed on your website that you study Zen Buddhism.  I think you will find the non-traditional spiritual aspects of the story, interesting.

The witty dialogues of Nora Roberts, the romantic tensions of Lavryle Spencer, and the adorable heroes of Julie Garwood, have all influenced my writing style.  I love the romance genre and have a host of stories bouncing around in my head, begging to be told. 

I would like to thank you for taking the time to consider my project.  A completed manuscript is available upon request. 

Sincerely,

Jane Doe

Jane Doe
111 South Henley
Somewhere, USA
Jdoe@yahoo.com
(333-444-5555)

 

 

 

 


Follow Me on:   

      

THE PROMISED CHILD
Available Now
Order