You’ve hatched the great idea and managed to get it down on paper (or at least on the hard drive) from start to finish. Now the next part of the challenge is to find a publisher. Most writers dread facing the primary tool for accomplishing that task – The Query Letter. While you’re pretty sure you know enough words, nobody tells you what to say or how and when to say it!
Query letters are your first, and perhaps your only chance to introduce yourself and your work to a stranger who (you hope) will be interested enough to look at more of your work and ultimately buy and publish it. The editor, publisher, or agent you are writing will read dozens of letters like yours in the course of their workday, so you will need to make a quick and positive impression. Start by using good form in your letter.
Good form usually means:
- Your query letter should only be a single page. That one page should be a regular 8.5” x 11” sheet of paper. Fancy page sizes or unique presentation folders with decorative cuts will not win you any points.
- Set your letter up in standard, single-spaced business format. If you are unused to modern letter formats, you can visit an online resource (like the ones shown here) for review.
- Always address the agent, editor, or publisher by name. Failing to use the editor, agent or publisher’s name will mark you as an amateur and may result in your query being thrown out. If you don’t know who you are submitting to, LOOK IT UP!
In the body of your letter, you will introduce your work, by name in the FIRST sentence. Make sure that this is a tightly written (as opposed to the dreaded Run-On) sentence. The remainder of your first paragraph should include:
- A brief introduction of your characters and the setting of the story.
- Type of manuscript (fiction, genre fiction, non-fiction, children, etc.)
- Target audience
- Manuscript length
- Complete or not – if incomplete, indicate anticipated date of completion
Your next paragraph will introduce you and your qualifications. This is your VERY BRIEF writing resume. Describe those things that make you uniquely qualified to write this book. This is where you will talk about the length of time you have been writing, publications (if any) that you have written for, awards you have won, and organizational affiliations.
In your third paragraph, OFFER to send the first three (3) chapters OR a completed manuscript.
- Allow the person you have contacted to have the option of reading your work. Don’t jump the gun and send one, assuming that it will save time or postage – this will again mark you as rude and amateurish, and probably get your work tossed into the nearest trashcan.
- DO NOT introduce coversation regarding ANY payments, contracts, or other anticipated money demands. This letter is simply an invitation from you to an editor, agent or publisher. You are asking them to do you the courtesy of reviewing your work with an eye toward future publication. Money comes later (maybe).
At the end of your letter, be sure to thank the person you have contacted. There are two big reasons for the extension of this courtesy:
- You have asked someone to stop what they are doing to look at your work – doesn’t matter if you have written the Book Of The Century, or not.
- You COULD wind up working with this person for a long time – do you really want them to think you were raised by wolves?
Before forwarding your query, review it CAREFULLY, checking for errors in grammar, syntax, and spelling. Check the publisher guidelines again and be sure that you have used the requested format and included all requested information. If the agent, editor, or publisher is only willing to accept email queries – Send An Email! If they are only accepting queries via U.S. mail – Send your query via U.S. mail!
When sending your query via U.S. mail, add a self-addressed, stamped envelope (sase). This is another matter of being polite, especially if your query was unsolicited. Adding this to your query letter means that the agent, editor, or publisher doesn’t have to go searching for your address when they respond to your query.
This is the equivalent of a job interview, and may be your only opportunity to contact this agent, editor, or publisher. You don’t want your manuscript overlooked because you sent a tacky letter that did NOT highlight your writing skills, or show them to best advantage – right?
And once the query is complete and forwarded, BE PATIENT! It can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months to get an answer. Don’t harass the person you sent your work to. If you haven’t heard anything within ninety (90) days, consider sending your query to another agent, editor, or publisher.