Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Do's and Don'ts of a Query Letter

Okay, this is in response to Cara's suggested topic: The Query Letter. First of all, in brief, a query is an introduction of you and what you have to sell. Rather like a resume, this is your first connection with a potential "employer", i.e. a publisher/editor or agent, so you want to make it good. No, you want to make it GREAT! (Otherwise, he/she may reject your idea and never, ever invite you back :-(

So, what does this mean? What should you do to make sure it is GREAT and you nail that first impression? Well, first of all, your query should have five components: 1)the hook; 2)the pitch; 3)the body; 4)your credentials; and 5)the closing.

Start by making sure you address your letter to the name of a specific editor, if possible. Then you include ....

Hook: This is a tricky component to write well and effectively. For example, DO come up with something that intrigues the one you're trying to impress, and has him/her curious to ask for more (your story) or at least to read the rest of your letter! My personal favorite is the "question" Example: "Do you ever wonder if there are space aliens watching us?" and your work, of course, has something to do with a space alien invasion. DON'T start with "Hi, my name is" or suck up with "I am such a fan of your magazine", etc. The person reading this may gag and toss your query in the trash :-(

Pitch: This is when you want to let them know what you have to sell. Example: " I would like to submit my completed manuscript, Gone with the Wind, a 500,000 word historical saga, for your consideration".... and so on.

Body: Here you want to give a brief summary of your story. Rather like what you read on a dust jacket flap or back cover of a book. A couple paragraphs should do it. But be consise, pack everything essential into those paragraphs. Remember, you want to peak their curiosity, to make your work stand out as a unique, fresh proposition. Read some examples from books you have to get a better idea.

Credentials: Toot your horn a little, if you have already published work, taught a writing class, etc. If you have websites or blogsites, mention them. If you belong to a writers' organization, let them know. Networking is a big deal to publishers who want to feel that you'll be active in marketing your work. DON'T mention things that have no relevance to writing, such as "I've worked as a babysitter for ten years." It doesn't mean anything to a publisher. Nor do they care about such events in your life. Of course, unless you've written an article on tips for babysitters.

Closing: Wrapping it up should include thanking them for taking the time to read your query and that you would be glad to send them the completed manuscript for review. Give them your contact information (email, address, phone numbers).

Bottom line, if you are submitting work to a specific publisher who happens to have a website, and on this website they have a page with info on writing an effective query letter.... please check it out and give them what they ask for.

There are many, many websites with advice and examples of query letters. Here are a few to check out ----

The wisest approach to writing an effective query is to practice writing them! And reading examples. Again, there are plenty found online or in books on writing.


Kyrie said...

I learned something new today...

I never heard of a query letter until now! xD Thank you for letting me this, this will be beneficial to me in the future.

teacherwriter said...

Kyrie, You are very welcome. And good luck in college!

Hunter said...

Great post with highly relevant information and links to boot!

Just as an FYI to anyone looking for additional info on the subject, the latest issue of Writer's Digest devoted a section to the query letter, and it has some nice examples for different genres, etc. (I'm in no way affiliated with the mag.)

Thanks again for the post.

teacherwriter said...

Hunter -- glad you found it informative. I will have to check that W.D. mag. Always looking for news about writing! And thanks for stopping by.