Let’s talk about query letters

Today’s subject is query letters. You know those pesky things writers have to write but would rather not. Possibly a good place to begin is by explaining what a query letter is, and isn’t, and after that, why editors, publishers and literary agents require them. The query letter is your introduction so it’s vitally important that your query makes a good impression.

Query letters, or letters of inquiry, are as old as mud. Simply put, a query letter is a business letter sent from one professional to another and weren’t we all taught how to write simple business letters in English class sometime in those long and arduous school years.

Let’s look 1st look at a standard email letter, the kind we all send these days. To make a standard letter a query lettet, first we must do something very important in the SUBJECT LINE. This is the line right at the top and is probably the most important line in the entire query. What this line MUST contain is the word QUERY. If the word QUERY is not present in the SUBJECT LINE, there is no use writing the query letter as it will likely end up deleted, caught by just about everyone’s JUNK FILTER.

Next important line is the SALUTATION, the first line in the query letter, or to whom you are sending your query. Business letter usually begin with Dear Sir or Madam, however, a query letter should go one step further and contain the name of an editor, publisher or literary agent. Publishing houses and literary agencies usually have more than one person. Therefore, you must address, by last name, the person who you wish to read your query. For instance, Dear Mr. Smith. This is a must. To whom it may concern, Dear Sir or Madam, or anything beside a read name will usually cause a query to be deleted.

Where the actual letter begins has always been in controversy. Some authors believe that if you don’t hook the editor, agent, or person in the first line with something interesting, they will not read your letter. That may well be, however, what interests us is knowing three things: What genre your work is (mystery, romance, thriller, etc.). If you don’t know your work’s genre, you don’t know your audience. If you don’t know your audience, who will buy your book? If you don’t know your reader, then who did you write for?

So it’s vitally important for you, and us, to have this information. We also need your novel’s word count (not page count) and whether your work is fiction or non-fiction. If your work is non-fiction, you must also have a non-fiction proposal handy when it’s asked for.

Next should be a short description of your work. What we need here is a short jacket blurb. Short is the key word here. A good source of description lengths can be found by looking at book descriptions on Amazon. One paragraph is all. If you send us long, convoluted paragraphs, we will not read them. Novel or book descriptions that ramble on and on, page after page, tell us you don’t know what you’ve written. When we get one of these, a rejection usually follows. Why? Long, rambling paragraphs say you really don’t know what you’ve written.

Your last paragraph should give us some idea of who you are and what you’ve done to build the beginning of an author name (social networks, blog or blogs, Website). If you’ve been published, this information should be here too (who published you and when).

Lastly your name (no pen names) and your contact information should be here.
The perfect query letter should be no longer than one page. Short, three paragraphs, is plenty. If the person to whom you sent your query needs more, they will as for it. interested.

Posted in Publishing, Queries.

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