Writing a good query letter is probably one of the most important projects you will do as a writer. It creates your first impression in front of a literary agent, a publisher, or a magazine editor. You probably will not get a second chance to make this right.
To save time, you should create a basic structure for your query letter, but it should be personalized for each person and industry you send it to. You will fail if you send out a form letter to everyone and every place. The query letter you send to an agent will not work for proposing articles to a magazine.
You must massage your master query letter in such a way that it sells to the person and market you are approaching.
So, what’s in an effective query letter?
Query Letter Bare Bones
- Your letter should not exceed 1 page. Yup, that’s it. One page. About 300 words. Not much, but you are a wordsmith and can do this.
- Do some good research and make sure that you are sending your query letter to the right person. It goes almost without saying that you need to be sure that the name, title, and address are spelled correctly.
- Almost everyone who receives queries likes them short and sweet: ideal format is three paragraphs.
Your first graf (paragraph) should be your attention-getter, your hook.
The second will be a very tight synopsis of the work you wish to present, plus genre, and other notes about the manuscript (is it professionally edited?).
The third graf will be your shortest, 2 sentences or so, and will be your bio and/or credentials. That’s it. Succinct.
- At the end of your letter, thank the addressee. It is a simple courtesy, and most people on that side of the desk appreciate politeness.
Critical Things to Include in a Query Letter
- Title and length of your book
- If you are proposing magazine articles/blog, etc., specifically state the thesis of the article you wish to write for them.
- Have you been referred to them?
- If you are proposing a non-fiction book, on additional pages you should include an outline, table of contents, a sample chapter or two.
- All of your contact info. In an email, this is not as critical, but if you send snail mail, make sure they know how to reach you. Also, ALWAYS include an SASE if you query by snail mail.
- No misspellings, and use a conventional font (about 12 point, Arial or Times New Roman).
There is no absolutely golden formula for a query letter, but remember, you are in the writing business. Your letter should smack of professionalism and basically sell you and your project.
Network with other writers, and only contact agents, publishers, or magazines when you know specifically the types of works for which they are searching.
You can write the best query letter ever, but occasionally, you will face rejection because of what is going on internally in the office you contact, not because of the work you are proposing. Other times, your work may not be up to industry standards, but that is another story.
Be prepared to wallpaper your office in rejects, but one day if you work hard and consistently, someone is going to be interested in what you have to sell. There is an element of luck here.