Ah, yes, the notorious query letter, the fear of all authors! I know that authors are scrambling under their porches as we speak just from reading the title of this article. So, for the brave few that have decided to stick with me, let’s walk into the darkness together…
A good query letter is truly an asset for selling your novel. For short stories and poetry, it is something completely different. Many authors get confused by the difference, and rightly so! It isn’t spelled out nicely in any one place. Furthermore, you authors have to sift through hundreds of online and print publishers (also known as the “Publisher’s Slush Pile”) to find a match for your work. Then you have to follow differing submission requirements for each!
For these reasons, we are going to break up the two types of query letters. We will start with the novel submission. Below you will find an example of a good one.
Writing as Danger Smith
1600 Pennsylvania Ave
Washington, DC 20500
August 1, 2011
Dear [Mr/Mrs]. [Agent Name],
I read on [advertisement location] that you were interested in [genre]. The [insert novel title] is a completed [insert word count]-word [insert genre with sub-genre if there is one] novel set in [location] and what I believe is a perfect match for your submission requests.
And she buried the body . . .
After an apocalyptic storm ripped through her small town in Kansas, a woman discovers a dead body, and learns someone may know her darkest secret.
Fill in with main character name, followed by a plot description which is no longer than 150 words. Do not give away the ending of the novel in this description. Fill in with main character name, followed by a plot description which is no longer than 150 words. Do not give away the ending of the novel in this description. Fill in with main character name, followed by a plot description which is no longer than 150 words. Do not give away the ending of the novel in this description. Fill in with main character name, followed by a plot description which is no longer than 150 words. Do not give away the ending of the novel in this description. Fill in with main character name, followed by a plot description which is no longer than 150 words. Do not give away the ending of the novel in this description. Fill in with main character name, followed by a plot description which is no longer than 150 words. Do not give away the ending of the novel in this description.
The [insert novel title] is my [which book is this?] novel. I am an [insert profession, then give any other relevant professional information]. Upon request, I would be happy to send my complete manuscript for your evaluation. You can contact me by email. If you prefer, you can also request by snail mail. Please feel free to go to my website at www.dangersmith.co.cc to view writing samples and to learn more about me.
Thank you for your time and consideration, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.
Wow. Let’s all take a moment to applaud John Smith, who has done a stunning job putting this query letter together!
The first section to take note of is the reference information. This includes your name, your pen name if you have one, and ALL your contact information. You can even throw your phone number down if you feel like it. You probably noticed that John Smith has a website. That’s right! And you should too! However, you will need to reference the Website articles (Coming Soon!) for more information on that. Bottom line: You should have one. Period.
Don’t forget to add the date!
Agents/Publishers want to know that you are not sending out a blanket email. They want it personable so they know you took the time to research them and make a focused decision. For these reasons, you always add the agency name or the publishers name before you begin the body of your query.
Many times it is hard to find the agent/editor name who will eventually read your query. Sometimes this is hopeless, but usually not. Many editors can be found buried in the website, on LinkedIn, or even with a quick Google search for merely “editor [insert agency/publisher name]”.
Your first paragraph should be short and concise, and should relay all the key information they will be interested in, to include: where you learned of the solicitation, title, word count, genre, and the setting of your novel.
TIP: When giving your word count, DO NOT give the exact number or words. This is a clear sign that you are an amateur writer. Instead, round to the nearest thousandth.
The main body of the query letter is typically separated into three sections: the tag, the hook, and the summary. Each is to entice your agent/editor to continue reading. Successful businesses use this for marketing expensive products, because no one is going to throw $10,000 your way without being very, and I mean VERY passionate about the product you have to offer.
The tag, in this case, is “And she buried the body…” What?! Who buried a body? Whose body was buried? Do people know about this? Was it done in secret? Did her child kill, and is she now left with the unpleasant task of tidying up? There are so many unanswered questions that are immediately significant to the reader by using a catchy five-word phrase. This will entice your reader to review the hook.
The hook gives a little more information, the main conflict of the novel, but does not give too much detail. If your reader is still interested, and by god they should be, they will now turn their attention to the summary.
TIP: Don’t make your summary a novel, a novella, a novelette, short story, or an abstract. They are all TOO LONG! Keep your summary to 150 words TOPS. Most editors find it annoying when you make them read 500+ words. And in most cases, they won’t. They have been staring at a computer for years, reading submission after submission, their eyes have turned to glass, and they are going to snap at their new intern editor to make themselves feel better RIGHT after reading your over-the-top summary. Best to let the new intern believe the world of writing and publishing is a beautiful thing… at least for a while.
The summary should convey the main conflict of the story again, but include the primary action of the protagonist and antagonist. This is not the time to talk about your genius subplots. Make the summary compelling, use action words, and, most importantly, don’t give away the ending. If the agent/publisher specifically asks for this, then, by all means, give it to them. Otherwise, don’t.
The last paragraph should highlight your credentials, reiterate your contact information, and sparkle with professionalism.
Close out your query letter with “Sincerely” or “I look forward to hearing from you.” Not with “My Fingers Are Crossed” or “Truly Yours” or “With Love” or “Your Partner In Crime.” Be professional!
Lastly, review and edit, review and edit, review and it.
Repeat last step.
Remember, many exceptional books never get published because of a faulty query letter. Though the book itself is very important, you cannot underestimate the power of writing an effective query letter. It is important to grab the attention of the reader and in so doing the publisher will want to read what you have written and possibly consider it for publication.
Short story query letters are a stripped-down version of what a novel query letter should be. So, let’s go to the next section: The Query Letter – Short Story (COMING SOON!)