May 27, 2014

Writing Tips (IV)

 The Query Letter II

 Reblogged from 

How do I format a query letter?

In order to make an excellent impression on agents and editors, you must format your query correctly. This entails being aware of an agency’s or publication’s submission guidelines and following them completely. In the case where there are no specific guidelines available, here are some general formatting tips for query letters:
  • If you query via e-mail, be sure your e-mail address is professional.
  • If querying by mail, send a self-addressed, stamped envelope (SASE). This way an editor or agent can notify you when the work has been accepted or rejected.
  • Keep it to one page. Agents and editors are very busy and are looking for a lot of information in a small amount of space.
  • Format it to industry standards. This means white paper, black ink, and Times New Roman size 12 font.
  • Include the date, the editor’s/agent’s name and title, the magazine or agency name and address, and your name and contact information (address, phone, fax, and e-mail).
  • Address it to the right editor or agent. When in doubt, call the publisher or magazine and ask who to send it to. Or buy one of our Writer’s Market books for detailed listings.
  • Spell the name of the publisher or magazine correctly and have an accurate address. Sometimes companies have multiple addresses or locations. If this is the case, know which location or address your contact works at.

What makes a query letter successful?

Remember, a query letter is your chance to introduce yourself to an agent or editor—someone who could potentially publish your work.
The first element of a successful query letter is the referral. When you write a query, don’t generalize your letter with a “Dear Mr. or Mrs.” Instead, be sure to address the agent or editor specifically. Make the extra effort to find out about them. Search online and see what they’ve written about or have mentioned what they are looking for. Then reference the information you learned about them in your query. For example, if you both attended the same writing conference, mention how you met. For more ways to approach editors and agents, read the Guide to Literary Agents or go to
A secondary element to include in your query is the basic information about your proposed story or idea. If you’ve written a fiction piece, mention the title and genre your work fits best in. If you are a nonfiction writer, talk about your proposed title or category for your book. You should also include a one-sentence summary of your story and your final manuscript’s word count or proposed word count of your nonfiction book.
The third element is the hook, which makes up the bulk of your query letter. This is where you talk about the subject matter (for nonfiction) or the characters, plot, and conflict (for fiction). This section should be between 100 and 200 words long.
For fiction writers, focus on who your protagonist is, the conflict the protagonist faces, and the setting—where and when does it take place? You can mention a couple major story beats, but do not give away the ending. For both nonfiction and fiction writers, it’s important to mention how your particular story or idea is different from other books on the same topic. Remember, you are trying to sell your work or idea to a potential publisher. Make sure your unique selling proposition is compelling. One way to achieve this is by avoiding addressing minor plots or characters in a fiction query. For a nonfiction query, you could mention the subject matter, your unique approach, and who the intended audience is.
The fourth element is the bio. In essence, the bio allows you to share with an editor or agent who you are and what expertise you may have. What makes you an authority on your subject? If it is relevant, nonfiction writers can mention their academic background, amount of research they’ve conducted on their proposal’s topic and their most recent (but relevant) published articles. Additionally, writers of either genre can mention their platforms. In this case, it’s okay to include how many Facebook, Twitter, or blog followers you may have because editors and agents want to see the ways in which you connect with your audience and how people know you and your work.
The final element of a query letter is the closing. This is when you should politely thank the agent or editor for their time and make them aware that you are prepared to send the appropriate additional materials at their request. Then sign your query and include your contact information at the bottom of the letter.
Here is an example of a successful query letter:

In summation, a good query letter should show the agent or editor you’ve done your homework; provide them with the key pieces of information they are looking for; get them interested in seeing more; and make them aware that you are prepared to send the appropriate additional materials. Good luck!

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