"You may be disappointed if you fail, but you are
doomed if you don't try." ~ Beverly Sills
You did it! Your manuscript is finished! You've read over it -- and over it -- fixed
any mistakes, and now it's time to show an editor or agent how great of a story
you have completed. Most publishers and agents no longer let you send them
your whole manuscript, or even the first three chapters. A growing number only
want to see a query letter, or maybe a query and a short synopsis.
So, how do you write a query letter? It's not that hard. Just remember to point
out the main idea of your story as clearly as you can, with as few words as
possible. Thinks of those great teasers you read on the back of romance books.
Next, toot your own horn -- loudly. Been published before? Won a writing
award? Have a degree in English? Is your hero a cop, and so are you, or your
husband? Mention anything that might make you and your work stand out.
To get you started I've placed a sample query letter below, and added a few
how-to links and some links to a few books that might help. I also added a link
to a page with a lot of sample query letters on it.
Also be sure to check out my Publishers & Agents page. There are plenty of
links there to publishers, agents, and lots of articles about both, even a few
blogs by some.
Some Books on Writing Query Letters
Articles to Help with Your Query Letter
The Power of a Query Letter
I used to hate publishing houses -- this can fit for an agent too -- that only
allowed writers to send in a query letter. I mean, come on, how can they tell
how I write, just from a query letter? At least give me a chance to show I can
write, that I can tell a good story! BUT... you knew there was a 'but' coming,
Picture a skilled editor with a full query letter in hand. She has probably seen
thousands of them. Think of how much she can learn about you and your
book -- and your writing -- from that one page query letter. It sure must make
her job a lot easier. For starters, did you send a nice clean letter? Is it in
proper format? Are your thoughts clear, your writing tight? Is it addressed to
Dear Editor, or to her personally by title and name? Did you add every thing
into that query that you should? Is it five pages long when the house's
guidelines state one page only? Is it letter perfect, with no spelling or
grammar mistakes? If the writer who sent her the query letter didn't even
bother to do this much right, what are the chances that a manuscript from
that person will be any better? Most editors don't have time to take chances.
If you write your query the way you should, in the first few sentences that
editor will learn the name of your story, the length, the genre, the line you are
targeting, and be assured that the manuscript is completed. So, if it's not
completed, and scanning your query shows you have never sold novel-length
fiction, she can probably toss your query to the rejection pile. There are 200
other query letters sitting there from writers with completed manuscripts and
perfect query letters. Too, if her house only buys contemporaries that have a
word count between 60,000 and 80,000, and you list yours as 100,000 words,
and it's set in 1850 on top of that, then first off, you didn't bother to study the
market, and secondly it wouldn't fit her house anyhow, so she can toss this
query as well. Just with that first paragraph, the editor has been able to move
a lot of those query letters off of her desk, and she never needed to even read
the synopsis of the story.
Next in the query letter is your pitch about your story. You have to make this
short and sweet, and still grab her interest. Think of this as being the blurb
on the back of a novel. How many times have you read a book's back cover
and set the book back on the shelve, or placed it into your buggy, making that
decision just from those couple of paragraphs? If the editor doesn't like your
writing style, or if she has just bought a story with the same plot line, then
she can toss this query too. Reading further won't do her any good, or you.
Last in your letter are a few lines to brag about yourself. Come on, you have
something positive you can add. Have you published any thing, been writing
for ten years, are you a member of RWA, part of a critique group, placed in a
writing contest? Anything good at all you can add, to give you a little glow is
perfect for here, like if your story has a heroine who is a nurse, and guess
what, you are a nurse. Some things that will probably get your query tossed
on this part is if you add something like... I know you will think this is the
very best book you have ever read! Or... My mom and sister both loved this
story so much, they said it just has to be published and should sell millions of
copies! Or how about... How much will I be paid for this, and when will the
check get here?
So you see, that query letter, only a single page long, that most of us just hate
to write, can tell an editor (or agent) everything she needs to know about you
and your manuscript -- at least every thing she needs to know to decide if she
should bother with reading chapter one.
Sample Query Letter
Editor or Agent's Name
Publisher or Agent's Address
Dear Ms. Name, Never just use Dear Editor or Dear Agent
To start off, give the name and length and type of manuscript you are
sending. One Wife Needed is a completed 57,000 word contemporary romance
set in Louisiana. This story is targeted for the Silhouette Desire line. (That
completed part is important because editors and agents don't want to waste
time on something you haven't finished. Too many people start novels and
never finish them. The word count is important to, since that lets them know
if your story is the right length for them. No used wasting their time if you
novel is 55,000 words complete and they don't publish anything under
80,000. The same if it's 130,000. Few if any print pubs are going to touch
something that long from a new romance writer, not with the cost of ink,
paper and shipping being what it is.)
Next add the meat of your query... Remember that teaser on the back of
the book. Write your own one. You don't have much more room than that.
A good query should almost always be no more than one page long.
This next part is where you brag. Add anything that shows you are a
serious writer who has studied her craft. How long you've been writing, that
you've finished a number of manuscripts, you are a member of RWA, you have
taken workshops or classes, your story won a writing contest, you belong to a
great critique group. You can add other things too, say your main character is
a nurse, and so are you. If you don't have anything to brag about yet, then
that's fine too. Make sure your writing is strong enough to speak for you.
Don't forget the SASE, and don't forget the thank you! Something like... If
you are interested, I will gladly send you either the first three chapters of this
story, or the complete manuscript. I have enclosed a synopsis and a SASE for
your reply. If you prefer, you can send an e-mail. Thanks very much for your
time and consideration.
Some people now days also add their e-mail address and even website address.
Copyright © 2002 by Charlotte Dillon.
All rights reserved.
Writing A Query Letter
Want some real sample query letters? I asked a number of
romance authors to share their winning query letters with
me for this site--query letters that did the job for them with a
big publisher or a well-known agent. Many of those authors
agreed, just to help other writers. Click on the link below to
read those query letters. (Don't forget to check out the
synopsis page to see samples of them.)
Complete Query Letter Samples