Query Letter Advice

Let me be honest. I have never enjoyed writing query letters. Nevertheless, if you want to “play the game,” you need to introduce yourself using this document. There are so many opinions on how to write a query letter, which may confuse you. You know my motto: “Keep it simple.”

 The Letter

  • Make sure your letter is professional, sensible, and fast-paced.
  • Keep it one page.
  • Design your own letterhead; minimal and professional.
  • Letterhead should include: Name, address, phone number, and email address.
  • Address (Send) query to a specific name and spell correctly.

Keep it simple 

  • Hook the reader.
  • Describe your project.
  • Tell them who you are.
  • Get them to ask for more.

Details of a Query

“Hook.” This is a powerful first line that will keep the reader interested. (Just like the first line in your book.)

“Handle.” The reader needs to know if this is something that is marketable and can sell. If you had a ten-second commercial about your book, what would you say? That is your handle.

“Offer.” Title, genre, word count. If you have been published before or referred to the agency by someone, mention that as well. Try to incorporate the offer in the handle.

“Mini-Synopsis.” Overview of the plot and main characters.

 “Qualifications.” What experience do you have, that relates to your novel? (If you write children’s book and you are a teacher, mention that. If you write courtroom thrillers and you are a lawyer, write that.) What was your motivation to write this book? (Do not include your life story.) Are you a member of any writing organizations? Have you won any awards or contests?

“Why Them?” Describe why you selected this specific literary agent or publisher. Reasons may be that you like their experience, professionalism, or their relationships with authors. They have assisted authors in the same genre as you and had success. Your book has similarities to other books they have worked with.

“Closing.” Say this, “May I send you my synopsis and chapter samples?” That’s it. Do not say, “I really appreciate your time and hope to hear from you soon.”

Check the publisher’s web site for submission guidelines. These days, you can copy and paste your query into an email.

Do Not

  • Start your query off with a bad sentence. Example: “I am about to send you a bestseller. Lucky you!”
  • Drag on for more than one page. (And making your print type 8 instead of 12 is an amateur trick.)
  • Tell the agent or publisher their business. Example: “You could really use someone like me, especially since your company is struggling.” Or my favorite, “If you do not sign me, then someone else will and you will regret it the rest of your life.”
  • Mention your self-published books, unless you have sold 5,000 in four months.
  • Repeat anything.
  • Use lots of adverbs and adjectives to describe your work.
  •  Be cliché. Example: “I am the next Stephen King.”
  • Say that your family likes your book. (Very common. I cannot believe authors are still doing this.)
  • Send query in without someone proofreading it first. (This is why you hire a literary manager. To go over your work.)
  • Send a query until your synopsis, chapter samples, and entire manuscript has been polished.

I cringe just talking about query letters. However, this information is crucial if you want a literary agent or traditional publisher to sign you.

Here are some final words from Kathleen Anderson, who is a literary agent. “The only thing worse than going into a publishers slush pile, is going into an agent’s slush pile.”

Make sure that does not happen.

Ron Knight

www.authorronknight.com

Ron Knight

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Comments

  1. I feel the pain of query letters. When I was in my creative writing class our professor made us write short stories. After we turned them in, she made write a page attempting to sell them to a publisher. Although, I made top grades on my short stories, the query letters were big bombs.

    Sometimes I feel queries should be written by someone that has had a chance to read your work. The author loves the entire story and can’t condense it into a few sentences. That is why queries are so difficult.

    By the way, the only query letter I did pass was when a fellow student and I decided to swap stories and write each others query. “A+”