If you're not familiar with this term, lemme 'splain. (No, there ees too mush—lemme sum up.) In the business of publishing, the query letter is similar to the cover letter you write to accompany your resume when you apply for a job. Only, the query letter isn't selling you, but your book. (OK, by extension, it's selling you as well, but mainly, it's meant to highlight your work.) In a query letter to a literary agent or editor/publisher, the writer endeavors to interest the reader in requesting a look at the work in question, with an eye to securing either representation (in the case of an agent) or publication (in the case of an editor).
Now, I'm no query letter expert. My own experiences with hooking a person's interest have been mixed. For my first book, That Fatal Kiss, I queried publishers and managed to get a nibble from one editorial assistant, bless her heart, who requested the full manuscript (or MS) but passed on the project. For my second novel, Bedeviled, I concentrated on querying agents instead and got three bites but no offers of representation. Le suck. This sad reality notwithstanding, I have had plenty of experience in formatting query letters/query packages and will share them with y'all here. (Please note: this is just how I do stuff, which isn't to say it's the best way, but it's one way, and if you've never done this before, it might prove helpful to you.) Also, I query for fiction, so the info below is for that sorta query.
How I Get Started
I identify the agents who seem to be interested in representing the kinda stuff I like to write, using resources like:
To research the more promising dudes, and make sure I really want to query them, I'll check out:
Once I've got a list of folks, I visit/bookmark their agencies' Web sites to learn their submissions requirements. If none can be found, I'll go with the guidelines on AgentQuery or QueryTracker, and/or I'll use my best judgment (such as it is).
What I Include in A Query
That'll depend on the agent or publisher's stated requirements. Sending things in excess of what they say they want is a waste of time, energy, and money. And I'm both lazy and cheap, so I like to keep things simple, if I can.
A Query May Comprise:
- The query letter
- That and a synopsis*
- These and anywhere from 1 - 50 pages of your MS
- These and an outline*
- Any combo of the above items
How I Format My Query Letter
- 1" margins all around (for paper; I don't sweat margins in an e-query)
- Font: If a paper query, something with a serif, like Times New Roman. If e-query, a sans-serif font, like Arial
- Block style business letter (though mostly I've been querying via e-mail, but either way, it's all aligned left)
- One page in length (check each person/place's requirements, though; sometimes 2 pages are acceptable but generally, from what I've read, less is more)
These folks give good advice on the matter:
Once I've got the basic letter written, I get to e-mailing/posting to the individuals, being sure to check I've got the right names in the right letters and tailored each query to each agent appropriately. If mailing a query, I include a self-addressed stamped envelope for a reply. My experience is that, generally, only a negative reply will require the SASE (unless, I suppose, the person you're querying doesn't do e-mail).
OK, so, that's all I got. Fellow writers, what words of wisdom would you add to this query letter primer?