Award-Winning Author ~ Editor ~ Writing Instructor
Writing Effective Query Letters

Your query letter is the first — and sometimes the only — chance you have to impress an agent with your writing. It's essential that you give it your best shot. Ideally, the letter should not be longer than one page. (When a writer has enough credits, she can send the bio as a separate sheet, but until that time, the credits should just be one paragraph in the body of the letter.)

Send it to an individual — not to an agency. If you're unsure of a name, call and ask. Address that person as Mr. or Ms., not by a first name. The tone should be professional and confident, but not cocky. Spelling and grammar will count against you.

The letter should contain the following elements/paragraphs:

1. An opening hook. The opening line should hook them in some way. An intriguing question, the opening line from the book (if it's exceptional), a puzzling concept, etc. Some sources will tell you that you should open with a request for representation or publication. These decision-makers see that line on thousands of letters — make your opening stronger.

2. Introduce the book and give a short — intriguing — synopsis. Make it read like a book jacket blurb; stress the drama. Since you have very little space, focus on what you consider its strongest selling point: story, character, etc. Raise questions — don't give too many answers. Don't give away the ending. Mention the title at least twice in the course of the letter — more if you can easily. Don't refer to it as "my manuscript," but by its name.

3.Classify the type of book it is, but not too narrowly; if you've identified any authors writing a similar type of book, show how it might relate it to their books. Ex.: "It might appeal to the readers of....". Give an approximate word count.

4.Bio: Never apologize because this is your first book. Don’t tell them all your friends liked it. Be positive. If you have any kind of writing credits, list them. Stress whatever professional or personal qualifications you have for writing that book.

5. Follow their submission guidelines as listed in the various reference manuals or by writing for guidelines. If nothing is given, decide whether you want to send just the letter, or if you want to include a short segment of the manuscript. Never send more than a small sample without being asked to. If you use snail mail, you must include an SASE, but you can ask to have the manuscript pages destroyed and simply send a #10 envelope for their response. If you use email, do not exceed the length suggestions -- keep your letter short, succinct and professional.

6. Close with a positive, professional closing. Thank them for their consideration.

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