Monday, June 14, 2010

Writing a Good Query Letter

We as writers get so excited when we finish writing our stories or novel. However, we forget a very important part of the writing process: the query letter. This type of letter is the equivalent of a cover letter when you’re looking for a job. Keep in mind that this letter might get your novel published. It’d better be written meticulously in order to get a publisher’s attention. I found this article by Gail Eastwood in the Eclectic Writing Articles. Ms. Eastwood points out key details that we often do not take into consideration. Remember: publishers have no time for bad letters.

DO: Make your query letter professional. It should be short (one or one and a half pages max), direct, descriptive and businesslike, set up as a business letter.

DO: be certain you are targeting the right publisher, and have the right address!

DO: address your letter to a specific editor (and make sure you've got the right one!). Find out who to send to by networking, getting information through writers' publications, or by calling the publishing house to get the name of the editor for the line you are targeting.

DO: be sure to include your name, address, and telephone number on the letter!

DO: follow what is a fairly standard format. First paragraph should introduce you and your book -- the title, projected word length, whether or not it is completed (or how far along it is), type of book and which line it is aimed for.

The second paragraph is the most important --it must summarize your book in just a few sentences, like a TV movie blurb or 30-second commercial. What is your book about? What is your theme? What is it that makes your characters different, what makes them and their conflict interesting, what will they learn, how will they be changed by what happens to them? Remember the basic fiction formula: characters plus problem = conflict; conflict plus action leads to resolution and change.

The third paragraph is about you -- your writing experience and credentials, prior publishing history, if any (of any kind, including articles, poetry, stories); professional memberships; any other relevant information -- expertise that helped you write this book, for instance, or another career...

Last, thank the editor and express your hope for a prompt reply.

DON'T: confuse "sales tool" with "sales pitch." This is not the time to say how great your book is or how endearing your characters are -- that's for the editor to decide. Be straightforward.

DON'T: tease by not revealing the facts of the story, hoping to entice the editor's curiosity.

DON'T: neglect basics of spelling, grammar, clean presentation, clear and vivid writing. First impressions count! Your query letter itself functions partly as a writing sample.

DON'T: indulge in a long story synopsis, or include an autobiographical essay about your writing or your children. Just focus on what makes your book special. Why do you love this story? Why did you want to write it? Why does it fit this publisher's line? Capture its essence in your letter and if it fits, the editor will be asking to see it.


  1. Hi Claudia: Great tips for query letter writing! And it is so important to get to the point at the outset using a hook. Try to distill the essence of your story into one sentence that will grab the prospective publisher's attention and leave them wanting more! The teacher in me often asks a pointed question. But there are many interesting ways to formulate a good hook.

  2. Great advice! The example in the 2010 Writer's Market follows the same guideline when they give an example of a "good" query letter, but they don't really explain the logic behind each paragraph as you did. THANK YOU!!! Thomasina

  3. Hi Thomasina,
    Thank you for stopping by. I'm happy to hear you found my advice helpful ;)
    Happy writing!