Weekly Writing Memo: The Query Letter

Weekly Writing MemoA query letter to an agent or a publisher is one of the basic things you should be able to write if you want to be a writer. Sooner or later, if you want to go the traditional publishing route you will have to send a query letter out to get your writing read. So what goes in a query?

Salutation:

To start your query letter, you’ll want to address it to a specific person instead of using something generic. So find out the editor of the publishing companies name, or who reads the queries. If you’re sending it to an agent, make sure you know the agent’s name. You don’t want to use a generic greeting like “to whom it may concern” because you want to show the person you are sending it to that you’ve done your research about them, and that you’ve chosen them specifically for a reason. By addressing the letter to a specific person, you’re saying I want you specifically to read this because you specifically are right for my story, instead of implying that the letter could go to anyone.

Introduction:

The introduction paragraph of your letter needs to have a few specific details in it. First, it should say why you are writing the person. Are you seeking representation, or publication? Second, it should tell them what you are writing them about, specifically the name of your novel or piece you’re trying to sell, what genre it is in, and a general idea of the word count. Finally, the introduction paragraph should include a line or two summary or description of your novel that gives the general feel of the novel. This should be some sort of hook about your novel and doesn’t have to tell the whole story or anything. The point is to show the person reading the query what type of novel it is in as short a way as possible.

Synopsis:

The second paragraph of your query should be a brief summary of your novel. It doesn’t have to tell everything, but it should touch on who your protagonist is, who the villain is, and what the core conflicts of the novel are. You want it to sound as narrative as possible. I like to think of it as the paragraph that would go on the back of the book – it’s meant to get people to want to read your story. The point of this section of the query is to give the person reading it a taste of what your novel is about, and to get them interested enough to want to read more. So don’t give everything away, but do give them the important details if you can.

Bio:

The final paragraph of your letter should tell a bit about yourself. Specifically, mention your experience as a writer, any publication history, and if you’re seeking representation you should mention what other genres or projects you may be working in. This section shouldn’t be too long, as you just want to give the letter a sample about you. End this section with a final “thank you” to the person who is reading your letter, and maybe something about looking forward to hearing from them.

Sign-Off:

Finally, end your letter with some sort of sign off. Some people like the classic “sincerely”, others prefer to use something less formal such as “best” or “thank you.” Whatever you use, make sure to sign your name. You can also add your contact information below your name, and if you attached anything to the letter you should include the words “Encl.” and whatever is attached after. Such as: “Encl. First three pages and synopsis.” That way the receiver knows what is coming with the query.

Final Notes:

The best way to get good at writing queries is to look up examples online of successful queries, and to practice. There are a lot of examples out there if you look. Just remember, always read what the person you are querying wants you to send, and do everything you can to stick to those guidelines. Not sticking to the guidelines is a very quick way to get yourself rejected if the query reader isn’t feeling generous.

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One Comment on “Weekly Writing Memo: The Query Letter”

  1. Thank you, Robin.
    This is a great post. I’ve noticed that lately a lot of my queries are being sent via email or Submitable. It seems like the same rules apply though.
    I usually make a brief forth paragraph which mentions what attachments I’ve sent, thanks them for taking the time to consider my work and expresses that I look forward to their reply. If it is a novel, for which usually include a synopsis and excerpt, I also express that I would be happy to send the full manuscript if requested.
    The only other thing I’ve found different with digital submissions, is that many publications do not include who to address your query or submission to, especially those that go through Submitable. So I just say “Hello”, and then be sure to tell why I feel my piece is a good fit for their publication, using the name of the publication to show it is not just a blind query that could go to anyone.


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