Quest for the
Quintessential Query Letter
Vicki M. Taylor
Vicki M. Taylor
Query Letter -- the elusive quarry. We
know near perfect ones exist. Editors
expound on those that come across their desk.
Writers rave about their flawless recipe of words that caught an
you go in the writing world, someone offers you tips or advice to create a query
letter. Ever since I realized I
could sell my writing, Ive been on a quest, searching for the perfect formula
to create the quintessential query letter.
Ive discovered is that if you go to any resource website or read any writing
resource book, youre guaranteed to find at least one article, probably more,
about query letters. Its overwhelming to say the least.
you ever wonder why there are so many articles?
Because there isnt just one perfect format.
Nope. You can stop searching for the magic formula. It doesnt
even though Ive discovered that there is no ONE perfect query letter,
there are specific qualities of the query letter that can come close to
perfection. We all know that for as
many editors there are in the publishing world, youll find that many types of
query letter. Each one was created
to catch an editors eye. What
Ive found in common in every article written about query letters is the basic
structure. It doesnt matter
whether you are pitching an idea for an article, short story, novel, or
non-fiction book, the structure of the query letter is still the same.
simplicitys sake, well break down the query letter into its essential
parts. Some of them may look as if
they are over-simplified and obvious, but youd be surprised at how often they
are forgotten in the rush and excitement of production.
with a professional look to your letter. Use
stationery imprinted with your name and address.
Now, this doesnt mean spending a load of money for printed stationery. Just make sure your letterhead format is professional.
use of your word processing software to give your letter a little touch of
class. Youd be amazed at what a
header and footer line can do.
Study the publishers guidelines. Follow them to the letter.
No exceptions! Dont waste
the editors time if your book, article, or short story doesnt meet the
Use the publishers guidelines to adjust any nuances in your query letter.
Dont get stuck in a generic format that cant be adjusted for each
editor. They can pick out a
standard format at twenty paces. Make
that editor feel as if youre writing this letter just for them.
address your letter to a real person rather than a generic department title.
Reading Dear Acquisitions Editor is akin to reading Dear
Occupant. Dont do it. Use the correct address and dont forget suite numbers.
Make sure you have the correct spelling and gender titles.
the best source for getting the correct name and spelling?
The publishing company or magazine you want to send your query letter to. Call and ask the person who answers the phone.
Its that simple. Use the Writers
Market to get addresses and telephone numbers.
Look in the magazine for the credits section. Youll find names and numbers there.
Now is not the time to be shy.
make the mistake of addressing your letter to an editor who no longer works at
the company or use the wrong title. No
one likes to be addressed as a Mister if she is a Miss or vice versa.
sure you know where your book, article, or short story fits in the publishing
world. This means you must know the
tone, length, story line, and market. If
you are expecting the editor to figure this information out for you, dont
hold your breath. Thats your job.
first paragraph should describe your book, article, or short story, the tone,
word length, and where it fits in the market.
Make sure you use a title when describing your work, even if it isnt
the exact title you want. Preface the title with the word working.
If someone has referred you to the publisher, dont forget to mention that
important fact in your opening sentence. If
you met the editor at a conference and he/she asked you to submit, mention that
the second paragraph of your query letter to hook the editor.
This is where you tell the editor about your book, article, or short
sensitive to the editors needs and time.
Now is not the time to spend pages explaining your idea in excruciating
detail. Be succinct and brief.
Practice putting the basic premise of your book, article, or story into
twenty-five words or less.
you cant explain the gist of your book, article, or short story in
twenty-five words or less, you may not have a good grasp of what you want to
write about. If you cant explain
it, how can you expect an editor to understand it?
third paragraph should describe you, your writing experience, and any publishing
Dont forget to mention any relevant information such as memberships, career,
or other expertise you have to help you write your article, book, or short
Paragraph and Signature
end your letter by asking the editor if you can send him your entire article or
manuscript, or outline in the case of a non-fiction book.
forget to thank the editor for taking the time to read your query and let the
editor know that you look forward to hearing from her at her earliest
ever, ever forget to include a self-addressed stamped envelope (SASE).
Use a postage stamp rather than a metered stamp.
The editor many not get to your query for up to a month or more. The metered stamp may have expired by then.
Make it easy and convenient for the editor to respond to you!
editors ask to see proof of previous publishing experience.
Others dont. Read the
guidelines carefully so that you know if you should include them or not.
Make sure they are clean copies (either a tear sheet from the magazine or
printed from the internet). Dont
ever include them in the body of your query letter.
what makes the query letter perfect to an editor?
You. Only you can add that
one special ingredient that will make or break your query letter.
Your unique voice. Thats
what the editors are looking for.
course, good grammar and spelling help too!
But, most of all, you must leap from the page or screen and grab the
editors attention. Its your first chance to make the editor notice you.
You know the old saying, First impressions count.
Make this one count the most! Dont
However, dont get so caught up in the structure that your personal writing
voice doesnt shine through your query letter.
yourself and let your writing speak to the editor.
Thats what counts.