I’ve had a lot of people ask me about query letters recently. Of course there are many strategies and formulas, the following is what has worked for me.
For the most part, a query letter and a cover letter are the same thing, but there are subtle differences. Traditionally a cover letter accompanies a manuscript to the publisher. A query letter goes to publishers or agents when they don’t accept a manuscript.
A query letter needs to be polite and engaging; however, it also needs to convince the editor that the manuscript you’re going to send works, it’s ready to send, it fits with the publisher and has a market.
The intent is to entice an agent or editor to keep reading your letter and eventually ask for your manuscript. You’re trying to spark their interest. Nothing more, nothing less. You should put just as much care and attention into crafting and polishing your query as you did your manuscript.
To write a query letter, try putting on an editor’s hat. Editors know that the more time you’ve spent in studying their needs and desires, the more likely it is that your book is actually a good match for them.
The Formula (in paragraphs):
- State why you’re contacting the editor or agent.
- Introduce the theme and plot of manuscript. Point out the main idea of your story and your plot as clearly as you can, with as few words as possible.
- Give the statistics (length, genre).
- Mention anything the editor needs to know and anything that will make your work stand out. Have you been published before? Won a writing award? Have a degree in English? Is your hero a cop and so are you?
- State the potential market and your unique selling point.
- Thank the editor for his/her time and sign off.
If you are querying an agent:
- Make sure your genre fits the agent.
- Make your points quickly and concisely.
- Restrict your letter to one page.
- Be professional. Make sure your writing tone is confident and informative. You’re not a beggar.
- Proofread your letter again and again. This is your first impression. Good grammar and spelling are so important.
- Send the agent exactly what he or she wants to receive, not what you think they’d like to receive.
An agent will look at everything in order to determine if he or she wants to represent your work and will be able to sell the book to a publisher.
If you are querying a publisher:
- Include an outline of your manuscript on a separate page or a more detailed synopsis on a separate page.
- Make sure to point out that the manuscript is completed.
- Do not include a sample chapter unless the publisher specifically asks for a sample chapter to be attached to the query.
- Be brief. You’re only trying to pique his/her interest.
- Don’t tell how your story ends.
- Don’t go on and on how you came up with the idea.
- State your unique selling point.
- No weird fonts or stationary.