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Who needs a query letter?
Anyone working on a novel, a nonfiction book, or a magazine or newspaper article.
Who wouldn't use a query letter?
Poets, short story writers, or some children's writers working on small (in length) projects.
Who gets the query letter?
Query letters get sent to agents--asking for representation--or to editors, seeking publication. (For novelists, I always suggest putting your efforts toward acquiring an agent. Let the agent deal with the editors.)
Why send a query letter?
Sending out query letters will tell you up front if there is any interest in your project. No need to send the complete manuscript to an agent or editor who wouldn't be interested.
What is a query letter?
It's a mini-proposal, whose goal is to:
1) hook the attention of the editor or agent;
2) describe your project;
3) tell them who you are to be proposing this particular subject
4) and get them to ask to see more.
The first two or three paragraphs function as a brief synopsis for a novel. In the ``synopsis" part of your query, identify the underlining theme, the plot hook, your main character(s), and their conflict. After the synopsis paragraphs, you can point out your credits: don't worry if you don't have any. Most first-time novelists don't. But if you are a lawyer working on a legal thriller, for example, mention that. If you have any nonfiction publication credits, mention that. But it isn't necessary. Your writing will speak for itself. Be sure to also relate the word count for your book. State your book's genre--e.g. mystery, romance, mainstream. If you don't know, leave it out. It is not always necessary to state it if there are too many crossovers. But you could compare it to a similar book--in the vein of such and such. (But don't say you write like Stephen King--only Stephen King writes like Stephen King.)
At the end of the query letter you offer to send more--the complete manuscript for a novel. Do not offer a choice. Do not offer to send sample chapters or the complete manuscript. Offer only the completed manuscript. (You shouldn't be querying if your manuscript isn't complete.) If they want to see more they will tell you. They will also tell you if they want a synopsis.You can close your letter by simply saying ``May I send you the complete manuscript?"
The style in your query should reflect the style of the project you are proposing.
QUERY LETTER FORMATTING
1. A query should look like a business letter. Use your nice letterhead stationery. And make sure your phone number is on it. These days, make sure your email address is, too.
2. Also make sure you have the agent or editor's correct name, title, and sex! (I can't tell you how many letters I get that say Dear Mr. Camenson! I am sure, for example, that agent Rob Cohen will tell you about all of her misaddressed query letters, too.)
3. Again, your query should be only one-page.
4. Only propose one project in a single query, but you can mention if you are working on others.
5. If your book is part of a series, send a query for the first of that series. It will be difficult to sell the third or fourth book in a series if you haven't sold the first one yet. It just tells the editor/agent that you couldn't sell the first one and so you've given up and are moving on to the next one. Be sure to mention, though, that your book is part of a series.
6. Save the reviews for the book reviewers. Don't fall into the temptation of describing your work as dazzling, dramatic, exciting, fast-paced, or any other adjective. Say, ``My book is an account of...." not "My book is a humorous account..." Got it? No adjectives!
7. Never put yourself down in a query letter. Don't say--this is my first book, or you're not sure what they'll think. Also, don't say you hope they like it. Of course, you do! That's understood. Don't show your desperation or mention that Aunt Mary loved your idea. Keep it professional.
8. Do not forget to run your spellchecker before you send out your query letter.
9. Do not forget to enclose an SASE.
10. Don't send your query via email to editors and agents unless you are sure this form of communication is acceptable.
11. Remember that a query letter is your calling card. Make it your best writing ever.
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