This post is part of the Blogging from A to Z challenge–blogging every day in the month of April (except Sundays!) with each letter of the alphabet.
A query letter is an important tool for a writer who wants to be traditionally published. They can be sent to agents and editors alike, depending on a publishing house’s rules. Some think of a query letter as a sales pitch, but I think of it more as a foot in the door. Your book or story is the sales pitch, the query letter is simply asking “would you like to read this?” If you’re lucky, the answer is yes and you get to move on to the pitch.
A simple Google search will direct you to tons of sites that will help you write a good query letter. Certainly there is a standard form and technique, but is there something special that will help you move on to the pitch stage? I’ve done a lot of querying over the years, and I will share my advice on things that have worked for me. Good query letters remember the following things:
Guidelines: Every agent and editor has guidelines they want you to follow when querying. Find out what they are and NEVER deviate from them, even if they seem silly. Breaking the rules is the fastest way to get a ‘no.’
Length: Keep it brief. Editors and agents are busy people, and if you write a ten page query letter, they’re going to delete it because they have important stuff to do. Keep it to one page and 4-5 paragraphs. You can have a heart-to-heart discussion after you’ve been taken on as an author.
Your story: It seems like a “duh” piece of advice, but talk about your story or book. Don’t dwell too much on other stuff and start talking about it right at the start of the letter. That’s what the letter is for, after all.
You: Talk about yourself less, but do put yourself in there. It’s okay if you’re new and unaccomplished and it’s okay to say that. Being new doesn’t mean you’ll be rejected–likewise, having a bunch of accomplishments doesn’t mean you’ll be accepted. If you’re new, say that and give a brief version of what you’d like to accomplish and how you’ll do it. If you have a bunch of accomplishments, listing them all might get a bit long so just highlight the biggest ones.
Tone: A query letter should be polite and formal, always. You don’t know these people and they don’t know you. Trying to be quirky or “fun” will not get you taken seriously. Let the story show your personality.
How about you, have you written query letters? Do you have some advice and techniques to share?