Friday, May 5, 2017

How to Write a Query Letter

So, you or your homeschool writer have completed and polished a manuscript, and are ready to have the story or article published. The first thing thing to do is study market guides. You can find agents and editors to query in such books as Sally Stuart’s Christian Writers’ Market Guide, Writer’s Market published by Writers Digest, and the 2013 Guide to Literary Agents edited by Chuck Sambuchino. All can be found on Amazon. For convenience, editors and agencies are presented by genre.

Each publisher or agency lists the types of fiction and/or nonfiction it handles. Follow their contact instructions. Some only accept referrals or contacts they have made at conferences. Others request a synopsis and sample chapters. Many will only accept a query letter.

So what is a query letter? It is a one-page sales pitch whose purpose is to entice the agent/editor to ask for the full manuscript. This is one's opportunity to make a good first impression. Whether by e-mail or paper mail, use Standard English and follow a business letter format.

Set up pages with one-inch margins. The lines should be single space and paragraphs should be block style. Use Times New Roman and 12 font size. Center align your letter head. List your name in slightly larger font and your contact information—address, phone number, e-mail, web address—in slightly smaller font.

Align the inner address against the left margin. Always spell the agent/editor’s name correctly and use his proper title.

The first paragraph in the query’s body is a hook that is supposed to catch the agent/editor’s attention. It needs to contain the story’s title, genre, and word count. It can mention the name of a referral, part of the story line, or some fact within the story. To show that the query isn’t a form letter, mention something gleaned while researching the company.

The second paragraph resembles a book blurb such as seen on the back of book jackets. Summarize the first quarter of the book and name the protagonist, describe a bit of the setting, reveal his inner conflict, and explain the story problem. End the paragraph with a question.

The next paragraph is the writer's bio. Tell the agent/editor why this story is different from others of its kind and why the author is the one person who can tell it. Present credits, if any. Describe work or life experience that’s pertinent to the story and how the writer can promote the book. In the last paragraph, politely thank the agent/editor then ask whether they'd like to see a synopsis or proposal and sample chapters. When sending a paper letter, be sure to include a self-addressed stamped envelop.

Then the writer waits for the listed response time. If nothing appears, send a polite e-mail with the submission’s name and date and ask whether they received the query or whether a decision had been made. Once I waited twice the allotted time before contacting an editor who had requested my manuscript. She told me her computer had died, and she lost all her data. She asked that I resubmit. I would have lost out on a publication had I not e-mailed her. So, unless requested otherwise, make contact.

The following is my idea of how L. Frank Baum might query the Acme Agency if he was looking for a home for The Wizard of Oz today:

 L. Frank Baum
1 Writers Lane
Kansas City, Kansas


C.C. Smith
Acquisitions Editor
Acme Agency
121212 Park Place #4
New York, New York

February 28, 2013

Dear Mr. Smith,  (Note: Double check the title and spelling)

Your client John Rabowski recommended that I query you about my 60,000-word fantasy novel The Wizard of Oz. It is the story of Dorothy Gale, an unhappy Kansas farm girl who learns there is no place like home.

Dorothy dreams of evading her problems by escaping to a land over the rainbow that is a much happier place. To her surprise, a cyclone picks up her house and carries her to a sparkling land filled with music and flowers and happy munchkins. Though she is welcome, she misses her family and wants to go home. The only one who can help her is the great and mighty Wizard of Oz. But he lives faraway at the end of a yellow-brick road that’s fraught with dangers from winged-monkeys, witches, fighting trees, and a deadly poppy field. Can a young girl survive such obstacles and return home?

Having grown-up in Kansas and having studied American Folklore, I believe I am uniquely qualified to tell this American fairy tale. My short stories have appeared in such publications as The Story Teller Magazine and Knights and Dragons. I am on Face Book, have 3,500 Twitter followers, and receive 5,000 hits per month on my blog.

Thank you for your consideration. May I send a synopsis and sample chapters?

Yours truly,

L. Frank Baum

So when should a writer query? For a novice, after he/she has completed and polished his/her manuscript. It is a good idea to have others read it before submitting. Moms will love it no matter what, so find objective readers who can give sound advice.—Quinn

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