Query letters are the most important tool authors have to promote themselves and attain the opportunity to be seen. When aspiring authors have their work rejected, they become discouraged and think that their book is what is being refused. But in many cases, the presentation of the query letter has turned the agent or editor off. This article is to help both aspiring and published authors understand the importance of query letters.
What is a query letter?
A query letter is the initial and most crucial contact that an author will have with an agent or an editor when they are ready to publish their book. The letter introduces the author and the author’s book to the editor and offers a synopsis to captivate their interest, and hopefully sell their book.
Both agents and editors receive thousands of query letters each week from authors who want them to publish their book, and of those only a handful are read beyond the first paragraph. Why is that? Because only a few know how to write a good query letter.
Here are some guidelines that will help you to write a query letter that agents and editors will read.
1. When writing to a publisher, address your letter to a specific editor and use their name. Do a bit of research and learn the name of the particular editor who deals with the genre of book you have written. This is a mark of respect and it goes a long way. Letters written to “Dear Editor” or “To Whom it may Concern” are not received well as most editors want to know that you could at least take the time to know who you are addressing. So start off on the right foot and learn their name.
2. Use a readable font and size in your letter. Usually Times New Roman 12 or New Courier 12 is a common and acceptable font to use because it’s clear and easy to read. Do not use script or fancy fonts because the editors won’t take the time to study the script beforehand.
3. Check and double check for typos, spelling mistakes and mis-use of grammar. We all make those mistakes but in the query letter you’re trying to impress the editor with your good qualities and not open the door for them to wonder if your book will be written the same careless way.
4. Write a dynamic first sentence. This is the first sentence the editor will read and you want it to grab their attention, not bore them. You want the first line to be so catchy that they are compelled to read the next line, and the next.
For example, a poor first line would be, “I have written a book about dogs that I think you’ll find interesting.” …… boring and the letter is in the waste basket already. A great first sentence would be, “As a dog trainer, I know that I can tell you five amazing things about dogs that you don’t know”……or……”My dog saved a drowning child and cried over her afterwards”. Both of the latter examples make you want to read the next sentence.
5. Write a compelling pitch or synopsis. After the first line, write a pitch for the book that will sell it, not give the story away. Keep it short, to the point and leave the editor wanting to read the book instead of thinking they’ve covered it all in the pitch.
6. Give the name, genre, reading audience and word count of the book. If it belongs to a series, then say what book it is in the series but don’t name the others. For example, “Firestorm is the second book in the y/a adventure series called, The Misadventures of Sarah Davies. It consists of 55,000 words and features the same protagonist and group of teens that became friends in the first book.”
7. Include a short bio of yourself. In the last paragraph, write a short and precise bio of yourself and make sure it promotes you as a qualified author. You may not be published but you can show how and what inspired you to write the book. Keep your facts to the point, and highlight your qualifications.
For example, a poor bio would be: “I am a mother of three children and after they were in school I thought it would be a good time to write that book I’ve always wanted to write. I like camping and my husband and I take our kids up north every summer to a place called, Pioneer Park, where there’s camping, canoeing and treking. I’ve had a lot of experience with summer fun so I thought I’d start writing books about it. My husband thinks it’s a great idea and says that if anyone knows about this sort of thing, it would be me.”………… hello waste basket….
A good bio would read something like this: “I have a passion to write books for teens that will encourage them to read. I have polished my skills through writing courses and since I’ve spent many years in the wilderness enjoying treking and canoeing and surviving natural conflicts, I have been able to use my experiences and write exciting, action-packed fiction stories.”
8. The last paragraph should thank the editor for them taking the time to read your letter. It should include a line that says you hope they will find your book worthy of being published.
9. Don’t send out dozens of query letters at a time. Send out only a few at a time. If they come back rejected, re-write your query letter and try again because it just might be the letter that is stopping the process.