How To Write A Successful Query Letter
A Fact of Life for All Writers
This is for all of you writers who have labored for months or years writing your book and now want to dip a toe into the traditional publishing business. You want an agent and/or publisher to become as enthralled with your work as you are, and you have visions of your book becoming a bestseller.
There is great satisfaction in completing a book, but there is still one step remaining before you actually get that book published, and that step is the query letter.
Agents and publishers will tell you that you have about ten seconds to gain their attention and keep them reading. Ten seconds! Needless to say, you had better have your act together when writing your query letter. If you have not hooked the agent or publisher in ten seconds then most likely your book will remain a personal conquest and nothing more.
The same can be said for those of you trying to break into the magazine business. Publishers and editors are inundated with query letters to the tune of thousands per month. Hundreds of thousands of writers pitch their stories or books each and every month. The reality of the business is such that only two or three of every thousand pitches are accepted.
Obviously, the odds are against you, and the only weapon you have to break through the logjam of hopeful writers is to craft a query letter that will knock the socks off whoever reads it.
This article will help you do exactly that.
The First Paragraph
Ten seconds! What can you say in ten seconds that will hold the attention of an overworked publisher or agent?
You need a hook! You need a powerful sentence that will leave the agent or publisher, if not gasping for breath, at least interested enough to read the rest of your letter.
In that hook sentence you should have the name and genre of your book, and it should be descriptive enough to be enticing without giving the rest of the storyline away.
I saw this description of a hook awhile back and it is perfect.
“My novel, THE CLEARING, is a supernatural love story told from the point of view of a young woman who has been dead for 130 years.”
Talk about hooking the reader! If you have a pulse then you are at least interested enough to read the remainder of the query letter, because that opening line is an attention-grabber.
Your hook should be the most important feature of your book. It should be a summary of what your book is about in condensed form. It should be the heart and soul of your book and it needs to be distinctive enough that the reader will sit up straight in their chair and look forward to the rest of your description.
The hook is not a summary of the book nor is it the entire plot. It is a hook, a marketing tool if you will, that sells the rest of your book.
Many first-time writers will begin their query letter with a brief description of themselves and that is literary suicide for a writer. Sell the book or article and not yourselves.
The remainder of the first paragraph can be an expansion of the hook, but never give away the plot or the ending, and never use boring clichés such as…..my book is about the coming of age of a young woman….boring!
Some more thoughts on query letters
The second paragraph should be a brief biography telling about your achievements as a writer. If you have taken writing courses, have any previously published material or have received any awards for your writing, these should be mentioned in the second paragraph.
Agents and publishers do not care if you are married and have two dogs and a cat. They care about your writing accomplishments, so that’s what you tell them about. They can get to know you as a person after they sign you up. Your main job in this paragraph is to expound upon your writing accomplishments. If you don’t have any then get some. I know, that sounds silly, but it really isn’t.
Join a writing community like HubPages or Squidoo and publish some articles there. At least that will give you something to mention in your query letter. Do not invent a history. If you are a first-time writer then say that, but avoid giving a negative impression. To say that you are unpublished is a negative statement. To say that you have fifty articles published on HubPages is a positive statement.
Now it is time to sign-off as gracefully as possible. Make sure you leave your contact information if it does not appear in your letterhead or email address. Thank them for reading your query letter and tell them that you look forward to hearing from them soon.
If you have included attachments then make sure you mention that fact. If you are sending your query letter by snail-mail, then make sure you mention that you are including a SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope).
Do not ramble on in this paragraph. There is no need. Short and simple wins the day.
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My Query Letter For My Novel
February 12, 2013
What do you do when the only people who can save the Earth are already dead? Well, if you are Sheila, you simply resurrect those people and let them do the job they were born to do.
Sheila has a goal, and that goal is to warn the Earth’s inhabitants of an environmental cataclysm that is sure to happen. Using her extraordinary powers of resurrection, she enlists the help of former inhabitants of an orphanage who survived the Blizzard of 1950 only to die later in life. This group of modern-day miracles will form an alliance and try to warn the world’s citizens before it is too late for everyone.
My novel, The 12/59 Shuttle From Yesterday To Today, is 70,000 words of fantasy that will leave you laughing and at the same time cringing, for the picture painted of environmental destruction seems all too real.
Never underestimate the power of a small group of determined people.
Think Tom Robbins with an attitude and you will have some idea of the style in which this is written. You will meet a zany band of characters who will take you with them as they try to alter the destructive path society has followed for far too long.
I have been a freelance writer for two years now, but this book began five years ago as a writing exercise took on a life of its own. I have written over 400 articles for a writers’ site called HubPages, and have had numerous articles published in magazines.
Thank you for taking the time to read this query. I have included the pages you requested and I look forward to hearing back from you.
Did these suggestions help you?
Wrapping It Up
Although my own query letter above is not a classic three-paragraph letter, you can see that I have followed the suggestions that I listed above.
Ten seconds! I cannot impress upon you too much the importance of that first hook line. If you don’t do the job in the first couple sentences it will make no difference what you write in the next two paragraphs, so labor long and hard over the crafting of this query letter, for it holds your future within it.
One final note about the letter itself: Query letters should be one page in length. No longer!
Once you have written your query letter you need to then turn your attention to who you are going to send it to. Consult THE WRITER’S MARKET or some other such publication. In it you will find a complete listing of agents and publishers. More importantly, you will find the types of manuscripts that they are looking for and their submission guidelines. You might have to change your query letter to fit the idiosyncrasies of each agent. Make sure you follow the guidelines exactly. If they ask for the first five pages of your book do not send them six, or four. If they say no attachments they mean no attachments.
Remember, you need them. They do not need you.
Best of luck to you as you tackle this step in your writing journey. The numbers are against you but then they are against every single writer who sends out a query letter. Keep track of who you have contacted and keep track of their response or lack of response.
I happen to save all of my rejection letters. Masochistic? I think not. I think every rejection letter is an opportunity for me to learn. Sometimes an agent or publisher will give a bit of advice in their rejection letter and that is invaluable because I will try again, and again, and again until someone pays attention to me.
2013 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)
"Helping writers to spread their wings and fly."