Some editors and agents insist on having them, others might skip them, yet undeniably, the query letter marks your first impression, making it worth learning how to put your best foot forward with a polished opener.
There are as many ways to put together a query letter as there are writing styles. Regardless of how you structure your inquiry, or no matter whether it’s for a fiction novel, a non-fiction book, or a proposed article on the “Joys of Barbados” for a travel magazine, professional queries contain similar components.
1) An attention getting opener. The opening sentence or paragraph to your query should immediately draw the reader in. Ask a question that begs answering, use a compelling statistic, an intriguing line from your story, a pertinent quote, or Editors and agents read hundreds of queries each month, your query needs to stand out from the crowd by offering a punch right from the start.
Note: It may go without saying, but the opening “punch” should be directly related to your topic.
2) A summary of the book. The title of the proposed book or article and a brief sentence or paragraph describing the heart of the idea for your book needs to be present. The entire query can build the premises for your piece, but you still need to give a summary of what the publisher reading the query may expect to see when you submit your proposal, manuscript, or article.
Note: While it’s not 100% necessary to list the word count of your proposed book, it’s generally a good idea as it gives the publisher an indication of whether they are looking at a slim handbook, novella, novel, filler article, or a bulky encyclopedia of information.
3) Information to support the need for your idea. This informationcan be comprised of one line of text or many. It can be interweaved into your query or stated in a single paragraph. What you are trying to communicate to the editor or agent is the need, or in other terms, the audience for your book. Is your book a gothic suspense or a steamy romance? Is it is a sci-fi thriller or a self-help guide? Be sure the tone of your query, facts used, and your word choices make the intent of your piece clear. You may even wish to state this out-right at some point, for example: “This 90K romantic suspense novel…”
4) Your competition. It is important to find out who your competition is and how you differ from them. If you are writing non-fiction, this is crucial. If you are writing fiction, it’s still important but not always necessary to include in the query letter. Editors and agents need to have assurance that you’ve done your homework and that you truly have an idea that stands out from the pack.
For a non-fiction query, you may choose to reference one or two competitive titles in your query and then illustrate clearly how your idea is unique in comparison with a market of interest. By showing that there are similar books on the market, a need for this information is established. By showing how the new book proposed differs from the existing materials, a desire for this idea is formed.
For a fiction query, you may choose to use a quote from a popular periodical regarding reader’s increasing interest in Paranormal Romance or alien life-forms if you are writing in the genre on these topics, contrast your work with popular authors (such as “My writing style is a cross between XYZ author and ABC author, with a quirky dash of southern humor tossed in.”)
5) Your credentials. It’s important for you to let the editor/agent know why they should believe you are capable of executing the idea. In your proposal, you’ll sell them to believe you can actually write the book. In the query, you need to establish very quickly that they should look at your proposal because you have some insider track on the idea or credentials they can have faith in.
You’re credentials are not always your writing abilities or writing history. While they may come into play and may be important, it’s more important to establish your expertise on the subject matter you are proposing. This will lead the editor/agent to believe in your idea.
Make every line of your query count. Don’t waste space with dull information or unnecessary information. If you are querying a Beginner’s Quilting How-To Guide, the editor/agent probably doesn’t need to know that you recently won an award in Computer Science.
Note: If you have a well written query, it stands to reason that you are a capable writer. The editor/agent will infer this, thereby leaving you more room to wow them with your special credentials pertinent to your idea.
6) A strong closing which promises more. A simple example of a closing is: “Would you like to see the complete proposal and sample chapters? Please email, write, or call, and I’ll send you the whole she-bang.” The closing is simple, yet the word choice can be indicative of the tone of the query, especially if this was the closing of a query for a suspense thriller with a strong heroine.
The closing doesn’t have to be spectacular, but it should leave the query on a positive note and let the editor/agent know they can expect to receive more materials from you, should they desire to ask for them.
7) Voice. As tone and voice are unique to the writer and material, they are hard to define, but it’s important to try to stamp your signature style to the query while keeping it relational to the topic you’ve chosen. If you are writing humorous Chick Lit, the query should reflect it with a quirky line or two or an overall light tone to your writing. If you are proposing an inspirational self-help book, the query should be flavored with buzz words pertinent to your topic.
A few other notable notes on queries:
Traditional queries are usually:
- Neatly typed in 12 point easy to read font
- Single spaced
- One Page
- Single Sided
- Not scented
- Printed on plain white paper
- Don’t have coffee stains
Lastly, queries are not sent with a box of chocolates. Though the editor/agent may appreciate the gift, it won’t necessarily get you a request for the manuscript, plus it just might melt and stain the paper-never a good first impression.
Take the time to craft a model query, and then simply modify it as needed for each project/manuscript/proposal you submit.
Consider the query to be your calling card. This little step will go a long way towards establishing your professionalism with editors and agents, which may, in turn, help give you the edge up on having your work considered.
And in the publishing industry, that is always a positive!