Monthly Column

Writing the Perfect Query Letter


By Lee Masterson

A huge amount of emphasis has been placed on the importance of the query letter recently. For this reason, a lot of newer writers may feel intimidated by the prospect of writing a letter of introduction to a stranger. There is almost a feeling of placing your fledgling writing career into the hands of a person who will judge everything you churn out on the strength of this one all-important query.

Often, a query letter is an editor’s first glimpse at your work. Don’t let that get you down though – it’s easy enough to get it right, sound professional and impress that stranger all at once.

Oh, and by the way, these rules are exactly the same for trying to land agent representation for your novel.

Here’s a list of Do’s and Don’ts for your query letter.

Do - create your own professional letterhead.
Don’t - cover it in cute graphics or fancy colored fonts.

Do - Use new, good quality WHITE paper, laser printed if possible. Always send a newly written letter on clean paper.
Don’t - send recycled or colored paper. It does not attract attention. Don’t be tempted to send a photocopy either – not even a good quality one.

Do - include a brief list of relevant publishing credits. This includes any personal achievements that have something to do with your story – e.g. – If you are a nurse and your story is set in a hospital, then add this.
Don’t - brag, lie or inflate your own publishing history if you don’t have any credits yet. Keep it simple and professional. Even the big name authors started somewhere.

Do - your homework. Address your query to the right person in the correct department. Be sure to spell the names correctly and take the time to learn what type of work he or she prefers to represent.
Don’t - send in a general “Dear Editor” or, worse, “Dear Sir/Madam”.

Do - Include your full contact details. If you write using a pseudonym, then specify this. The check will still be made out to you, not your pen name.
Don’t - try to fool the editor into believing your pseudonym is your real name. You can’t cash a check in someone else’s name.

Do - Briefly describe your work. See if you can keep it to around twenty-five words. No more than a paragraph.
Do - estimate the word count – lots of emphasis on estimate. An editor will not want to see “around 55,437 words” written on your query. Round the number off to the nearest hundred.

Do - Keep your letter down to one page in length. Editors are busy people. They will want to know what you are offering as quickly as possible.
Don’t - gush about how much your family, friends or local critique group loved your story.

Do - Include a self-addressed, stamped envelope for the reply. Be sure the postage amount is correct.

Whew! It seems like an awful lot to remember, doesn’t it? The good news here is that none of it is outside the bounds of simple common sense. If you remind yourself that writing is still a business, then you’re on the right path.

Here’s an example of a simple query letter:


Dear John Smith-Jones,

I am currently seeking representation for my completed novel “Masterpiece”, a 70,000 word thriller/sci-fi/romance, targeted toward the Thrill-Seeking-Scientific-Romantics imprint of your publishing house.

My story is similar in style and target-audience to your client, Mary Blech’s novel, “Futuristic Amazonian Lovers”.

My past publishing credits include: “Wonderful” – a short story sold to “Blah Magazine” in 1999 and “Amazing” – an award-winning article sold to “Humbug Publishing” in 2000.

Attached is a copy of the synopsis for “Masterpiece” The manuscript can be made available to you at your request and I can be contacted at the above listings.

I look forward to your response at your earliest convenience.

Regards, Super Author

Okay, it’s not really a perfect sales letter, but it is basically the right format. Short and to the point will grab a busy editor’s attention, perhaps prompting him to read the ONE or TWO PAGE synopsis you so thoughtfully attached (with a paperclip, not stapled)

The key to writing an effective query letter is professionality. Present yourself and your work as a serious business proposition and the editor is more likely to view your work in that light.


Copyright 2000 Lee Masterson. All rights reserved

Lee Masterson is a full-time freelance writer from Adelaide, South Australia. She is also the editor and publisher of Fiction Factor – The online magazine for writers. In what little spare time she has, Lee also writes science fiction

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