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How to Write a Query Letter to a Literary Agent

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How to Write a Query Letter to a Literary Agent

A large part of getting your book published is writing a query letter. Although this has been a time honored practice, there are some writers who think they are a waste of time. These authors prefer to send their manuscript in to a publisher without any prior introduction. You may be able to get away with that if you are a well-known author, or if you are using a new publishing house that hasn’t many books to review. For those wondering if writing a query letter is the right way to go, here is a list of advantages to doing so:
  • Most editors are particular about their query process. If they receive a short note instead of the formal query letter it will probably go unread.
  • Writing a query letter will give the editor a sample of your writing style, letting them know you are qualified to write on the subject.
  • The research done for a proper query letter can be expanded upon for the actual piece.
  • If you send a piece without a query letter you are giving the wrong message. It looks as though you were unable to sell it to your original editor, or are trying to resell something that was previously published.
  • If you follow protocol you will surpass those who don’t send in formal query letters.

The Internet and instant communication has made the query process a lot faster. Even though you are sending a query by e-mail you can still use the formal format. Your submission will move to the top of the inbox, instead of ending up in the trash folder. Listed below is a detailed description of what belongs in a query letter. Research the publication

• Know who you are sending your query to. Read their publication. Get familiar with their product and mission.

• Check online for the guidelines for writers. They will usually post them on their site, along with the submission process.

• Find out whom to send your query to. Editors move around from time to time. Check out the masthead to know the correct editor.

• It is okay to send your query to more than one publication. Be sure that the category is appropriate for both.

Be professional about the look of your query letter

• Absolutely no grammar or spelling mistakes.

• Always put the date on your letter. You will want that as part of your copyright information.

• When using regular post, be sure to print your query letter on nice clean white or off white paper. Letter sized, 8 ½ X 11 inch linen.

• Address your letter to the correct editor using their full name without Mr. or Mrs. salutations. The only exception to this rule is in the case of professional designations such as Dr.

• Double check that you have the name of the publication spelled properly. You also need the street address.

• Paper is appropriate. Do not use fancy printed paper or bright colors.

• Formatting is important. Have your paragraphs single-spaced and double-space in between each paragraph.

• The most important part of the query letter that is often forgotten is your contact information. Remember to put your name, mailing address, email address and phone number in the letterhead and at the bottom of the letter.

Make it interesting

• Don’t make your reader wait for the idea. Put it very near the top of your letter

• Be original in your topic or approach to your topic.

• Set up your type so that the main idea is set apart with by paragraphing or use of font it stands out from the rest of your letter.

• You want your reader to continue reading so make your first sentence exciting.

Be concise and to the point

• If you have a long query letter it will not get read. Editors read hundreds of these letters a day. Stay within one page.

• Be exact about what will and won’t go into your article/book.

• Include the length of your writing in number of words, and if a book include number of pages and chapters. Don’t propose a book length to a magazine. Make sure you are within their guidelines.

• Be clear about the category your writing falls under. .

Persuade the editor in your query letter

• Convince the editor that you are the only choice to write this article/book.

• List other work you have done that reflects the style of writing the publication is looking for.

• Include any links to online articles or resources that you feel would help showcase your work.

• If you have relevant credentials or awards include what they are to show you are qualified to write about this topic.

• State any other similar publications for whom you have written.

• Use an affirmative close to your query letter such as, “I look forward to hearing from you. Please contact me at the phone number below if you have any questions.”

Don’t make them wait

• After receiving a positive response to your query letter, immediately answer with your article or manuscript. Write on the package, “Solicited Article” or “Requested Manuscript.”

• Don’t send an SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope) when responding with solicited writing.

Don’ts of a query letter

• Don’t tell them you have been rejected by other publishers.

• Don’t lament about how difficult it was to write this piece or any sacrifices you had to make.

• Don’t talk about more than one idea for an article or book in one letter.

• Don’t talk about the people you’d like to thank or who helped you.

• Don’t say that it could use some work.

• Don’t ask the editor to review or critique your work.

• Don’t say how great it would be to get published.

• Don’t put reviews by other people about your writing

• Don’t say anything personal about yourself or anything off topic.

• Don’t ask anything about money or what you expect to get paid.

• Don’t supply legal information like SSN.

• Don’t say anything about copyrights.

• Don’t talk on about stuff that isn’t important or relevant.

• Don’t send a query before you know everything you need to know about the publication and whether your writing is appropriate.

• Don’t tell the editor that you would like to sell the rights to your work.

• Don’t resend your query. If they didn’t respond, they don’t want it.

• Don’t talk familiarly with the editor. Use professional language only.

• Don’t include samples of writing that have nothing to do with the topic.

Although the debate continues, your chances of getting published increase exponentially when you follow the formal protocol of writing a query letter. Review the above steps to gain an even further advantage.

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