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What You Need To Know About Query Letters

Author:  Equally Entrenched
Date:  02-03-03

While query letters vary from author to author and agent to agent (depending on an agent's guidelines) I do believe there are some crucial points that fit every query and for that matter, every cover letter if you are sending along sample chapters or a manuscript.

  • Query letters should be no longer than one page. Got that! A five-page letter isn’t a letter anymore. All I want from a query letter is the basics. If you are sending to an agent whose guidelines require double-spaced letters it is usually okay to write a two-page letter. No longer though!
  • Always include your address, phone number, email address, and any other information that tells me where you can be reached. You would be surprised at how many query letters I receive without this information.
  • Include the title of your book and its genre. Is it a romance, romantic suspense, cozy mystery, the first book in a mystery series, a historical novel, NF business, women’s fiction…Whatever best describes your book in three words or less tell me. It gives me a quick idea of what I’m looking at or even if it is for me. You might be amazed by how many people send letters without a title.
  • Provide an overview of the book, and make it short—just a paragraph or two at the most. I don’t need to know every little detail, I just need to know the key facts and what makes this book different from every other book on the shelf. If you're having a hard time doing this, read some of the copy on the back of books you already own. Pay attention to how clear, concise and short the copy is. What does it tell you? Who, What, Why, Where, When and How. That's it. This might take a number of rewrites to make it perfect, but don't get discouraged. Have friends and family and anyone who hasn't read your book read your paragraph. If they aren't impressed and inspired to read your material it's likely an agent won't be either.
  • Include A brief bio of the author (you). No more than one paragraph long. I want to know any publishing experience you might have or any experience that relates to the book.

    Creating a one paragraph bio can be tough I know. People like to talk about themselves. Let me give you some hints though. Are you the leading neurosurgeon in the country? That only matters if you are writing a NF medical book. If you are submitting a romance I could care less at this point. Just like you could probably care less about the fact that I like to ride my bike or pet my dog. That said, it never hurts to add a sentence of personality. So yes, if you have kids and dogs, feel free to mention them.

    For those without publishing credits, don't worry. Just mention that you've been writing for years or that this is your fifth completed manuscript. No need to go on and on though about how you've been writing since high school.
  • And never forget an SASE. Lately I’ve been receiving a number of queries that ask me to just reply via email or I can just throw it away and there’s no need to reply. I don’t mind doing that once in a while, but to be honest that’s not how I prefer to do things. Please stick to the guidelines and include an SASE.

Remember, query letters don't need to be fancy or splashy, they just need to capture my attention and the best way to do that is the paragraph that describes your book. If you have a mystery, show me how your hook is different from every other mystery out there. Agents receive literally hundreds of queries a week and neon paper isn't going to impress us. Only good writing and original ideas are going to do that.

Copyright 2002 'Equally Entrenched' is a literary agent who spends time in the WritersNet forums helping to dispel the many myths that distort aspirant writers' views of the publishing world. EE (as forum regulars know her/him) was kind enough to let us post this informative insight into query writing. Read it carefully; the author spends a lot of time reading and judging query letters' merits in helping writers become published authors. (Please Note: We at WritersNet respect EE's wish to remain anonymous but we also know that the information here is based on extensive agenting experience.)

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