Friday, August 04, 2006

The Dreaded Query Letter

James Buchanan

It’s been pushed to such hype that it instills chills in people just thinking about trying to write one. It’s a business letter folks. Why do you want to buy my product? Here’s the answer. Follow the standard business letter format when writing. Use good grammar and have someone proof read it for typos.

It should look something like:

Your name and address


Publisher name and address

Re: Title of work
Genre (or special call)
Word Count

Dear editor:

My first paragraph usually starts with a hook line. For Twice the Cowboy I started with “Manuel Santos Fuentes was not the type of cowboy Jess Graff was used to.” The first line and you already know two things about the book: it’s about cowboys and it features two guys. Am I going to win a Pulitzer Prize for that? No, I don’t have to. All you need to do is make the editor want to read a little further. Think of that first paragraph as the back cover blurb. What would make you pick up the book and read it? Short, sweet and catchy is what you’re going for.

The next paragraph is usually a one paragraph synopsis of the book. For a short story, your first paragraph will be enough. Novella length or longer you’ll need to tackle a more detailed summary. Answer the question, “what is your book about?” Phrase the answer as though you were talking to your best friend over coffee and they asked you. You’ll want to hit the pivotal plot points. If it’s a romance tell them what is driving or derailing that romance.

Third tackle “why I can write this book.” For Cheating Chance I went into some detail about my experience working criminal cases for the prosecution, the detectives I met and the war stories they told. A simi-historical fantasy novel, Lord Carabas, I pitched with my research and that I was a former competition epeeist so I know dueling. Say you don’t have those kinds of qualifications. Did you grow up in the area you’re writing about? Are you an avid reader of Regency Romances so you know the genre inside and out? Those things count. If the publisher wants a marketing hook this is where you would put it.

Prior publications are what I close with. When I first started trying to publish erotic romances, those consisted of an in-house series of training manuals, some college poetry and a couple of short trade articles. While they were not great as references, my past work did show that 1) I could write a sentence and 2) I could work with an editor. As you get more work published in your genre you can phase those earlier works out.

Last you close with a “I look forward to hearing from you.”

That’s it, you’re done.


Kis Lee said...

Great article! I wished I had seen this when I first started out.

Anonymous said...

Heh, I've been writing queries like haiku because I thought it was the best way to avoid doing it 'wrong'. ;)

Anonymous said...

Emily: Can you file the posts by Content instead of date so that I can come back to this when it is time to write my letter?

Or not. :)

veinglory said...

I will be making up some categories to archive under. I'm guessing this will be 'submitting'. :)

The others maybe 'writing', 'publisher selection'... ?