Writing a Query Letter to a publisher
Put plainly, a query letter is a letter suggesting an idea to a publisher or other agent about a manuscript, with a special focus on making you the author of it. Query letters also go by the terms pitch letter, pitch or simply query. As in any form of business (which authorship is included), a query letter is a form of advertising for your novel aimed at “selling” your idea to potential “buyers” - the publishers. All unsolicited material would stand a better chance of an overview if accompanied by a pitch. Those which are not are generally tossed to the side.
Before we get to the format of a typical query letter, please take into account these general guidelines when writing one:
Length: Make sure your query is no more than one page in length. This means being specific to ensure the greatest amount of detail. A long, dragged-out pitch letter is time consuming, and most likely will take away interest from your synopsis (the opposite of what the letter was intended for).
Be Specific: In addition to keeping the letter’s length at a minimum, pay attention to the details you include and exclude in your query. Besides the five W’s: who, what, where, when, why, and how, make sure to add details on your book’s length, target audience, and why you feel your manuscript would be a good fit for the particular publishing company.
Be Enticing: The general rule-of-thumb for news reporters is to lure the reader in with the first sentence of an article, referred to as the lead sentence. Give them a taste of what’s to follow, thereby influencing them to continue with what they were reading. You only have one page to sell your manuscript, so make sure to use vivid, descriptive words to introduce your characters, plot and outcome.
Be Professional: Besides making sure all your words are spelled correctly, see to it that your entire pitch letter is professional. Include the date submitted, make sure all titles and names are used correctly (if needed, call the company to double check), use the standard 8 ½ x 11 paper, and include a self-addressed/stamped envelope (SASE) for courteousness. Similar to a job resume, be sure to include your name, mailing address, E-mail and telephone number in the letterhead.
Provide Support: If applicable, include any news articles, awards, writing samples or magazine clippings that give credit to you as an author. This step is not necessary if no such acknowledgements exist, but if they do, then take the time to include them in your query. You are selling yourself as well as your talent.
Do Not: While the preceding tips provide guidance as what to include in a query letter, this next list is filled with suggestions for what not to include. Remember - the point of a pitch is to entice the publisher in a simple, one-page letter, so the following “do nots” will help you maintain your credibility.
• Do not give or discuss copyright information.
• Do not mention whether or not you’ve received help from others.
• Do not mention that you feel your piece still needs work.
• Do not request advice from the publisher or literary agent.
• Do not repeatedly query a publisher who is obviously uninterested.
• Do not include any irrelevant information about yourself.
• Do not discuss selling rights, price, or payment.
• Do not include statements from others about your manuscript.
• Do not mention how you’re manuscript has been turned down.
• Do not give your social security number.
• Do not mention how hard you have been working on the manuscript.
• Do not present ideas for several different manuscripts at once.
• Do not use inappropriate content.
As with any professional exchange, be sure to end your query with a sincere note of interest. Closings such as “I thank your for your time” or “I hope to hear from you soon” are fine in expressing sentiment, without being overbearing. Taking into consideration the above guidelines for your query’s content, the following is the generally-accepted format for composing one:
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