Vicki's Book News and Articles

Craft: Query Letter

Written by Vicki Hinze

On December 28, 2010

Vicki Hinze © 2003-2011

Q. I am about to send out a query letter to several publishers. I did do one but it may not have been correct. Can you please email me a copy of one that was done correctly so that I can do it in the same way?

A. I don’t have one handy I can share, but I can tell you what should be in the letter.

First, write a business letter free of the typical typos and such, and send it to a specific editor–no generic, “Dear Editor” or odds are all you’ll get is a “Dear Author” rejection.

Limit the letter to a page; at most, two pages.

In the reference line, list the title, word count, type of novel, and its status.


Re: LADY LIBERTY 100,000 word Romantic Suspense, Complete

This helps the editor/agent to focus on exactly what you’re selling and when you’re going to be in a position to sell it. The sooner s/he can narrow the field to where your book fits on a bookshelf, the sooner s/he can determine whether or not it can possibly fit his/her list.

In the first paragraph, write a brief blurb about the book you’re pitching. Not a synopsis, more like a TV Guide blurb with panache. Think “characters and conflict” and include a strong sense of setting. It’s wise to include your thematic statement and to draw on universal emotion here. A few sentences is all you have to work with in this paragraph, so hone them tightly and make them work hard.

Many authors talk about themselves before talking about the book. From the experts I’ve talked with about this, that’s a mistake. Before they know you, they must know what you have, and if they can sell it. So be sure to address the book and then move on to yourself.

Second paragraph is about you. Your credentials, focusing on writing. If you have a degree, list it, because it discloses your willingness to stick with and finish something you start. (Many authors are three-chapter authors. They never get beyond them, which is one of the reasons editors/agents market and want to buy only complete books from new writers.) Give an overview of your publishing history–if not books, then articles, newsletters, etc.–and any organizational affiliations with writer’s groups or guilds. Also include any awards and/or honors your or your work has won. (Nominations or wins.)

Third paragraph, tell why you’re qualified to write this book, or what encouraged you to write it. If you have unique experiences or qualifications for writing this book, include them here.

Example: If you lived in Afghanistan for a year gathering information on the treatment of women and you’ve written about your experiences, then here’s the place to say so. If your book is set in a small town, and you live in a small town, say so. What you want to focus on are your unique insights that give you and the book authenticity and credibility.

Last paragraph is the closing where you reiterate the status of the book, that you’ve enclosed an SASE (self-addressed, stamped envelope), and that you will forward the manuscript on request. Add a polite thank you for the agent/editor’s time, and you’re done.

Be sure to enclose an SASE for the editor/agent’s query response–and good luck!*


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