Monday, January 20, 2014

Query Letters for Magazines, Agents and Publishers – A Few Do's and Don'ts

Howdy Friends,
A good many of our Coffee Clutch friends are writers, or dream of writing and seeing their novel, non-fiction book, or story published in a magazine. I thought it might be helpful to share a few thoughts about writing the all important query letter.

Agents, admission editors, and publishers are extremely busy people receiving many query letters weekly. Some get a hundred a day! Of course they have their other duties too. So imagine how precious the time is they must carve out to read your own, very special query letter.
Of course if you have the world's best staff, and office, as I do, writing a query letter is a little easier.
I've heard it said that the first sentence of a query letter gets a fair shot. That's it. They like to call it the, "hook." I've never liked that word. I don't like to think of my opening sentence as, a hook, like a carnival barker. Doesn't matter. Better hook them ... If you've hooked them, your query gets to live on, one sentence, or word, at a time. So be sure to make every word count. Be absolutely perfect in your spelling, grammar and format. Yes, even great ideas will be rejected if your query hints that you don't understand sentence structure. Never, ever, not a single time, should your query start with a rhetorical question.

Before we get to what you should include in your query, let's explore a few formalities. Like structure. A query is a business letter, so make it look like one. Use correct headings, salutations and signatures. Always be sure your salutation is to the correct individual. Never, ever, not a single time, "To whom it may concern." – Or "Dear Sir or Madam." Do your homework, research who will receive your query, and address them by name, properly. If you don't do that, your first sentence won't even be read. Always end your query with a thank you. "Thank you for your time and consideration." Sign it, "Sincerely." No gimmicks, no cute stuff, no nonsense. In your signature include your contact information: address, email, and phone number.

Your first paragraph or two should be about your novel or story. Remember, be compelling, make every word count. Show them you can organize your thoughts, and words. Do not, ever, tell them how good it is. Show them! Never say, "This is an epic tale of love and loss … " Jump right in. Show them. "Mary knew this would be their last summer." Then the next sentence needs to build the tension. Never tell them about your story, invite them to live it with you by showing, not telling.

The next paragraph or two should be about you. A brief bio. If you've been published, share that information. If not don't worry about it, skip it. If you have a website, blog, facebook page, tell them. Today, to get consideration, a platform, as they call it, is very helpful, if not a requirement. If you're submitting non-fiction, either for a book, or a magazine article, it is important to tell them why you are qualified to write it.

Read their submission guidelines, and follow them to the letter. If they ask for the first 10 pages to accompany your query, do not send 5 chapters. Sometimes for non-fiction and magazines you can send a query asking if they'd be interested in your story or book before you complete it – But for fiction, never query before you have a completed manuscript, and have spent a lot of time polishing and editing. Many times since everything is done electronically now, when agents or publishers are interested, they will ask for entire manuscripts instead of partials, so if they like what they see they can keep going rather than having to re-start their thinking after you've send the rest.

Your last paragraph will be your thank you, as I indicated above. Some people like to add, "I look forward to hearing from you." I don't. Not in this. This is a good place to personalize your query toward the magazine, agent or publisher you are querying. Keep it brief, but tell them why you selected them. It not only separates you from those who mass-query the same letter in the shotgun approach hoping for a nibble, that never comes, but also shows you are serious and professional.
Then your signature with your contact information included.

Your entire query should be one, to one and a half pages. That's it. Show them you respect their time, and know how to use words to their highest and best value. When you send it, consider sending it in "Rich Text" format, so the email goblins will have a more difficult time destroying the formatting.

Query letters are very difficult for us writers to create. We like to write lots of words, sentences and pages, but if you practice, you can get it perfect. And you will! Things keep changing in the publishing world, but query letters remain very important.

Gitty Up ~ Dutch


  1. I Love to write, always have. Placing the reader in a world you created with your words is fantastic. But I never realized how important the query letter is.

    1. Thanks Anon! -- Keep on writin'! -- and yes the query letter is very important, that's why I thought I'd post this. Thanks for reading & commenting!!