Query Letters

Query letters. Most writers hate them, and yet in our line of work, it’s the one thing we can’t avoid. If you cruise the Internet long enough, you’ll be inundated with advice, and get snowed under with the reams of sample letters available–some of them good, some bad. If there’s two thing’s I’ve learned over the last year, it’s that you must be professional, and that there’s no easy way out. You’ve simply got to grit your teeth, sit down, and write the damn things.

There’s something else I’ve learned, too–there are two basic types. The query that’s accompanied by a synopsis and sample chapters, and the query that flies solo. You might think these should be the same, but they’re not, and I’ll explain why.

The query that is sent accompanied by a synopsis and sample chapter is basically a letter of introduction. It tells the editor/agent who you are, what you’re sending, where to get in contact with you if they want to see more. It should also include the basics of the story–the market it’s aimed for, word count, and a brief, three or four line synopsis. Nothing more. Let your writing in the sample chapters that accompany the letter speak for itself.

The query that flies solo is a different kettle of fish. It hasn’t the advantage of accompanying work to tantalize the editor or agent; it has to do that job all on its lonesome. For this type of query, you should remember:

  • Tone:
    The tone of the letter should reflect the tone of the book. It’s no use writing a humorous query if the book is totally serious. It’ll only succeed in giving the editor the wrong impression.
  • Who, What, Why, Where, When:
    Concentrate on the main characters and story details only-but don’t forget to include the conflict!. Remember, query letters are short letters-two or three pages at the max-so you haven’t the time to ramble on. (And if you do, it won’t impress the editor anyway.)
  • Hooks/Concepts:
    Hooks are vital; they reflect the main point or points of the story and catch the editors attention.
  • Theme:
    Again, it’s vital that you know this, especially if you’re writing a romance.
  • Market:
    Make sure you’re sending the book to right publisher/editor. Don’t send a romance to a fantasy only publisher. And make sure you get the editors name right!
    Again, it’s vital you get this right. It’s no use sending a 100,000 page novel to a publisher that only prints 60,000 page novels. Do your research first.
  • Relevant Personal Information:
    By this, I mean, writing groups you might belong to, contests placed in, novels or short stories you’ve previously had published. Do not include things like contest feedback (no matter how favorable) or the fact that every family member simply raves about the book.
  • Self addressed envelopes and IRC’s:
    Some publishing houses are still requesting these from those of us not living in America. Others consider them a waste of time, and would prefer the postage cost to be sent in Cheque form. Check on the publishers web sites to see which category they fall into before you send.

Above all else-be professional!

A query letter is a necessary evil-there’s nothing we can do to avoid them. And I’m afraid, despite my advice, and despite all the advice you’ll find on the web, the only real way you’ll ever learn to write them is if you sit down and do exactly that.

Sample Query Letters

The first is a general query layout, the second a query letter I used that got a request response from Avon, who didn’t like the story when they got it.

Sample 1:

Ms. Jo Bloggs
(rest of her agency’s address)
(your name)
(your address)

(date)

Dear Ms. Bloggs.

I am seeking representation for my completed 100,000 word Urban Fantasy Novel, (title in italics).

(Title) is the story of (five or six line synopsis of your story).

(Mention here if it is the start of a continuing series and if you’ve started the following book.)

I am a published author and have completed a total of (however many) books. My (first book/latest book), (title in italics) came out with (publisher and date) this year and (note any awards it might have picked up. Then list any groups you belong to and any other writing credits you might have. As an example, this is what I write: I am a published author and have completed a total of nine books. My first published book, Dancing with the Devil, came out with ImaJinn Books in March this year and was recently voted Best Vampire in SimeGen’s Reviewer Choice Awards. I have two more books coming out with ImaJinn later this year. I am a member, and current coordinator, of the Melbourne Romance Writers Guild and co-edit its newsletter. If you’re not yet published in any format (including short stories, articles etc), then simply mention the groups you belong to.

Please find attached the first two chapters of (title) and a brief synopsis. I have enclosed a SASE for your convenience.

Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.

(your name
your email address
your website address)

Don’t forget to include the SASE (IRC if you’re international), or to sign the letter!

Sample 2:

When reluctant psychic, Remy Jones, saves the life of an old woman, she doesn’t expect to be granted a wish in return. Nor does she expect to find a love with the power to cross all boundaries…

That’s the premise for my recently completed novel, Hearts Wish , that I wish to submit for consideration. Hearts Wish is a sexy, contemporary paranormal romance of approximately 100 000 words.

Jonathan Sinclair is dead-and he wants to know why. Confined to the boundaries of his family’s island retreat, unable to converse to anyone who knew him in life, he fears the chances of justice and understanding are slipping away. Until Remy steps onto his island…and into his heart. Remy Jones agrees to help Muriel Sinclair find her brother-even though her visions suggest Jonathan is dead. Remy’s main aim is to uncover Jonathan’s bones so that he might find final peace. She doesn’t expect to find the man himself, or a mystery deeper than one death. Jonathan is no ordinary ghost, because he can interact with the world-and with Remy.

As they try to piece together the events of the night that led to Jonathan’s death, it becomes apparent someone on the island is willing to go to any length to keep the truth buried. Even murder. As danger draws closer and closer, all that stands between Remy and death is a man who is not real.

A man she is beginning to love, but can never have.

I’m currently published through ImaJinn Books. My first novel, Dancing with the Devil, was a finalist in the mainstream division of the Woman’s Day/Romance Writers of Australia Romantic Book of the Year awards, and was voted best vampire in SimeGen’s reviewers choice awards. My second book, Circle of Fire, was given a four and a half stars top pick in the November (2001) Romantic Times and was nominated in the best contemporary paranormal category in their recent Reviewers Choice Awards.

I am on the committee of the Romance Writers of Australia and current president of the Melbourne Romance Writers Guild. I also co-edit their newsletter, Romancing the Word. If you wish to see either a partial or the full version of the novel, I can send either via email or through normal post. Thanking you for your time.

(your name
your email address
your website address)

Don’t forget to include the SASE (IRC if you’re international), or to sign the letter!