Shades Of Romance Magazine

October 14-20, 2001


















Master The Art Of The Query Letter
Monica Jackson

What is a query letter?

An introduction of you and your work.

A query letter is as important to selling your work as a job        interview is to getting hired. 

A good query letter is essential to breaking into the writing industry at any level.  It's your most essential sales tool.  There is a correct way to write a query letter.  Do it any other way and you will be disregarded as clueless.

Whether your work will be considered is dependent on the quality and contents of your query letter. 

So why not send in your manuscript and be done with it?  They'll have to look at then, right?  Wrong. 

Agents and editors don't like unsolicited manuscripts.

Sending in your manuscript without it being requested is the way to almost certain rejection.

Manuscripts that aren't requested are consigned to a slush pile.  They are read last if at all.  The editor seldom reads them, but instead a clerical person or reader might glance at the first page or two--maybe--as they look for your SASE to stuff with a form rejection letter. 

Your query letter is your key that opens the door to    publication.

How to write a query letter

The Basics

Use quality paper.  Weight should be at least 20#.  Use white or off-white colors.  Stand out with quality rather than any style or flash which is likely to be a turnoff.

Print quality and typeface should be polished and professional. Times New Roman is the best font to use.  (For my actual manuscripts, I use Courier)

Spelling, grammar and punctuation are critical.  They are not going to be interested in your work if you can't write a short letter correctly.

If at all possible, keep the letter to one page. 

You must address and direct the query letter to a specific person and their name and title must be correct.  Anything addressed to "Dear Agent" or "Dear Editor" usually gets automatically rejected.

A self addressed stamped envelope must be enclosed.

Consider a personal letterhead and logo.

The tone of your letter should not be overly clever or cutesy.  You run the risk of a turn-off.  The writing that succeeds in getting your work requested is clear, succinct, to the point with thoroughly; developed ideas. 

A good agent or editor is deluged with query letters.  How to make yours stand out?  Hot pink paper or a fancy script font is NOT the right idea.  This will get you rejected faster than you can say SASE.  Stick to a conservative, high-quality style but stand out with the quality of your writing and ideas. 

A query letter should consist of several parts. 

The lead
The summary and persuasion
About yourself

The Lead

Give your lead for your query the thought you give the lead for your novel.  You want to catch the agents or; editor's attention immediately. 

When the agent or editor opens your envelope, he wants to know what you have that he can sell.  Tell them what you have in the first sentence or two.  You want a conceptual hook in as few as words as possible.  Use the skills you've practiced in boiling down your story to a high-concept premise for your synopsis and verbal pitches (you have practiced this skill, hmmm?).  Get to the point immediately. Classify your work as to category and genre.  Tell the agent/editor exactly where it fits in the scheme of commercial    marketing.  (An African American heroine must choose between the white man who dishonored her family and the desires of her heart.  CINNAMON SKIN is a 100,000 word mainstream contemporary romance).

Do not be unsure or put into several categories ("My  wonderful novel, SUNBURN, is possibly a fantasy horror historical romance with a strong suspense thread" will likely be rejected without; reading farther).

The summary and persuasion

What's your work about?  What's the market?  What makes your work unique?  Exude confidence but not pomposity or groundless bragging.  Don't compare your work to other work.  Never say anything negative about yourself or your attempts to get published.  Make sure your idea is not vague, that it is thoroughly and well conceived.  Cut every extraneous word.  This part should not exceed a paragraph or two.

About yourself

Include a sentence or two about your background.  You want to state the most important and relevant things about yourself that will support the sale of your book.  Degrees, prior publication credits, significant awards or contest wins.  Again, leave out the cutesy or extraneous. 

The conclusion

Positively and confidently conclude with what you want, a request to see your manuscript.  Don't hope or think, know.  Thank the reader.


For a fiction query a one to five page well-done synopsis is fine, but not mandatory.

A short resume or book list if appropriate can be enclosed.