Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Query Letters

My query letters follow a standard formula that I’ve found useful. First of all, the tone--I approach publishing as a business; therefore, my letters are formal and business-like. Since none of my friends are agents or publishers, I don’t get to friendly. I’d rather err on the side of being too formal, than on too familiar.

My greeting is always, “Dear X” and “X” is always personalized. I don’t send a letter “Dear Agent,” “Dear Publisher,” or “To Whom It May Concern.” I put a lot of time and research into who I’m querying. There are so many ways of finding out who works at what agency or publishing house, and what submissions they’re looking for, that unless the website specifically says to address it generically, I won’t do it.

My first paragraph or opening sentences announce what I’ve written—word count, genre and title. I also tell them why I think it will interest them.

Then I give a short description of my book, no more than 2 or 3 paragraphs. Think of a “back-of-the-book blurb.” There is just enough information to hook them, without boring them with a ton of details. If it can be compared to something well-known, like a fairy tale, or a movie, I say so. But be careful with this; sometimes that can backfire!

My next paragraph details my credentials—previous writing experience, what’s been published, awards, association memberships, etc. I list my blogs (but again, be careful; if you list it, they will check it out) here with links.

My closing refers back to their submission guidelines, and I say what I’m including with the query letter, as per their guidelines. I thank them for their time and then close my letter with “Sincerely, Jennifer Wilck.” I often list a link or two with my name (not every single link, but the most important ones) to help them check me out a bit more.

And that’s it. I don’t weigh down my letters with too much detail, but I’m specific enough, I hope, to catch their eye. So far, it seems to be working for me. But I’m curious about what others do—what’s in YOUR query letter?


  1. I wrote one several years ago when I sent out my WIP to several agents. The rejection letters prompted me to go back and rewrite, which I have been doing. Your advice is sound, Jen.
    I'm reading your book now. Gideon is a great hero. Lily and Claire are vividly alive.

  2. Oh, thank you!

    I think my goal with this post was to make people understand that publishing is a business and your letter has to achieve its purpose while also demonstrating your own professionalism. With so much social media activity, we tend to get too chatty and overly familiar with people, which, in certain situations, is inappropriate.

  3. My query letters have followed the same format.
    Interestingly, however, at a recent RNA conference, I heard two different editors (one of them from HQN) saying they didn't have time to check out blogs or websites. All they were interested in was the story itself.

  4. That is interesting, since everyone else talks about how important websites and blogs are and that they're going to check them out so you'd better be ready. I think it really just depends on the person. And obviously, they're only going to look if they are truly interested; otherwise, who has time?

    I read a romance once (don't remember anything about it) where the heroine was trying to get published and she tied her manuscript with bows, perfumed her letter, etc. and the editor went for it! Obviously not realistic, but definitely not boring.

  5. Bows and perfume would probably be the biggest turn-off for any self-respecting editor!

  6. One of the editors (think it was the HQN one) actually said 'Strictly no gimmicks. Blow me away with your enticing blurb and well-written synopsis, and make me WANT to read your story.'

  7. Sounds like you did your research.

    I do something similar, but even shorter than yours.

    I always send a personal letter to a specific person. I start with introducing myself, reminding how we met, or referring back to projects we've worked on before. My next section is the title, work count, and target. Then I give a tagline and 'theme'. I close with my writing credentials. I do include a link to my web-site as part of my closing/signature.

  8. What do you do if you've never met the editor/agent before?

  9. Not strictly to do with query letters, but here's another piece of advice from an editor, based on Debra's comment about meeting someone. Don't put a cute kitten or even hearts and roses on your business cards. Keep then business-like. Also, if you're intending to hand them to an editor or agent you meet at a conference or similar, a photo of yourself on your business card will remind the editor of you. As one editor said, she ends up with a whole stack of cards at conferences, and without a photo, she hasn't a clue at the end of the day who gave her the cards. A photo will prompt her memory. Just thought that advice was worth passing on.