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Writing the Killer Query Letter

Writing a great query letter is an art, but once you’ve created your synopsis, you’ve got the bones. Here’s the rest of the story:

Your synopsis forms the basis for your query letter.

Almost all queries today are email cover letters; your manuscript or pages are sent as a Word attachment – but these are requirements you should establish first as some houses still prefer your pages in the body of the email and rarely do houses or agents ask for hard copy. Note also whether the editor/agent prefers pages (usually the first 10-20) or the full manuscript. Never send something from the middle of your novel.

All editors and agents will specify their requirements for submission, so follow those exactly.

The norm today is multiple submissions are acceptable as long as you notify the recipient of your intent. My advice is to limit multiple submissions to 3-4 agents/editors in each round, and if you should hear back in the positive let the others still considering your submission know that you have interest right away. Also, the norm today is that if you don’t hear back in three months, consider your work rejected. Not nice, not fair, but that’s what it is.

Here are the fundamentals of query letter writing:

  1. Should be no longer than a single typed page. Seriously. Shorter is better.
  2. Should be addressed to the individual editor/agent. Check spelling, check your facts. Find out what the editor/agent has previously edited/agented because you will tell them why you believe your work is a good fit for them.
  3. Your opening sentence should be short and to the point: “I submit FAR CRY, my 75,000 word young adult romance set in contemporary Indochina, for your consideration.”
  4. Follow this with your pitch sentence: why you have chosen this editor/agent for your work: “I’m submitting to you based on your work with Joe Smith and his acclaimed young adult contemporary romance, LET LOOSE THE DRAGONS, one of my favorite novels of last year.”
  5. Your middle should be your synopsis or a reasonable facsimile thereof. This is where you really pitch your story, with an enticing, engaging summary based on your synopsis. Don’t go into details; leave the editor/agent hanging and wanting more – you are pitching your concept and selling your book.
  6. Your ending summarizes your previous publications if any, and your professional writing related experience (i.e., membership in SCBWI or other professional organization, MA/MFA from wherever, whether you are/have been a teacher or librarian). Non-writing related experience need not be mentioned.
  7. Don’t tell the editor/agent that your mother/aunt/children/students loved the story.
  8. Don’t go on and on with gushy personal feelings.
  9. Do sound professional, serious, and educated.
  10. After sending this out for a couple of rounds, if you’ve had no interest, revise and try again. Good luck!

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