Saturday, January 15


A good query letter can be a writer’s single most effective marketing tool. But only if it can instantly grab the attention of the reader and keep that attention. A good query letter gets to the point quickly and makes it easier for a "tired, blurry eyed" editor to sit up and take notice.
I enjoy helping writers market their manuscripts once they have been edited. Because of this, I’ve put together a series of query letters that got noticed by agents and publishers. In fact, several of these letters can be credited with helping the author make a sale.
There are a few basic elements that go into a good query letter. I’ve broken these elements into example in an attempt to make them easier to put into practice. Remember, these are just examples. See if you can see the common elements you can incorporate into your own query letters.

ELEMENT 1. The "attention getting opening":

Sometimes the opening takes the form of a question.
This example was used to market a children’s book.
Do you think children should be helped to understand the difference between fact and fiction, reality and fantasy?
This example was used to get attention focused on a mystery/thriller.
What really happened in Dealy Plaza on November 22, 1963? Did the head of the FBI and the Vice President play a part in the events of that day?

Sometimes just a friendly opening sentence catches the attention of the reader.
In this example, the author used a bit of familiarity to draw attention to his mystery novel.
I noticed that you agented a book I enjoyed, [Author's name]'s [Book's name], and thought you might be interested in seeing my mystery, A STRANGE AND BITTER CROP.

Sometimes an interesting statement works just as well.
In this example, the author hopes the saga of a World War II Army Nurse would help get attention.
In war-torn 1942, Army Nurse 2nd Lt. Ernestine Koranda began a most perilous voyage. Sailing from New York with task force 6924T her troopship made it down the German submarine infested Atlantic Coast and on to Australia. She survived the harrowing trip only to be killed in an airplane crash on her way to her wedding!

Element 2 follows the attention getting opener with a paragraph that helps "justify your project." Why are you writing this book in the first place and why would anyone want to buy it? Who’s interested anyway?

Element 2: "Justify the project." Add interest by incorporating "market information and endorsements."
Market information first:
This paragraph (or sentence) is for a children’s book series.

THE EXPEDITION book series was successfully tested on elementary school students. Parents, teachers and children's librarians have expressed an appreciation for this concept.
This paragraph draws attention to the audience, those interested in WWII Hospital Ships:

This is the untold story of the thirty nine hospital ships that operated during World War II. Each ship is covered from her launch to final demise, with the main emphasis on the ship's career as a hospital ship. WORLD WAR II HOSPITAL SHIPS is aimed at and will find an audience in Military Personnel, Merchant Seamen, Physicians, Nurses, Historians and Ship buffs

Now we’ll talk about the endorsement section:.
The two paragraphs that follow hope their endorsements will show the reader the book is in good hands:

I developed the idea for this series while producing the program "What Does A Writer Do, Anyway?" designed to encourage elementary school students to enjoy creative writing. My program was heartily received by the [local] Community School system.

A STRANGE AND BITTER CROP has been reviewed by Jenny [last name], an attorney who clerks for a superior court judge, Rick [last name], an attorney for a legal aid society, Cheryl [last name], a psychotherapist who specializes in treatment of rape survivors, and a rape survivor who prefers to remain unnamed...(continued...)

... Additional help was provided by a member of a rape crisis line, Dr. Karen [last name], forensic anthropologist for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and Stan [last name], sheriff of [name of county], Georgia.

Now we move on to Element 3, the final section of an attention getting query letter. The "About the Author" paragraph is where you get to talk about yourself. This is no time to be modest! "The closing" is just that - the last part of your letter.

Some of these paragraphs combine several styles in an attempt to impress the reader. The writers here are saying, in essence, "I’m the one to write this book."
"About the Author" and "Closing:"

Other works have helped me in creating this children's book series. I am the author of TV GREATS-STAR TREK (Zebra), publisher of RUNNER'S FORUM NEWSLETTER, was Managing Editor of WORKING WRITER MAGAZINE,...(continued)...... served as Research Specialist for INFORMATION SERVICES INTERNATIONAL, co-produced two writer's conferences/workshops - WRITERSFEST I and II, served as a book reviewer for SYBEX BOOKS and was a guest lecturer at WAYNE STATE UNIVERSITY CENTER FOR CREATIVE STUDIES with the program RESEARCH IN FICTION: GETTING IT RIGHT.

This author highlighted his educational background:

My educational background includes a bachelor's degree in English, a master's degree in psychology, and a doctorate in counseling. I have studied under Harriette [last name], a graduate of Yale University's writing program. As a life-long Southerner, I have lived and worked in large cities and rural areas...(continued)...

... The characters, settings and events in A STRANGE AND BITTER CROP are an accurate portrayal of both the past and present South. Also, my short story, UNFINISHED BUSINESS, is scheduled to be published in THEMA magazine in May.

This author shows he knows his subject and is enthusiastic about the project:

Born and reared in Texas, I have been a practicing attorney in Dallas for the last twenty-three years. I hold a BBA from Texas Christian University, a JD from Baylor University Law School and an LLM from New York University Law School. (continued)...

...THE THIRD MAN reflects both my life experiences, my professional experience and my interest in the subject matter. Familiar with the workings of the Justice Department and with the legal systems in Dallas, I've patterned many of the scenes and characters after real places and people.

Most people would think that writing a closing to a query letter goes without saying. A closing is a closing is a closing. But remember, the reader is still making up his mind about what sort of person you are. And you can also count on the fact that the reader is short of time and attention span. Get to the point.

"The Closing:"

If my children's book series is of interest to you, I would be glad to send you the complete manuscript for THE EXPEDITION.

Enclosed is a stamped, addressed envelope. I look forward to hearing from you.

I have also written a follow up novel, THE KHOMEINI PROPHECY. Please let me know if you would be interested in reading THE THIRD MAN with a view toward representing me.

End of examples. "Editor’s note to follow."

Be sure to use each element. Attention getting opening, justify the project, about the author and closing a just a few such elements. Also, keep in mind that these are just examples of query letters that have worked. The majority of them consisted of only one page. None exceeded a page and a half.

You can include other elements, of course, but the above letters got the attention of either agents or publishers. Two of these books were sold recently and the authors are confident that they wouldn’t have gotten their foot in the door without a GREAT query letter.

Put these examples to good use.

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