Reply
Correspondent
Clippership14
Posts: 382
Registered: ‎07-12-2007
0 Kudos

The Formidable Query Letter

Greeting everyone! I've read quite a bit on the boards, and have probably missed some previous conversations considering I just became a member in July, but I have noticed that there hasn't been much mentioned about query letters. Since this is the Getting Published Board, I was wondering if any of you experienced individuals might take a moment and share some insight on the subject. Query letters are a necessary evil, according to my research, yet very little is mentioned on the format, size, etc. in drawing one up. What do you think a good query letter should have? What should you say in it and what should you avoid putting in? How do you go about finding whom to address the letter to? And if anyone else has any good questions lets get them out in the air, because I'm sure I've forgotten some. =)

Thanks!
Contributor
Guitargurl
Posts: 9
Registered: ‎01-13-2008
0 Kudos

Re: The Formidable Query Letter

This is an area I would have to have some insight on as well.

I am self-published but retain all of the rights to my work and the right to pull it from the self-publishing company at any time.

I would like to submit the book to agents and don't know where to begin.

Someone out there must have some tips for us.

Please share :smileywink:
Check out my medieval fantasy novel, The Rift, at www.lulu.com/HeatherJ
Correspondent
Clippership14
Posts: 382
Registered: ‎07-12-2007
0 Kudos

Re: The Formidable Query Letter

Alright, since writing the original posting for this thread I've been doing some good old honest research. I'm going to post some of the things I've found and encourage everyone else to share too. Especially if you are an agent, editor, or published author!

The number one rule: Check submission guidlines with the prospective agent or publisher--always!
The number two rule: Don't just send a query "to whom it may concern" but address it to someone specific. You're more likely to get noticed. Do your research on your targeted agency or publishing house to find out which people are looking for your type of book.

Basic formatting:
Use inexpensive, twenty-pound, plain white copy paper and standard black ink. Your query letter should look like an extension of your manuscript (except it is usually typed single spaced rather than double--though I've read you can do it either way). Use 10-or 12-point font, preferably Courier 10 or Times New Roman 12; since these seem to be the industry standards. Keep page margins 1 1/2 inches all the way around the paper. The correct TAB spacing is 0.3 (about 5 spaces). A query letter should only be one page, preferably.

Content:
Remember that a query letter is primarily a business letter. Keep it that way, confident and professional.
The query is comprised of five main parts.
1) Business heading (your information, your target's information)
2) Greeting or introduction (keep it short and to the point)
3) Book summary (avoid long summaries as they tend to hurt rather than help your chances). Try to keep your summary under a hundred words. Mention what category/genre your book is. Mention what your setting(s) and protagonist(s)are and what sort of conflict generates around both. What is your stories main problem that you address? What makes your story stand out from others written similarly or about the same subject? How are you spinning it differently to make it stand out and be a seller? Do you have a unique plot twist or surprise ending? Don't hold back on giving this away as it will help get the attention you need. Remember not to put in every interesting twist, character, or plot line as this will take up too much room and beat about the bush. Try to summarize your book in as few words as possible--think about book and movie blurbs--what do they do to catch your interest in few words?
4) Credentials/Bio. This is where you list your previous writing experience, writing degrees, referrals from other published writers, etc. If your are a first time writer and don't have much to put here, just make sure your book pitch is as great as it can be and that your manuscript will make your target take notice!
5) Closing. *Note* Some references I've read mention this is the place to lay down potential marketing strategy and others have said absolutely don't do that. Check your target's guidelines to be sure. (Keep this paragraph short too.)

By checking editor/agent guidelines ahead of time you'll also find out if they want anything else to come with your query, such as so many pages or chapters from your book, a synopsis, or an outline. Remember to include a SASE if you mail anything; don't include attachments in e-mailed submissions; and avoid trying to look cute or smart by adding frills, colored paper, gimmicks, unusual fonts, etc. These people have seen it all already.

This sums up most of what I've gleaned so far. I'll add to it if I find out more. We can continue this thread onto things like synopsis, outlines, and cover letters to if anyone's interested. One thing I've definitely learned is that you need to play by their rules if you don't want to be immediately thrown in the slush pile and you need to be willing to do your research. There's just too much competition out there and these people are backlogged with submissions to look through (no one is just sitting at their desk twiddling their thumbs waiting for your book to suddenly arrive). Knowledge is power, and we as writers need to gain as much as we can.
Correspondent
Clippership14
Posts: 382
Registered: ‎07-12-2007
0 Kudos

Cover Letters

What the heck is a cover letter?
Answer: Cover letters shouldn't be mixed up with cover pages. Cover pages are the first page of your manuscript containing the title and your name. A cover letter is what you send with a synopsis or outline. Basically it is a brief introduction of yourself and your synopsis or outline.
You have more freedom with cover letters than with query letters in that here you can use heavier paper, such as stationary stock. It should have a slightly better weight than that of your synopsis.
So what goes on it?
Your name, address, phone number, and e-mail address. It should be directed to your targeted publishing house, agency, etc.; editor's name with their title, and address.
A cover letter is never longer than one page. The body of your letter should introduce you and make note of your credibility(if you have it) and to introduce your synopsis for review.

So a cover letter is a cousin of the query. Similar yet different.
Can anyone else elaborate more? Please do.
Correspondent
Clippership14
Posts: 382
Registered: ‎07-12-2007
0 Kudos

Re: The Formidable Query Letter

Okay I've found some more good tidbits of information to share.
I've heard (and read) a lot of frustrated fellow authors question the need for query letters. After all, they are a nuisance to compose right? And no one has made the art of writing one easy for us. I hope some of you have found the stuff I've posted as useful as I have.
Why query? Because we're unsolicited (by editors) and unagented. Editors and agents get deludes of snail mail and e-mails pushing full-scale manuscripts. That's a lot of space and paper when you think about it! Plus it's so much easier for them to just ignore or toss an unsolicited MS than to look at it. Especially when they have another pile of solicited MSs waiting for them. I guess we could compare it to junk mail. You rip into the letters you expect from someone or a business you know but toss aside the ads and letters from people or organizations you don't know and didn't ask for. "That's where gimmicking my MS comes in handy," you inject. Wrong. From what I've read, gimmicks are usually the first ones tossed.
A query letter is your business letter of introduction. It's your first step in the door. Whether or not it gets you beyond that depends on not only how well you write one, but also whether the targeted party is interested in your story's premise. That's where researching your targets turns out not to be a waste of time. Even still, there are no guarantees.
I've already posted the basics of a good query letter. Again--any one please add to it if you will!
Some extra points I've picked up are:
Don't say anything negative about yourself or your work. Modesty won't help you out. Neither will exaggerated bragging, but you want to appear as professional and experienced as possible. Don't sound like a victim or give a sob story as to why they should read your MS--they don't like that.
Again, keep things short and to the point. They should be able to skim through the contents of your letter and Bam Bam see the points they are looking for instead of having to wade through extra material. Time crunches are on them too. It's a busy busy publishing world, after all.
Avoid detours of any kind.
Keep your query letter clean and neat. No finger smudges, crayon marks, blurred type...that sort of thing.
Double check to see if your target prefers e-mailed queries or traditional snail mail with an SASE. Follow guidlines! Every reference I read stresses that more than anything.  Point taken.
 
 
Correspondent
Clippership14
Posts: 382
Registered: ‎07-12-2007
0 Kudos

Re: The Formidable Query Letter

If anyone is interested...I just found this great website that goes over literary agents. They do reviews, post who's new and looking for authors, plus more. Take some time and look it over if you are heading in that direction. Especially check out the blog section.
 
 
Correspondent
Clippership14
Posts: 382
Registered: ‎07-12-2007
0 Kudos

Re: The Formidable Query Letter

Have to share another one...
 
This is an actual literary agency's site and while I'm not particularly endorsing this agency I found the blog they host exceptionally informative and full of insight. Hopefully you will too.
 
 
Just click on the link and then click on their blog link. There are many subjects addressed by the agents and authors (both published and unpublished). Query letters get touched upon too.
Correspondent
Clippership14
Posts: 382
Registered: ‎07-12-2007
0 Kudos

Re: The Formidable Query Letter

Well judging by the number of times this posting has been viewed, SOMEBODY, is reading this stuff. So for those of you who care, here's another helpful agency listing (and this agency actually participated at one point on B&N):
 
When you get to the front page, click the link titled: The Savvy Author. Therein you'll find an insightful explanation on publishing, agents, and how to become a published author.
 
 
Correspondent
Clippership14
Posts: 382
Registered: ‎07-12-2007
0 Kudos

The Dreaded Synopsis & Outline

To continue our series of comments on the frightening aspects of publishing...
 
What is a synopsis? It's pretty much your story in summary form. Usually it is around 5-10 pages (always check your targets on their guidelines for this and if they're looking for a synopsis or an outline). Why should you bother trying to condense your book? Why don't they just read the whole thing? They don't have time to read every novel that is shoved their way or lands on their desks. Would you if you were in their position? Editors and agents usually only have time for a synopsis reading. From there they check out your sample chapters and if hooked further they request the entire MS.
 
Hint: Writing a synopsis is easier if you have already written an outline. Just chuck out the chapter headings, bullets, or numbers, or Roman numerals, etc. And don't withhold the twists, surprises or the ending. You won't be helping yourself. They're looking for those things to see if they want to represent your work. Don't make your synopsis longer or shorter than what they want either. This is a case where following the rules gives you the grade.
Correspondent
Clippership14
Posts: 382
Registered: ‎07-12-2007
0 Kudos

Re: The Dreaded Synopsis & Outline

Outlines. (John Williams theme for the Imperials starts playing now.)
 
Formal Outlines are probably the most familiar to everyone. It's my preference as I tend to be an organizational freak and I like things neatly laid out. These are the ones you used to have to do in school with the Roman numerals, indents, etc. You can go to that extreme if you want, but you don't have to. The good news is not every publisher or agent wants to see a Formal Outline. There's an informal approach too. But as always, check your target's guidelines or ask them what they want. It also probably depends on whether you're writing fiction or non-fiction.
 
The Formal Outline basically runs like this:
The Title of Your Book
I. Characters
    a. Main Characters
         1. Hero/Protagonist
         2. Bad Guy/Antagonist
    b. Secondary Characters
 
When writing one of my books and I want an outline just for myself it typically runs this way:
The Title (Permanent or Temporary) of My Book
I. Chapter One
    a. Summary of events and who it effects
    b. Summary of events and who it effects
    c. Summary of events and who it effects
II. Chapter Two
This way I keep focused on what is going on where and in what chapter. Anybody else want to share their particular format? I'd love to see it! =) I've read that most publishers prefer the Chapter by Chapter format since it keeps things going chronologically (as far as how the book is written, not necessarily how the story is told).
 
Anyhow...
You're own personal format may not be what editors/agents are specifically looking for, so adhere to guidelines.
 
Once you've established your basic format, then what? What do you put in and what do you take out? Remember the Outline is also akin to a Query Letter. You want your target to read and be sold on the idea, at least enough to look at your sample chapters. If you have tons and tons of characters, you don't have to mention all the minute ones and you don't have to go into heavy detail on characters' traits. In fact, it's hard to follow an outline when multiple names keep popping up. Try to stick with main characters as much as possible.
 
When listing the plot, don't ramble on and on about all the side stuff or back story. Stick to the point. What is going on and how is it affecting your characters? If side events are going to matter, list them too, but don't get carried away.
 
The Informal Outline:
Informal outlining is the most popular form for writers to use, just for the sake of writing their book and isn't necessarily the version that gets sent off to editors/agents. There are exceptions. This can be a simple bullet list of the books chronology, a timeline, dissecting your book into Characters, Settings, Plot, etc. You are basically getting organized about your book. Whether you do it initially or after you've written a draft or two is entirely up to you. The important thing here is to list your ideas, add some structure for easy reference, and to avoid the pitfalls of inconsistency in your writing. (Believe it or not, there are people and organizations out there who read books solely to find inconsistencies.)
 
Summaries:
Another of my favorites. Simply writing down the idea in summary form is a good step towards getting it on paper to begin with. This allows you to make the idea more concrete, to play with it, to see if it really will work, and is a beginning step to organizing your thoughts. Some writers keep files of summaries of random or full ideas handy. It's better than trying to sift through scrap paper, napkins, or worse.
 
For Submission:
You're ready to submit, you have your query letter ready and you've checked your target guidelines. Take it chapter by chapter and write the outline. Then go back and read it again and again to make sure you've shown the best of your book and haven't gone overboard or underplayed things that need to stand out. Double check your spelling, not only with a spell check, but visually too. (Spell checks don't catch everything in our horribly complex language.)
 
How long should an outline be? The sad truth, it varies, depending on your target. There is no set preference. Argh! More research! So you suck it up and do it. Some agents/editors prefer short outlines and others like long ones, and others want a synopsis not an outline, and some don't want either; they want to go straight for the sample chapters. Write both long and short versions ahead of time if you want to be prepared (and to avoid a late night session drumming one or the other out to be turned in by morning.)
Format? Single-spaced if you add a line break between paragraphs to make it easier on the eye. Double spaced otherwise. Most are double spaced. Use third person and the present tense, even if your book isn't written that way; this is pretty standard.
Some agents/editors prefer that the outline really stand as a synopsis, devoid of chapter headings and such. This way it reads more like the actual book. I've read that the most effective outlines are ones which read like the Reader's Digest version of your book. It's probably a good way to try and hook your target too.
 
If any of this is helpful, let me know. Correct me on things if you have read differently or if you are an agent/editor who has some great advice. Let me know too if everyone wants me to keep posting this stuff. I'm not finding it anywhere else on these boards and this is the meat of the matter. We want to get published. Ask questions if you have them. If I know the answer I'll tell you or I'll look it up, or someone else may be able to answer it. I'm going through the learning process myself. We may look on each other as "competition" but in actuality we all have a common bond. We write, we want to share what we write. We can at least be sensible about it and help each other out with the process. Then it will be up to how well we write; that's where the real "competition" comes into play.
Correspondent
Clippership14
Posts: 382
Registered: ‎07-12-2007
0 Kudos

Build Your Reference Library

I can't overstate the value of building your own Writing Reference Library. Be it in actual book form or a series of internet links, or maybe your notes and handouts from a Writer's Convention. Put this stuff where you can easily access it! And don't rely on outdated information. The publishing world changes. Keep current, keep going back and checking. Hey, you're already on a website for a Book Merchandiser that stocks volumes and volumes of helpful material. When online, check agent's websites (I've already listed a couple) because sometimes they list things they are looking for or have helpful advice to the uninitiated and for the authors seeking to build upon their first successes.
 
May you all find the answers to the questions you are seeking and I hope much future success!
Correspondent
Clippership14
Posts: 382
Registered: ‎07-12-2007
0 Kudos

Regarding Pen Names

I posted a little while ago a question to our moderator about pen names but as she has been absent from this board I sent my inquiry out to a couple of agencies to get their feedback. So in case anyone else is wondering about this same little detail, here is what I found out:
 
If you choose to write under a pen name be aware that your agent and/or publisher will also have to have your actual name. You can submit your query letter as "James Jones writing as John Smith". You can submit your manuscript under either name or both it doesn't really matter. When it comes down to signing a contract they'll need your real name and you can stipulate a pen name to go on the published work.
 
I suspected as much but it feels better to know for sure.
Frequent Contributor
Chalie_B
Posts: 57
Registered: ‎12-31-2007
0 Kudos

Re: Regarding Pen Names

Just a wee comment: In other chats or blog areas, you've asked for additional entries from others. Fortunately for us, unfortunately for your desires, you've done such a thorough job of it that nothing more needs be said other than some War Stories about what we've encountered. And, since there's so few actual full-time and professional writers (I don't imply those here are bad) within these pages (do professionals ever look at stuff like this?) that I've detected, those War Stories may be few. So, don't get those hopes up. Tell you what: I am just ready to start shopping two books, so I'll share when I can.
Correspondent
Clippership14
Posts: 382
Registered: ‎07-12-2007
0 Kudos

Re: Regarding Pen Names

Chalie--please do! I'm uncomfortable being the dominant voice on this thread! (Don't misunderstand me, I'm happy to share what I've learned with others, I just don't wish to appear preachy.) I see from the counters that people read what I've posted but I've no idea how it is received. The experience is a bit surreal. As to war stories...I welcome them with open arms! Whether the battle was won or not, it helps to know what has been tried, what has failed and especially what has succeeded. If anything, it could be a vent for someone else.
Frequent Contributor
Irishbookish
Posts: 53
Registered: ‎02-14-2008
0 Kudos

Query Letter and Synopsis Sea-Sickness

Ahoy thar, Clippership! Found you at last! Please let me come aboard for a while because this is a subject which most vexes me and is my most UNfavourite part of writing and publishing a book. I loathe it with unrivalled passion – most probably because I am shyte at it. Give me ‘writing a book’ ANY day. So it’s with profound joy that I sit here reading away at your Ship's Logs.

This query letter/synopsis is tough business. Tough because you don’t get feedback on the quality of your letter, or synopsis. If someone doesn’t like it, they rarely write back saying so, and giving you helpful ‘tips,’ rather they use your hard earned work as basketball practice...into the office bin. And rightly so; they have soooo many others like yours to deal with, and won’t have the time to salivate eagerly over your lovingly chosen words.

I handed my book over to a friend not long after it was published. I chose her for several reasons. She is an intelligent person, a teacher with vast literary skill, and I liked her, therefore knew I could respect her comments. After reading my work, she reported to me, “I absolutely loved this book! But I have to say, the synopsis doesn’t do it justice. It simply wasn’t as much like the book as I expected from reading the blurb.”

She had confirmed something I already knew deep down.  I had found writing a summary of my work very daunting. How to summarise? What parts would sell my book? What words could I have used to portray the levels of complexity, yet cover the story in a way that would not put off the general reader?

When my marketing crew asked me to ‘proof’ the flyer for my book, I was not happy with the way they had portrayed the story; like a predictable Historical Romance with a Fabian look alike hero on the front. PS – I love some of these, but this was not my book. I laboriously rewrote it and sent it back. But I knew it was far from what I wanted, and each time I read it – I wish I could change it.

What made mine hard to summarise was that my story is set in different times and two countries. Ireland, Wales, 503AD, 1312AD, and the present time. There are three different romances and several subplots which tie in. The legend (theme) running through the story should have made it easier to connect these differences, yet in fact it made it so much harder.

"As Time Doth Pass, Remember..."
www.traceybookish.wordpress.com
Author of Rhuddlan
Contributor
Darcy_Andries
Posts: 7
Registered: ‎04-21-2008
0 Kudos

Re: Query Letter and Synopsis Sea-Sickness

Here is my advice (I'm a published author with an agent).

Keep query letters short, sweet, and to the point and MOST OF ALL direct them personally to the agent or publisher.

What I mean by directing them, explain why you picked that person to query. What books do they represent/publish that are similar to yours. As much as we hate the form rejection letters, they hate the form query letters.

I do not suggest comparing your book to one of theirs (don't we all wish we were the next Steven King?). I'm saying that you need to show that you did your homework and you're not shooting blind (I'm querying you because your company was listed in Writers Market and I want to be published). They represent/publish books that are in the same genre or theme as yours.

Then, pick up a copy of "The Secret To Success is Not a Secret: Stories of Famous People who Persevered." Why? Because that is MY book and I want to sell as many copies as I can.

(Once published you'll learn to plug your book at every opportunity!!)

Darcy Andries
Correspondent
Clippership14
Posts: 382
Registered: ‎07-12-2007
0 Kudos

Re: Query Letter and Synopsis Sea-Sickness



 This query letter/synopsis is tough business. Tough because you don’t get feedback on the quality of your letter, or synopsis. If someone doesn’t like it, they rarely write back saying so, and giving you helpful ‘tips,’ rather they use your hard earned work as basketball practice...into the office bin. And rightly so; they have soooo many others like yours to deal with, and won’t have the time to salivate eagerly over your lovingly chosen words.

I handed my book over to a friend not long after it was published. I chose her for several reasons. She is an intelligent person, a teacher with vast literary skill, and I liked her, therefore knew I could respect her comments. After reading my work, she reported to me, “I absolutely loved this book! But I have to say, the synopsis doesn’t do it justice. It simply wasn’t as much like the book as I expected from reading the blurb.”

She had confirmed something I already knew deep down.  I had found writing a summary of my work very daunting. How to summarise? What parts would sell my book? What words could I have used to portray the levels of complexity, yet cover the story in a way that would not put off the general reader?


I hear you on the synopsis thing! Maybe instead of posting excerpts from stories, people ought to post sample synopsis drafts for critique and to see how much public interest they generate. I posted a review for a book a friend of mine wrote once and afterwards she said she wanted my feedback "before" she came up with the blurb for it as I was able to list some better selling points. It helps to brainstorm with other people sometimes. And I read another posting of yours where you address editing woes; start a thread here on it! Goodness knows, people need it! Just go to the main page for the Getting Published Room, click on New Message (at the top menu bar) and title your thread. Love your comments, by the way!
Author
J_Stephens
Posts: 15
Registered: ‎04-21-2008
0 Kudos

Re: The Formidable Query Letter

I found, for me, that the most effective query letter was one that resembled a blurb that might be on the back of a book.  Make is short, hit the highlights of your work and then tell a little about yourself, your education,  your job (if it relates to your writing) and any contests you may have won on your journey to being published.
 
Pay very close attention to the information requested by the agent or editor to whom you're sending the query letter.  If they are accepting queries for paranormal suspense, there's no need to send them a query for your "how to" book.  Find a target audience, find out their guidelines and then query.
 
I like to add how I will  help market my work to a query letter, particularly if it's to a small press.  That way, they know I'll be dedicated to making it a success.
 
In my opinion, queries should be no more than one page in length. 
 
If you have questions about  what worked for me, feel free to ask!
 
Julianna
 
 


Learn more about Escaping The Past.
Correspondent
Clippership14
Posts: 382
Registered: ‎07-12-2007
0 Kudos

Re: Query Letter and Synopsis Sea-Sickness



Darcy_Andries wrote:
Here is my advice (I'm a published author with an agent).

Keep query letters short, sweet, and to the point and MOST OF ALL direct them personally to the agent or publisher.

What I mean by directing them, explain why you picked that person to query. What books do they represent/publish that are similar to yours. As much as we hate the form rejection letters, they hate the form query letters.

I do not suggest comparing your book to one of theirs (don't we all wish we were the next Steven King?). I'm saying that you need to show that you did your homework and you're not shooting blind (I'm querying you because your company was listed in Writers Market and I want to be published). They represent/publish books that are in the same genre or theme as yours.

Then, pick up a copy of "The Secret To Success is Not a Secret: Stories of Famous People who Persevered." Why? Because that is MY book and I want to sell as many copies as I can.

(Once published you'll learn to plug your book at every opportunity!!)

Darcy Andries

Thank you!!!!! What a great tip! I've heard about "personalizing" your query letters but I like your advice about doing more than just picking someone specific and sticking their name in the opening. It makes a lot of sense.
How long has your book been out? Are you planning another one?
Correspondent
Clippership14
Posts: 382
Registered: ‎07-12-2007
0 Kudos

Re: The Formidable Query Letter



J_Stephens wrote:
I found, for me, that the most effective query letter was one that resembled a blurb that might be on the back of a book.  Make is short, hit the highlights of your work and then tell a little about yourself, your education,  your job (if it relates to your writing) and any contests you may have won on your journey to being published.
 
Pay very close attention to the information requested by the agent or editor to whom you're sending the query letter.  If they are accepting queries for paranormal suspense, there's no need to send them a query for your "how to" book.  Find a target audience, find out their guidelines and then query.
 
I like to add how I will  help market my work to a query letter, particularly if it's to a small press.  That way, they know I'll be dedicated to making it a success.
 
In my opinion, queries should be no more than one page in length. 
 
If you have questions about  what worked for me, feel free to ask!
 
Julianna
 
 


I've heard some people are favorably inclined towards including market strategy in their queries, and others are not. I agree with you that doing it towards a small press might be the best as you will have to do your marketing if they publish you (budgets and all being a factor). I suppose it goes back to the whole researching your target and complyingn with their guidelines.
We'd love to hear what you've experienced with publishing! We'd love to hear from any veteran out there! Please share!