Query Letter Do’s and Don’ts

FT 03 submissionsA good query letter should be like a hobbit – short, sweet, and to the point. Even more importantly, it should be professional. Here are some tips you can use for querying both editors and agents.

  1. Use the person’s name in the greeting. Using “Dear Editor” or “Dear Agent” sounds impersonal, like you’re sending the exact same letter out to multiple people at once. If you are sending your book or short story to several editors or agents who allow simultaneous submissions at once, then you should still personalize the query letter. It takes a couple of minutes and is a real attention grabber.
  2. Start with a hook. Now that you’ve grabbed their attention by personalizing the greeting, you need to hook them so they read to the end of the query letter. The hook is essential. If you can’t hook the editor or agent from the start, then you might as well not not send the letter at all.Don’t try to sum your whole book up in a sentence or two. Pick one intriguing thing that will convey the uniqueness of your book – much like a tagline that you’d find on the front cover of a book. Here are some examples:
    – “Hide. Seek. Run.” THE LOST GIRLS by Allison Brennan
    – “A child killer stalks the frozen streets…” COLD GRANITE by Stuart MacBride
    – “Nine Americans and their epic quest for gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics…” THE BOYS ON THE BOAT by Daniel James Brown
  3. Keep your bio brief. This is not the time to share your entire life story. Stick to facts related to your writing career including publishing credits, awards you received, and membership in industry-related organizations.You’ll also want to include any professional qualifications related to the work, such as – I am a dedicated genealogist and researching my family tree was the inspiration behind my cozy mystery, ONE-WAY TICKET TO THE FAMILY REUNION.[Note: That’s not a real book title but now I kind of want to put it on my list of things to write.]

And now for the don’ts. These need less explanation because most are basic common sense.

  • Don’t send work in a genre the agent or editor doesn’t accept. (i.e. Don’t send cozy mysteries to someone who makes it clear they want paranormal romance.)
  • Don’t bad-mouth anyone, anywhere, ever. It gives the impression that anyone is vulnerable to comments you make on-the-fly.
  • Don’t list every other place you submitted your work. It’s okay to leave it at, “This is a simultaneous submision.”
  • Don’t say “fictional novel”. Your genre will tell the editor or agent it’s fictional.
  • Don’t compare your book to an entire list of novels similar to yours. One or two is enough to get the idea across.

If you have an unpublished manuscript collecting dust, then what’s your holdup? Write a query letter and get it out there. Every day you do nothing is another day farther away from holding your published novel in your hands.


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