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Writing A Query Letter.

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Writing A Query Letter.

penHow to make a good first impression on publishers

A query letter has always proved to be a quick and effective way of seeing if your writing is of interest to a publisher. Obviously the approach letter is all important, as on this the fate of your work is resting. It is vital the main body of your letter gives the editor some idea of your story, and if it's clear enough, it will help them decide if it's worth considering.

When both the idea and approach are good, then the complete manuscript (or articles) will enjoy a more prompt and detailed reading. If your idea doesn't sound right for the editor(s), then a good query letter will encourage feedback, and sometimes editors will tell you why it's not right, and perhaps suggest either a new approach or another publisher.

Some queries can be quite short and others quite long (usually novel outlines masquerading as letters. The following suggestions act as guidelines only, and should not be interpreted as laws:

  1. Supply a short, but vivid description of what the book/article is about.
  2. Explain what's at stake - this is crucial for most editors.
  3. Identify the audience your book/article is aimed at: SF/fantasy/romance/true life.
  4. Tell the editor what is different from others in the genre: A new angle/a new approach/content/style.
  5. Your credentials (if any), may be helpful to prove you are a knowledgeable reader in the genre.
  6. Display in your query the excitement and energy you want to bring to your story and show how and why this story matters to you, and it'll matter to your editor.

The query Letter Itself:
Ideally, your letter should run to a page or a little more. Below is a rough summary of how it should go:


1st paragraph: Tell them what kind of novel/article you have written, its length, when and where it is set. If a novel, describe the hero/heroine, and one or two other major characters. Describe also their predicament, and how you see them getting out of it?

2nd paragraph: Describe what happens in the middle of the novel/article and how your characters interact, with any conflicts arising around them.

3rd paragraph: The resolution of the novel/article; the climax and its outcome, and tying up loose ends.

4th paragraph: Explain why this topic/story interests you, what qualifications you have for writing it, and ask some questions for the editor: e.g. If this novel/article interests you, would you like the whole text, or an outline and further samples? Do you have any specific requirements I should be aware of?

Obviously these questions can vary, depending on the nature of your query:

If you've included an outline or sample chapters, the plot summary must be brief or non existent, with the query focusing on your background and questions for the editor. If the book/article is completed, then the plot summary will be easier to supply than if you have only a rough idea of where the book is going.

Never forget the golden rule: Make sure the quality of writing in your query is first class (especially if you haven't included an elegantly written chapter or two). If your query is clumsy, or riddled with English errors, the editor will be less than eager to see more of your prose. Because a query requires only a little time to read and respond to, it can help you identify potential markets and definite non-markets. But it can't pre-sell your work; it will only create a more welcoming attitude in an editor.

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