Thursday, May 31, 2012

Getting The Most From Your Query

by Kathryn J Bain
Membership Coordinator, Ancient City Romance Authors

The query letter. The first way most writers have to make an impression on an agent or publisher. And first impressions do count. It doesn’t matter how wonderful your manuscript is if the publisher never gets to read it.

The main way to get your query noticed is to be professional. You are writing to a business, so act as if you are a business owner when you write your letter.

The following are several steps that make a query noticeable. Since most queries are now sent by e-mail, I have written this based on that fact. A letter sent by postal service would be done similarly, but the contact information at the top, like a business’ letterhead.

1. One is keep your query short. No more than a page. A long letter will only make the agent or publisher roll their eyes.

2.  Does your query look like a third grader wrote it? Proofread it until you are absolutely sure there are no errors in it. Your query is one page long. One error might make an agent assume you didn’t proof your manuscript any better.

3.  Do not call the editor/agent by their first name, even if you’ve met them. If her name is Sean Jones, the salutation should read Dear Ms. Jones, for a man, Dear Mr. Jones. Make sure you know which also. Addressing a letter to a man as Mrs. will not win you any points. I always do a search on the Internet when I’m not sure. I have yet to know find out.

4.  Use the first paragraph or two to give a brief synopsis of the book. Make sure it’s a good hook. If you bore your reader here, they’ll assume you’ll bore them with your book.

5.  In the next paragraph, tell them why you’re writing. “I’m writing in the hopes you would be interested in reading my manuscript ….” Tell them the genre and how many words it is. If you do not know the genre, you’re not ready to submit.

6.  Next, include a small writing resume. Don’t tell me you don’t have one. They’re easy to get. Just volunteer in your local writers’ group. The first job I ever did was to get guests for our local Florida Sisters in Crime meetings. I called myself the Public Relations Director. There was no such position. I made it up. You want a title, tell the head of your group you’d like to bring snacks to all the meetings. Now you’re the Hospitality Director. Put that in the resume section of your letter. This lets an agent or editor know that you are willing to step out and be noticed.

7.  The final paragraph of your letter should thank them for taking their time. These are busy people. Thanking them leaves warm fuzzies in their hearts. 

8. The last step is to sign your letter and include all your contact information, including address, phone and your website, if you have one.

I have gotten several compliments on my query letters for being good and professional. Attached to this blog is a sample of the query for my latest manuscript. Regarding this query, one publisher wrote: “I liked your query [a lot!] It was professional and told me what I needed to know, and I look forward to reading your complete manuscript.” A possible sale because of a simple, yet professional query.

A publisher asking for a complete manuscript puts you closer to a contract than one that never responds. Please feel free to use the following query as a guideline, and let me know how it works. And if you get published, all I ask for is a candy bar (no nuts please) if we ever meet.


Dear ___________:

A name can mean a lot. You expect a Jasper to be the CEO of a company. Name your son Phineas, well, he might get beat up a lot. However if you chose to call your daughter Trúble, you get what you ask for.

Trúble Lawrence makes a habit out of discovering dead bodies. When the police look to her as a suspect, she has no choice but to search for the killer. If that’s not bad enough she has to deal with a grandmother who has visions, a co-worker who makes the Wicked Witch of the West look like Shirley Temple, and a guy who constantly reminds her that celibacy is hard when a hot male's around.

I am writing in the hope you will be interested in reading my completed manuscript, Trúble in Knight and Day. It is a humorous mystery and approximately 65,250 words in length.

My published works include:

- Breathless, an inspirational romantic suspense released January 13, 2012 from White Rose Publishing;
- Game of Hearts, a humorous novella released on e-book March 1, 2012 through Astraea Press; and
- Catch Your Breath, the sequel to Breathless which is due to come out from White Rose Publishing in 2012.

Also, my first release, Breathless, was the winner of the 2010 Royal Palm Literary Award for Inspirational Fiction.

I was the President of Florida Sisters in Crime from January 2010 – December 2011, and am currently the Public Relations Director and Membership Director for Ancient City Romance Authors. I am also a member of National Sisters in Crime, American Christian Fiction Writers, National Romance Writers of America, First Coast Romance Writers, and Florida Writers Association. During my spare time, I work as a paralegal for an elder law attorney.

Thank you for your attention. I look forward to hearing from you.
Sincerely yours,

Kathryn J. Bain
Writing Clean Fiction with an Edge

1 comment:

  1. Kathy,

    Great article on writing query letters. Thanks for sharing the actual letter you sent to the editor.