Crafting the Perfect Query

A query letter is your first introduction to either an editor or an agent, and don't underestimate it's importance. It can get you in the door, or have the door slammed shut on that manuscript forever. More and more houses aren't looked at unagented manuscripts, so a query is more important than ever.

So, now that you're feeling the pressure, what's the secret to having a great query? Getting their interest right off the bat. This doesn't mean bombs going off, dancing girls singing, etc. It means writing a blurb that catches their eye, and says, "Yes, I can write."

What's in your blurb? The character(s), the goal, and the conflict. The stronger your conflict, the stronger your blurb. Here's the blurb from my first book, Touched By Fire.

Touched By Fire – The hero from his childhood stories personifies the man Colin Wescott, Earl of Haverwood wants to be. As a spy for England, he believes that if he chases Napoleon’s dragons, the evil blood of his father will remain at bay. Afraid he is wrong, he won’t let anyone get close enough to find out.

So, what else can you add to a query? If you've won contests, list those. If you have some special credentials (i.e. daughter to the Prime Minister of Ireland, for example), list those. If you've entered a contest and received a great quote from a published author, you can use those, however, make sure you get the author's permission first. I had two quotes from Stephanie Bond and Rickey Mallory when I was trying to sell my manuscript. Both Stephanie and Rickey were very gracious about letting me use their name. Again, make you ask first. Publishing is a small world and dishonesty gets around.

When you format your query letter, I always started out with an opening paragraph that was about the agent or the editor. I let them know why I was interested in them; it was a way to personalize the letter. I tried to include names of clients that I admired, or if it was to an editor, I mentioned books they had edited. You don't want to go overboard, just a sentence or two, because you don't want this to look like a form letter, either. Some people use the opening paragraph as an introduction to themselves. If you have a strong introduction (see the daughter of Prime Minister of Ireland, above), go with that.

Use good paper, business caliber stationery, and letterhead is nice. Microsoft Word has some very good templates to create your own. Keep your queries under 2 pages, unless they ask for a short synopsis. Some agents or editors accept email queries, but check the guidelines before you do this. Lastly, keep superlatives and opinion to a minimum. 'Show don't tell' is just as applicable in query letter writing as it is in your manuscript.