Friday, July 17, 2009

Let's work on those queries

I think it is time again to give you all a quick reminder of the appropriate query letter. Really, this isn’t rocket science but a poorly done query is the easiest way to being rejected. I need to also add that in no way is an excellent query letter going to land you a contract. It will potentially provide you the chance to send a full instead of a partial to that editor or agent, but it will not land you that contract. Sorry to break it to you.


First off, a query letter is a business letter. It is that cover letter you attach with your resume when you apply for a job. The rules are in no way different! I should also note that even with an e-query, the rules will still apply so you can’t go and try to find a loop hole here either.


THE HEADING Although this might seem insignificant, it is still one of the first things we see when we open that letter or email. Make sure that the name is accurate, spelled correctly and has the appropriate title. If the editor is an Executive Editor, make sure to use that title. They have earned it and they deserve it. Make sure the address is also correct. Although it is in the envelope, it is just one more of those areas that can get you. I am really stressing this point because many of you draft one letter and think it will work for everyone. Now, while the body of the query might stay the same, too often, writers will screw up and use that blanket query letter and forget to change the information for who it is going to. This is a bit embarrassing when you submit to Erika Tsang and you still have it addressed to Kate Duffy. Woops.


THE BODY We are talking three paragraphs here. No rambling, no personal information, no “witty” comments to make it look like you are a fun person to work with. It has to be professional.

The first paragraph, (I will have to say that many people have slightly different opinions here but it won’t be off by much) should contain the basics. This would include the high concept, the title, the word count, and the genre. I know in queries that come across my desk, I value that information early on. I am logging your information into my database and that is the first part of the material I include before I even decide on seeing more or not.


The second paragraph should give us a sense of the characters and the conflict. This is not meant to be vague and mysterious. Save that for the cover flap information. Now understand I am not talking about the theme of the story because that simply doesn’t us anything. In other words, “this is a tale of epic love lost in a sea of turmoil and strife.” Huh? Get to the point. Give us the hero, give us the heroine, give us the conflict.


THE UNIQUENESS AND THE CONCLUSION So this part can come in one or two paragraphs, depending on what you have. Give the editor something in the final stages of the letter to show why you are so cool and why we need to not only read your manuscript, but sign you immediately. If you can, provide an author that this might be similar to, but make sure that you A) don’t set your sights too high and claim to be an equal to that ultimate writer; and B) have a comparison that really works. Telling me that your writing is similar to Jennifer Cruise and Kresley Cole. When you do this, the only thing running through my mind is Bob’s song from Sesame Streetone of these things is not like the other…


In this section, it is also important to show us in some way that you are a forward thinking writing. Do you have additional works. Where do you see yourself being in 5 years and such.


CONTACT INFORMATION This may seem silly but please remember to provide us accurate contact information including your name. If you write under a pseudonym, that’s fine, but make sure to provide us your real name as well.


THE WORDING Just a few things here and these are in no particular order. Please don’t use first person plural hero. “Our hero…” Hey, it isn’t my heroine. This letter needs to be neutral. This is not a time to be funny. This makes you look like a jerk. Don’t be overly cocky. Hey, unless you are a multi-million dollar writer, you don’t get to act like a diva. No personal information. Don’t degrade yourself – show confidence.


Again, this is just meant to be a reminder. I don’t know how many times I read a query letter and never even want to pick up the manuscript and look at it. The person simply turned me off from the beginning.


O.K. Have a great weekend! I have opening night tomorrow of Midsummer Night’s Dream so I might not be checking in. Remember also for all of you northwest writers, if you are in the area this weekend and next, and you want to pitch your story to me, catch me after the show. Bring the pitch package of the synopsis, first three chapters and a SASE with you in one folder and we can chat after the show. You can get more information about the show at





Scott C. Eagan



1 comment:

  1. Followed you over from Twitter.

    Great post. I don't think I could ever get enough advice on the query letters. Not quite at that stage but always open to learning.

    I do have a question though.

    You posted, "provide an author that this might be similar to"...

    What if you aren't aware of any writers that this might be similar to? Should that be left blank or should be honestly state that we don't know of any writers that this is similar to and would admitting to that be seen as amateurish?

    Ok, more than one question.

    Have a great weekend and 'Break a Leg'!