Every author, indie or traditionally published, comes to a point in their career where they must craft a query letter. For many, avoiding having to do that is one of the reasons they went indie in the first place.
We may want to submit queries to two widely different types of editors, but the principal is the same.
Magazines: Most magazines want electronic submissions, so the email you attach your submission to is your cover letter.
Large Publishing Houses: Most agents, editors, and publishers want a 1 page, 300-word description of your novel. This is a query letter. Your ms is not attached to this.
Every magazine, publisher, editor, or agent has a website detailing the way they want things submitted. In general, the larger publishers/agents want letters/emails that follow a certain pattern, and that basic format is readily available via the internet.
Most magazines want a cover letter, which you should format like a query.
ALL prospective publishers, whether for magazines or larger houses, want the hook and the essence of that short shory/novel in 2 paragraphs, and they want to get a feel for who you are. Both aspects of this 1-page extravaganza must intrigue them.
The www.NYBookEditors.com website has this to say about query/cover letters: “You must walk a very fine line between selling your manuscript without coming across like the parent who knows his kid is the best player on the bench.”
That, my friends, is more complicated than it sounds. Of course, we are firm believers that what we wrote IS the best player on the bench. I’ve always known that about my children and my books!
Anyway, back to the query letter. I’ve attended several seminars on the subject and have written many of them. The best place I have found with a simple description of what your query letter should look like is at the NY Book Editors website.
In essence, what they tell you is this:
- Format your letter this way:
- Your address at the top of the page, right justified.
- The agent’s address, this time, left justified.
In an email, you wouldn’t do step one, but you would make sure your personal information was in your signature.
- Use a personalized greeting where you acknowledge the agent or editor by name.
- Keep the body of your query letter to three to five paragraphs.
The 1st paragraph is where you introduce yourself. If you have a connection with the agent or editor you are approaching, say you met at a convention or seminar, or you are a fan of one of the authors they represent, mention that. Briefly.
If you have no previous connection, NY Editors suggest you get down to business right away with your attempt to sell your short story or book. Their point of view on this is that you only have a few paragraphs to sell your work, so make those words count.
In the 1st paragraph are the 3 most important things to include:
- Word count
The 2nd paragraph must give a brief description of the work—showcase the plot, and show why you think it is a good fit for this publication. Do this in one paragraph, and don’t give it the hard sell.
The 3rd paragraph should be a quick (as in BRIEF) bio of you, your published works, and whatever awards you have acquired. If samples of your work are available on your website, say so.
This is most important: don’t forget to double-check your letter for typos and spelling errors. We all make them, and we don't want them to be our legacy.
As I have said, my luck with queries has been uneven. I think query letters are like ice cream—you just have to cross your fingers and hope your query arrives on a day when the person in question is in the mood for a story exactly like what you are selling.
A sample cover letter might read:
I have been considering querying an (as yet unfinished) work-in-progress once it is finished. Its not a fantasy, but is more contemporary. I intend to try to shop it to an agent. After all, what’s the worst that could happen? I’m already an indie, so failure to attract a buyer wouldn’t deter me from publishing it myself.
Connie J. Jasperson lives in Olympia, Washington. Her epic and medieval fantasy books are available through Amazon and other online vendors. A vegan, she and her husband share five children, a love of good food and great music. When not writing or blogging she can be found with her Kindle, reading avidly.