alone cannot make a writer."
THE END. Your manuscript is
You've polished your characters,
climax, black moment, and tied up all the loose ends.
Youve edited, read it over and over, and fixed your
mistakes. You've put your body and soul into your
manuscript, and probably endured a few sleepless nights
and added on some extra chocolate calories.
You are now ready to send your baby
to an agent or editor.
Most publishers and agents require a
query letter, and sometimes a query letter and synopsis
before they will read either a partial (first three
chapters) or the full manuscript.
What is a query letter?
A query letter is the first contact via
the written word that a writer sends to an agent/editor,
in hopes that the agent/editor will ask to read their
The query letter is also one of the
most important pieces of writing a writer will compose.
This letter is your chance to not only deliver a great
first impression but also a lasting impression. The
opportunity to dazzle the agent/editor into that all
important request; "Please send me a
partial," or better yet, "Please send the full
Keep in mind that agents/editors can
receive up to 500 query letters in a two-week period. She
has probably read thousands of them, and rejected
thousands of them. Make her job easy by presenting the
best letter, clean, crisp and clear. At the same time
make it hard for her to reject your letter.
Keep this mantra in mind and repeat it
to yourself over and over again while preparing your
"Never give the agent/editor
any reason to reject my work."
You will most likely have as many as 5
to 10 drafts of your letter before you achieve a
professional, polished query. Start off with writing down
the outline of your book; all the points you think are
necessary to tell the story. Pretend you are talking to
your friend or partner, and are telling them about your
story. Fill as many pages as you need to, you may end up
with as many as 10 pages or more. Thats okay,
because as you go through each step, you will edit, chop,
and polish until you end up with a one page succinct
START WITH THE BASICS:
Use high quality white paper, or
your personal letterhead. However, remember the less
graphics, color and clutter the better. Agents/editors
read hundreds of letters and manuscripts. A lot of
"white space" on the letter will win points
with a tired eyed agent/editor.
Use a large, easy to read font: Times
New Roman 12, Courier 12 or a favorite of the editors Vie
spoken with, Bookman Old Style 12.
Use standard business letter format:
your name, address, home phone and email on the top.
The date. Agent/Editors full name. Agent/Editors title.
Full Address. Salutation: Dear Ms. Greene (always try to
get the agent/editors name, better than Dear Editor or
Single Space the letter.
GETTING TO THE HEART OF A
POLISHED QUERY LETTER:
Name drop whenever possible
and state that up front in a manner that is
confident but not boastful.
Did you meet the agent/editor at a
Did you attend the agent/editors
Did you meet a colleague of the
agent/editor who suggested you write to them?
Did you have a phone conversation
with the editor/agent?
Did an author from the publishing
house you are targeting read your manuscript and
advised you to send it in?
Name-dropping is an eye catcher,
and will grab the agent/editors attention right away.
Dear Roberta Houston:
I recently met Vicky Maple at the New
York City RWA workshop where she informed me that Penguin
is actively acquiring for their paranormal line.
Dear Catherine Orleans:
I enjoyed your workshop at the Toronto
Mystery Writers conference. Thank you for taking the time
afterwards to speak to me in private about my 90,000 word
completed romantic suspense.
Dear Trish Debold:
Carly Phillips has read my completed
100,000 word historical, and advised me to send you this
Dear Nancy Brown:
Thank you for taking time out of your
busy schedule to speak with me regarding your exciting
new line, Flipside. As per our telephone conversation, I
am submitting the synopsis and three chapters of my
completed 70,000-word manuscript, Second Time Around.
The tone of the letter should reflect
the tone of your book.
If the query letter is light and
humorous, but the book is dark and gritty, that conflict
will only serve to confuse the editor. (Remember your
mantra - "Never give the agent/editor any
reason to reject my work.")
A serious, gritty book requires a
serious tone; a humorous book requires a humorous tone in
the letter. Even though this is obvious, I have read and
have had editors tell me that they get conflicted when
the letter had a serious tone and the synopsis was
uplifting and funny. This only gives them a reason to
reject the author.
Introduce yourself briefly
State the title
Word length (do your research, do not
send them a 50,000 word manuscript when the publishing
house guidelines state 100,000 words)
State whether or not it is completed.
Most agents/editors have completed manuscripts from floor
to ceiling to read. If you are going to send them a
letter stating that your project is incomplete, you are
making it easy for them to reject you. It is best to
finish your manuscript before querying.
Indicate which genre and/or sub genre
you are targeting. Again, do your homework and make sure
that your "cowboy, secret baby" story is being
pitched to the correct line in that publishing house.
Examples of first paragraph:
MILLIONAIRE BACHELOR DAD is a completed
60,000 word contemporary romance set in New York
City. This story is targeted for the Silhouette
Locked up with her familys
archenemy! Will Lady Emma Simmons survive Sir William
Chadwicks overtures? Castle of Passion is a
completed 100,000 word historical romance set in
Scotland. This story is targeted for Avons
A retired ER nurse, I've completed a
90,000 word medical suspense entitled, Doctor Suspect, I
would like to submit for consideration to your Medical
This is the most important part and
the meat of your query. This paragraph will summarize your
book in one, maximum two short paragraphs.
Think about the blurb on the back of a
novel or the teaser on the back of a video. You don't
have much more room than that.
This is the place to SHOW OFF
YOUR UNIQUE VOICE:
Agents and editors are looking for: "Writers
with a voice."
However, while "showing off"
your fresh, new voice, you also need to tread carefully.
Agents/editors do not want to read about a scene
in the query; they also do not want plot points,
which belong in your synopsis.
The query's job is to give a complete
but brief picture of your manuscript. Encompassing these
Brief description of what the book
All these points are written in one or
two paragraphs (at the most) in a concise and confident
manner. Remember, you want to dazzle the
agent/editor with as few words as possible.
To help achieve this, make every word
count by using effective words, not purple prose. Stay
away from using sequence of events. Instead, emphasize
the conflicts and the dynamics of your characters
Once you have written all the major
points of your story into how ever many pages it takes,
go through it all and ask yourself the following
questions in order to cut out what you dont need to
result in one or two paragraphs.
What is the hook?
What is your book about?
What is the theme?
What makes your characters and
their conflicts interesting?
Remember the basic fiction
"Characters + problems =
internal and external conflicts."
Pretend that you have limited time with
an agent/editor. She is giving you 5 minutes to describe
your book. What you want to do is whittle down the
description of your book to get to one paragraph, two
maximum and capture the essence of the story.
following example have all resulted in a
request for the full manuscript):
Example 1: From my book:
Inheriting her familys Vermont
inn gives down-on-her-luck Sabrina Monroe plenty
of headaches and not enough money to buy pain relief.
Just when she thought her life couldnt be more
complicated, she meets a mystery woman who makes oblique
references to her destiny before bestowing upon Sabrina a
mystical gift that brings her renewed hope. Magic has
saved the day! That is, until her newly hired handyman
arrives, and her life suddenly careens out of control.
Example 2: From my second
manuscript: "Island Sizzle."
This steamy romance follows the
hilarious trip of Maddie Saunders, an impetuous,
sassy young journalist. She learns that the road to
seduction is filled with stop signs, speed bumps, and
detours. If shes lucky, shell end up at her
fantasy destination Sexual Boot Camp! Alex
Donovan, the lust-of-her-life, who turns her
fantasies into an X-rated film festival, is reluctant.
This is no time to fall in love or is it?
Example 3: From my manuscript:
"Her Bodyguards Secret."
His name is Cade Fitzpatrick,
undercover cop, (a.k.a. Cade Webster, personal bodyguard)
wildly handsome, arrogant, and controlling. He is
everything Laura Marchetti, the daughter of a
prominent Chicago family does not want in her life. When
their lives intertwine, Laura is determined to resist
him, since he resembles all the dominating men shes
encountered in her life. Cade ignores the desire he feels
for her, especially since he is undercover to investigate
her familys connection to mob style criminal
activity. Someone wants Laura dead or is it Cade
theyre after? They will both have to take a risk
and trust each other, without reservation to stay alive.
But nothing is more dangerous than love.
I created the following blurbs to
show more examples:
Trudy Holmes finally meets the stranger
shes met online. In real time, shes
mesmerized by his charisma and attentiveness. He brings
her to his lake house - a rundown cabin in the secluded
Montana hills. Soon after her arrival the seduction
becomes deception and the passion becomes possession,
Trudy realizes shes been kidnapped. Torn between
fear and desire, Trudy must escape but her zealous
admirer has other plans.
It takes a village to raise a child,
but when that child is Queenie Littleton, the results are
at times bizarre. Thanks to bankruptcy and a lack of
employment skills, Queenie now spends her days cleaning
house for retired con artist Tony "The
Trickster" Tomassi. When Trickster turns states
evidence, and accepts entry into the witness protection
program, Queenie inadvertently joins him. Together,
theyll they travel across State lines swindle
casinos - and dodge Mafioso mayhem.
Returning to his tiny hometown of Roll,
Arizona, District Attorney, Chad Bowman is shocked to
discover that his prime witness in a high profile murder
case is an utterly gorgeous woman Marley Davis. A woman
he'd hoped never to see again. Marley had been his true
love, his only love, until she betrayed him in the worst
possible way. Marley cant forget that it was
Chads false accusations and lack of trust that
torpedoed their love five years ago.
The third paragraph is about YOU. This
is where you brag. Add details that will show you are a
serious writer, and one who has studied her craft. Talk
about your writing experience and credentials, prior
publishing history, if any (including articles, poetry,
short stories); professional writing memberships; and any
relevant information that helped you write this book.
1. I have
been writing for fifteen years. Romance is my first
love, though I have published non-fiction articles in
national magazines. Ive been a member of Romance
Writers of America, New Jersey Romance Writers, a number
of on-line writers groups, and a wonderful critique group
where I was fortunate to work with a published author.
I'm proud to add that this manuscript was a finalist in
this years Golden Hearts contest.
Ive been writing for over ten years, and have
always been a voracious romance reader. Imp a recently
published author with Treble Heart Books and Arabella
Romance Magazine. I am an active member of RWA and Ottawa
RWA. My research and the study of human sexuality provide
me with an understanding of how humans engage in romantic
addition to my ten years of police work, I also counseled
teenagers in distress. I've had several articles
published in the local papers, and have published a short
story in a national magazine which was well received.
State that you are enclosing an SASE
and thank the agent/editor and express your hope for a
Examples: (keep it simple)
I will gladly send you either the first
three chapters of Sabrinas Destiny, or the complete
manuscript. I have enclosed a synopsis and a SASE
for your reply. Thank you for your time and
DO's AND DON'Ts
Forget the basics: spelling, grammar, punctuation,
strong, clear and vivid writing. Your query is the first
impression the editor has to sample your writing.
Write a long story synopsis or include an
autobiographical account of your life, your writing
history or your children. Just focus on what makes your
book special. Why does your book fit this publisher's
line? This is where research is vital, and also reading a
few books from the line you are targeting.
Talk about being published is a "life long
dream" or that you are "tickled pink"
about this whole process.
Tell the agent/editor how hard youve worked on
Tell them that your project is still "in the
Mention that other publishers have rejected you.
Include other peoples (especially family &
Request advice or a critique.
Include off topic information about yourself or the
Discuss copyright info, contracts, movie rights,
royalties or advances.
Example of a
"DON'T" Query Letter:
January 20, 2004
I am a great fan of all your books,
especially Dark Angel, by Diane Reeves. I'm writing you
because I respect and like your company and want to give
you the opportunity to be the first to see my book NIGHT
STALKER, guaranteed to climb to the New York Times
My husband read it and said it even
scared him. My mother thinks I've finally made it and
that I really didnt waste all those years on
writing, and my Aunt June, who doesn't like to read
thrillers usually, missed her bridge games to give
it a read.
Night Stalker is a thriller, a cross
between the show CSI and Law and Order with a European
twist. In my opinion it is a real nail-biter, even better
than Dark Angel! The story is about an Interpol
Investigator and an American Private Investigator. They
fall in love while working together to solve murders, but
it turns dangerous. How you ask? Read the book and I will
show you how.
I know you will love this book and will
want to sign me up right away with an exclusive contract.
I am a Brownie Leader, baseball coach, a member of the
murder mystery writers group, and I belong to the Woman's
auxiliary baking group.
If my boss who is really busy can take
the time to read this, then I think you can too. I am
excited for you to read the whole book.
Set up the query as a business letter; try not to
exceed one and half pages.
Be 100% sure you are targeting the right publisher
and have the right address. Double-check all spelling of
the publishing company's name and address.
Your query letter has to be accurate. Once you have
found the name of your contact person (agent or editor),
verify and ensure your contact is still with the agency
or publishing house. You can do this by using the most up
to date publisher or agency information from Writers
Market Review, or if you want to absorb the cost, phone
the agency/publisher and confirm the information. Make
sure his/her name is spelled correctly. Check to make
sure he is a he, and she is a her.
Include a self-addressed, stamped envelope, your
name, address, telephone number and email.
Create your letter as a "sales
pitch." A query letter is not intended for the
author to state how great the book is, or how endearing
the characters are. That is for the editor to decide.
Pull the editor in right away with a strong hook.
Example of a "DO"
January 20, 2004
123 5th Avenue
New York, New York
Dear Ms. Robinson:
I've recently completed a 90,000 word
romantic suspense entitled, Night Stalker, I would like
to submit for consideration to Avons Romantic
Monte Carlo, Monaco. The glittering
playground for the rich and famous and gamblers with
money to spare--and the hiding place for a shadowy
stalker with nothing left to lose. So far, he's been able
to murder and disappear in the surroundings, with all the
odds in his favor. Until Interpol Investigator, Francesco
Benito places his bets on a beautiful American Private
Investigator, Sandra Lockhart, an expert at forensic
science, and no stranger to this dazzling world of the
power broker set. Together, Francesco and Sandra attempt
to flush out the murderer. Her attraction to the sensual,
brooding Benito is immediate--and provocative. As their
love affair heats up, so does a secret that Sandra has
kept hidden for fifteen years brew to the surface that
will damage her professional credibility. The killer's
obsession with Sandra will stop at nothing to destroy
Francesco and Sandra's relationship and their lives....
In addition to my years of work as a
forensic scientist with the RCMP, I've researched
Interpol laws and the Monaco culture to provide a
colorful and accurate backdrop for the story. I'm a
member of Kiss of Death Writer's Group and RWA. I've
published several short stories in national magazines,
which were well received.
Attached, please find a self-addressed,
stamped postcard and envelope for your convenience. Thank
you for your review and I look forward to receiving your
Ms. Write On
What to cut from your query
Names and/or references to
secondary characters or places. If this secondary
character is vital to the plot, then use their
relationship to the protagonist. For example:
Nancys ex-husband. Roberts twin daughter. But
only if these characters are absolutely necessary to
show the hook, conflict and GMC.
Dialogue from your manuscript.
Prose that will appear in your
Simplify the chain of events, which
will show your GMC, instead of outlining a
complicated and convoluted plot. Example: "On
the run from common deadly enemies, forces David and
Mary to an even closer relationship, putting their
hearts in serious jeopardy."
Long words, purple prose, elaborate
sentences or foreign words, which might need
explanation. Every word counts when you are trying to
get your point across in a short paragraph.
checks before mailing your query letter:
Is it in proper format?
Are your thoughts clear?
Is your writing tight?
Is it addressed to Dear Editor, or
to her personally by title and name?
Is it three pages long when the
house's guidelines state one page only?
Is it letter perfect, with no
spelling or grammar mistakes?
Is the Genre correct?
Did you confirm the full address?
Did you include word count?
Does it look cluttered, or is there
a lot of white space?
Did you include an SASE?
Did you include your phone number?
Did you include your email?
Try to respond promptly when a query is
And remember your
"Never give the
agent/editor any reason to reject my work."
About the Author:
Winning author, Selena Robins is the author of
Sabrinas Destiny a paranormal
romance comedy. Sabrinas Destiny won
the 2003-2004 Best Book Award, (Treble Heart Book
Contest) and May 2004 Reviewers Choice Award (Road to
Romance Review Site). She is currently working on a
romantic suspense Her Bodyguards
Secret, the sequel to Sabrinas Destiny.
Selena has written short stories for both adults and
children, and is published in non-fiction articles as
well. Visit Selenas website www.selenarobins.com