Query Letter Do’s and Don’ts

17 May, 2013

headshot_joelledelbourgoIf you’re a writer and you have not been living under a rock, you’ve undoubtedly heard about the infamous query letter. This is the vehicle by which you will approach prospective agents and publishers.It is all-important because it will determine whether the recipient–someone you are trying to impress and engage–will respond to you and consider your work.

Here are 5 steps that will present you and your work in a professional manner:

Step 1:  Check the agency of publisher website for guidelines and follow them precisely.

–Your letter may either be sent by snail mail or email, depending on the preferences of the recipient. Always check the submission guidelines of a particular agent or publisher you are approaching them and follow them exactly.  If the requirement is to send a query letter by post with a self-addressed stamped envelope, do so.  If the company only accepts email, do not send snail mail. If you’re asked not to include attachments to an email, don’t.  Do not imagine that you are the exception to the rules.  Do not expect the recipient to return materials to you.

Step 2:  Craft a letter that showcases your strengths as a writer and potential client or author.

You’re a writer.  So write a great letter.  You would be amazed at how many terrible letters we receive. Take the time to develop a thoughtful and succinct letter.  Here is what you need to cover:  Who are you and what is your book?  Why are you writing it or what inspired you to write it?  What makes you uniquely qualified to write on this subject or this particular story?  Is your book particularly timely, and if so, why?  What is your hope and goal?  Who do you think is your potential reader?  Do you have a way of reaching the potential market for the book (newsletter, speaking engagements, social media presence, etc.).   Try to keep your letter to a page of page and a half in legible type.

Step 3:  Choose an appropriate salutation and closing.

If you do not know the person to whom you are addressing the letter, do not try to be overly familiar. Nor do you need to be ridiculously formal.  Avoid a generic salutation such as “Dear Literary Agent,” or “Dear Sir or Madam.”  Always address the letter to a specific person.  (Never send out a mass email to a group of publishing professionals.)  Make sure you know the gender of the person you’re writing to, and use an appropriate greeting.  To close, thank the person for his or her time and consideration, and sign it “Sincerely” followed by your full name.

Step 4:  Formatting the letter.

Choose a pleasing font and type size.  If you are sending a printed letter, use a nice quality stock in a standard letter size.  Letters in odd sizes or inappropriate stationary do not look professional.  Even if you are sending an email, you can format it to simulate a letter.

Step 5: Sending the letter.

Be sure to use the right postage, and if an SASE is requested, include it with current postage affixed.  (Use a “Forever” stamp that will not go out of date.)

Follow Up:  Do not call the person to find out whether he or she received your letter or email.  If you have not heard anything after a month, you can send one follow up note.  If you still do not receive a response, move on.  A publishing professional who wants to know more about you and your work will usually reach out to you.  When we don’t, it is because we are very busy and receive volumes of queries.

If you are rejected, try to “listen” to what the agent or publisher is telling you. Does it have merit?  Perhaps you can use the feedback to improve your presentation of your work.  Don’t take it personally.

Good luck!

–Joelle Delbourgo