Beginner’s Guide To The Query Letter

Writers write.  A pretty basic philosophy, but, sadly, there’s more to it than that.  Writing is really all most of us want to do, and then have that writing appear out in the world and bring a nice dose of appreciation and fulfillment…and yes, even a little fame and fortune would be quite acceptable.

The sad part is that the writing won’t get out there by itself.  You need a publisher.  Some publishers will take care of your writing quite professionally if you give them a bunch of money, but the big publishers who will take on the responsibility, risk, and expense of the whole process for you…well, they won’t pay attention to you unless a reputable agent shows them your work.  Now it’s getting complicated.

There are lots of other writers out there competing with you for those publishers, and the agents who can lead you to the publishers.  You need to get an agent’s attention and convince them to take you on.  How?  The query letter.

The query letter is the basic tool every writer uses to find an agent.  It tells the agent who you are, what you have to offer the world through them, and why you think they should want to represent you.  Most queries follow a very similar format, though different agents have slightly different views about what’s most important and what attracts them, so you need to research them by strolling through their websites and blogs and social media to find out specifically how to tailor your approach to each.  A great source for finding and researching agents is the Query Tracker website, and I’ve written another post about that here.

But actually writing the query is one of the hardest things you do as a writer, because you need to condense your entire work, your bio, and all your persuasive pleadings into one page.  It’s a little daunting.

Here’s a thorough but concise article by Hannah Guy at Kirkus Reviews that explains what it’s all about in a nutshell, and it’s an excellent synopsis of the process.  She also includes links to other articles that can clarify the whole thing a little more.

The main thing is: get started.  Don’t wait until you have a finely-polished manuscript ready for the presses to start thinking about this.  Learn what you have to do and start working on it while you’re finishing up your masterpiece, and if your query is ready when your book is ready, you can capitalize on the excitement and momentum of the manuscript to help you through the query process.

Good luck!

Conquering Query Letter Anxiety

BY HANNAH GUY • May 28, 2019


“Brevity is the sister of talent.” ―Anton Chekhov

While a writer can construct an entire world and then create a book—or even a series—around it, the prospect of crafting a query to a publisher or agent can often seem daunting. “I’d rather write another book than write a query or book description,” a new author once admitted to me. “It’s so much easier.”

For many authors, creative writing is infinitely preferable to promotional writing. Self-promotion may be uncomfortable, but if you want to sell your book, that’s exactly what you must do. The query letter is the “elevator pitch” for your book. In one page (and never more than one page), you must not only deliver a snappy, compelling short description but also sell the agent or editor on you. Like the cover of your book for readers, a good query letter is your best chance to grab an editor’s or agent’s attention and convince them to request your manuscript.

Is that a lot of pressure to rest on one letter? Yes. But it’s also easier to write than you think, because the guidelines and expectations are very clear and the letter itself follows a general formula.

Approaching Your Query

As you begin work on your query, remember that professionalism—plus research and polished formatting—goes a long way. We’ve covered the mistakes that authors can make when looking for an agent, and many of those “little errors” can add up here as well. Make sure you:

1. Check the submission guidelines. Ensure that you are following the editor’s or agent’s guidelines to the letter. Make special note of their policy on attachments (when in doubt, don’t send them), information they may wish to see, and what kind of books that they are looking for. Some publishers and agencies prefer email queries; others prefer mailed submissions. Almost everyone has a different set of requirements, so it is important to do your research and then follow the instructions. You may find it helpful to create a spreadsheet that tracks each agent or editor you’re querying, their requirements, the date you contact them, and any response you receive.

2. Address the agent or editor by name. Most agents and editors tend to dismiss queries that are not personalized. Addressing an agent or editor by name and mentioning their agency or publishing house shows you’ve done your research and are interested in working with them specifically.

3.Treat your letter as business correspondence. Your query letter will be judged not only on its content but also on its presentation. From “Dear [Name]” through each subsequent paragraph, your query should be formal and polished. Use a commonly accepted font (you can never go wrong with 12-point Times New Roman), left-align your paragraphs, and don’t forget to include your contact information at the bottom below your signature. Take your time and don’t send out your letter until you’re confident it’s your very best work and it’s completely error free. You also want to avoid gimmicks; let your writing speak for itself. Keep your book description in third person, and resist the urge to get creative with your formatting. No part of your letter should be bolded or in all caps, use colored font, or contain emojis.

4. Keep it simple. Seriously. You have one page to accomplish your goal. Your paragraphs should be short and to the point, focusing on only the necessary information. Resist the urge to get wordy. A good approach is to draft out all your paragraphs, then go back and eliminate unnecessary words or sentences and any digressions, and continue editing until your letter is tight and clean. If you have a tendency to be overzealous in your use of adjectives and adverbs, or you ramble on at length and without purpose, the agent will notice it—and will assume your book is similarly written.


Read More…

The Meaning of Life

This is written by an outdoorsy-type person, mostly for outdoorsy-type persons, but if you’re not an outdoorsy-type person and shrug it off and turn away, you’re missing some good wisdom.

David E. Petzal is the rifles editor for Field & Stream magazine, where he’s been writing for almost 50 years.  As he says, he’s learned a thing or two.  But it’s not just about outdoorsy-type stuff…it’s about life, and how to treat it right.  So there’s a lot of wisdom here, no matter who you are.

But if you’re a writer, there’s also an example of someone who can write sparsely and roughly, using plain ol’ words, and end up with some very eloquent passages.

It was a treat for me to read, and I hope it enlightens you in one way or another.  Or several.

What Is the Meaning of Life?

David E. Petzal shares the most valuable lessons he’s learned during his lifetime in the outdoors

Illustrations of Old School Hunting
Our rifles editor has learned a thing or two during his life spent outdoors.  Illustrations by Peter oumanski

I’ve been around awhile. When I was born, there were men alive who had fought in the Civil War. I can remember bits and pieces of World War II, and I clearly remember life before television. I bought my first rifle in 1956, began shooting in organized competition in 1958, and got my first hunting license in 1960. After 70-some years of fart­ing around on this planet, mostly out of doors, I can’t exactly tell you the meaning of it all. But as it says in the insurance ad, I know a thing or two because I’ve seen a thing or two. Here’s some of it.

1. Hunters, more than other people, are reverential of life because they know far better than others how difficult it is to stay alive, and how ­suddenly life can end.

2. There’s no worse experience than putting down a dog. She would die for you, and now she’s dying because of you.

3. Big-game hunting is the great leveler among men. Either you can climb the mountain or you can’t; either you can shoot or you can’t; ­either you hold up your end or you don’t. Money, education, and social standing have no ­bearing on any of this.

4. Nothing in the outdoors gets your attention like a grizzly paw print with water still oozing into it.

5. According to anthropologists, Neanderthals never built big fires to sit around and swap stories, which is one of the reasons why they vanished and our ancestors did not.

6. The best judges of ­character I have met are African trackers. Their assessments are ­brutal. One hunter with a drinking problem became “Bwana Ginni Bottle.” Of Robert ­Ruark they said, “He has bad legs and much fear.” To ­paraphrase Hamlet: Of all the people in the world, you do not want a bad review from them.

7. The great, unspoken allure of true wilderness, in an era when we are trying to remove all risk from life, is that if you screw up in it, you can die in it.

8. When The Moment comes, your armored, shockproof, waterproof, SEAL-approved $75 butane survival lighter will go click…click…click…click…click…click….

Read More…

Thought For The Week

In politics as in philosophy, my tenets are few and simple. The leading one of which, and indeed that which embraces most others, is to be honest and just ourselves and to exact it from others, meddling as little as possible in their affairs where our own are not involved. If this maxim was generally adopted, wars would cease and our swords would soon be converted into reap hooks and our harvests be more peaceful, abundant, and happy.

— George Washington

Selling Your Self-Published Book

The first incontrovertible truth about getting people to buy your self-published book is that it is tremendously, amazingly, astoundingly super-duper hard to do for someone without any experience at selling stuff to people.  You go through your list of friends and family, several buy it, you get a warm feeling, and then…what?  Ask them to do reviews, and a few of them do.  Ask them to tell their friends, and a few of them do.  Sales trickle downward and hit a plateau, and you sit there refreshing your KDP reports page, hoping to see just one more sale to perk you up.

Oh, so you’ve done that?  If you’ve tried the self-publishing route, and especially if you’ve tried to do it without spending a bunch of money on editing, art, formatting, and advertising, probably 90% of you have done that very thing.  But it’s not impossible to jack those sales figures up a little without spending tons of money.  The trick is…well, there isn’t one.  You have to think and work hard.  You have to start out with an awesome book, but that’s only the beginning.

The smartest thing to do is listen to what other people have done and find out what worked for them.  No reason to run around trying to learn from your own experience if somebody else has done the experiencing for you.  You need all the viewpoints you can handle if you’re gonna be a success at this here writing thing.

Voila!  Here’s a voice of experience now!  Rob Dircks has sold a bunch of books without spending a mint, and here he is telling us some of his experiences on Entrepreneur. com.  Keep in mind that this only scratches the surface, but you have to start somewhere.  So pay attention and use what works for you, and find somebody else with more experience and use what they say if it works for you, and persist.

That’s the biggest point…don’t give up.

5 Things This Self-Published Author Did to Sell Over 20,000 Books With Almost No Money

Rob Dircks
Guest Writer
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

This story was originally published 7/21/2016 and has been updated.

Two years ago, I self-published my first science fiction novel, Where the Hell is Tesla?, and sold 10,000 copies in the first twelve months. (It has since gone on to sell over 18,000 copies). My second has sold nearly 5,000 copies, and my new release, Don’t Touch the Blue Stuff! is opening strong, too. So how the heck did all this happen? Was it luck? Because if it wasn’t, how on earth did that many people find out about it and buy it? Did I know something — or someone — special that could influence the outcome?

Nope. It wasn’t luck. And it wasn’t influence. I mean, a few unexpected things turned in my favor for sure, but I strongly believe that if you’ve got a good book inside you, and you do your homework, and you put that learning to work, that you can successfully self-publish your own book and sell thousands of copies.

Here are five things I learned how to do on the road to my first 10,000 copies:

1. Write your best book

It sounds obvious, I know. But there’s an entire world of badly-written, poorly-edited self-published work out there. Because the tools have become so easy to use, there’s a temptation to get anything out there, without going through the rigors of research and editing, in hopes of quick discovery and viral success. Don’t give in to that temptation. I spent over a year writing my first novel, and almost a year writing my second. If you don’t know someone who can competently edit your writing, hire someone. End readers will know the difference. Here’s a small example: I released the first two parts of my novel Where the Hell is Tesla? as serial stories, like Hugh Howey originally did with the Wool series. And though the feedback I got was largely positive, I got ripped for little editing errors. So I learned a huge lesson before selling even one copy of the full novel – the product has to be bulletproof. Editing, spell-checking, formatting, consistency, characters’ motivations, plot holes, everything. I don’t think all the marketing in the world will help a product that’s not ready to launch.


Click Here To Read More!