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Query letters…Query weary or Query wary?
By Tracey J Lyons

Query letters are the ticket to a writer’s success. They are the key to open the publishing door. A good query letter can get you an invitation to submit and a bad query letter will get you a rejection. The following are points from my workshop Query weary or Query wary.

  • The basics of query letter-use letterhead with your name, address, phone number, email address. Date the letter. Editor/Agent name and address. Dear name of agent/editor. Opening paragraph see example.  Middle paragraph should tell a little about your book, use the hook here or your three sentence pitch. Closing paragraph, ie; thank you so much for reviewing my work, I look forward to hearing from you in the near future. Sincerely, your name.
  • How to find the hook to grab editor’s/agent’s attention:  Here you want to find the main theme of your manuscript or the conflict between the hero and heroine and why it’s important to the storyline.
  • How to make the letter work for you: This is your first impression so make it count! Show that you know your market and that you’ve done your market research accordingly. It won’t help your career to send your sweet historical manuscript to an editor looking for erotica and vice versa.
  • Importance of tool: This is where the editor/agent will get a feel for how well you know the market and how well you know your manuscript. Be as succinct as possible. If you’re not sure how your letter reads, read it out loud, have a writer friend look at it.
  • First impressions are important
  • Know your target editor and who their authors are
  • Name dropping…is it effective? Always have writer’s permission to use name
  • How to put some spark in your letter. Keep your letter upbeat and positive. And keep your letter to one page. Remember editors/agents read a great deal everyday. You want to make them request your manuscript!
  • An important note on e-queries; make sure editor/agent accepts them and remember to use professional letter format.

Things to mention in letter

  • writing credits
  • if they’ve been recommended by an author, with author’s permission
  • if published
  • how long book is
  • target line
  • if book is under consideration with another publisher or agent
  • if there is a tie in to a personal aspect of your book
  • why you feel it would fit the targeted line
  • if you’ve met them at a conference

Things you want to avoid mentioning

  • how well researched book is
  • how busy you are as a housewife/mother/daughter/lover/cook/etc. with the exception of if these things play a role in the book
  • how many times book has been rejected by other publishers or agents

EXAMPLES OF OPENING PARAGRAPHS

Dear Ms. Doe,

     I have recently completed my third historical romance, entitled ADIRONDACK JEWEL.  The completed novel is 90,000 words.  Sharon Schulze, whose book HEART OF THE DRAGON will be a March 97’ Harlequin Historical release, mentioned to me that you were seeking new authors for the Historical line.  I am querying you first, but would welcome the opportunity to submit my manuscript for your consideration.

    I am a member of Romance Writers of America, and the Connecticut Chapter of RWA where I am the Critique Partner Liaison and the incoming Editor of, Connections, the chapter newsletter.  I also write  a weekly column for the Chatham Courier.  I have a manuscript entered in the Laubach Literacy Romance Writers contest and am currently working on my fourth Historical.

Dear Ms. McEachern,

     Per our phone conversation earlier this month,  I am writing to express interest in contributing an article to RWR on writing that “eye-catching” query letter.  I recently had a manuscript requested by an editor at Harlequin Historicals from a simple query letter.  Since that time I have had many fellow writers ask the question, “What on earth did you put in your query letter that caught the attention of the editor?”

     I am a member of  RWA, and the Connecticut Chapter of RWA where I am the Editor of, Connections, the chapter newsletter.  I also write a weekly column for the Chatham Courier.  I have a manuscript entered in the Laubach Literacy Romance Writers Contest, another, ADIRONDACK JEWEL, under consideration by Harlequin Historicals and  am currently working on my fourth historical.

     I consider the query letter the roots of our writing. It’s easy to get bogged down in making our manuscripts perfect and losing sight of what our first impression with an editor is—the query letter.  In my article for the RWR I would like to remind writers what the key ingredients to a query letter should be.  Stressing how to use your own unique style to catch the attention of  a busy editor or agent, as well as show writers how to take interesting points in your manuscript and incorporate them into the query letter.  In my case, it was the setting that I emphasized, stating,  “ADIRONDACK JEWEL has all the flavor of the west played out against the romantic backdrop of the east.”

Dear Ms. Kamen,

     I am currently seeking a publisher for my work.  Zita Christian recommended you as an editor.  I have been writing historical romance for five years and I am actively pursuing my writing career on a full time basis.  I am a member of the Romance Writers of America and have been a member of the Connecticut Chapter of RWA since 1992.  I have attended both the Chicago and New York City RWA conferences.  I am currently enrolled in a fifteen week long Fiction Writers Workshop under the direction of Sonia Pilcer.

     I am an unpublished author of two historical novels with a third one underway.  Both of my completed novels, Seasons of Change and The Sea Mistress are set in New York State.  My third novel, Adirondack Jewel is set in the 1880’s with the Adirondack Mountains as the backdrop.

Examples of middle and closing paragraphs

     A chicken in every pot, a car in every garage, film star beauty for every adolescent girl, and perhaps an adultery for every marriage.  This is the sentiment of 1920’s America. A time of instant wealth, grand automobiles, fast women and a carefree lifestyle that is all the rage. For Marjorie Davis Wendall and Griffin Calloway it is a time to embrace the future. Except there’s only one problem, Marjorie, whose father is a well respected judge, yearns to be one of those fast women. 

     Set in 1920’s Schenectady, New York, DEAR MARJORIE is a coming of age story.   Griffin fears he will become a social outcast as his family has predicted while Marjorie is afraid of being swallowed whole by the confines of her parent’s proper society. Only when Griffin proves his worth to himself and Marjorie learns to trust what’s in her heart, and soul, can these two overcome their pasts and fulfill their future.

     DEAR MARJORIE is based on my collection of authentic letters dating from 1922-1928. The letters, discovered in an attic, were written to a young woman by the name of Marjorie McMullen by her friends and family while she was attending Cornell University. The contents of these letters document an exciting time in our country. They speak of a time when silent movies became talking pictures, when bootlegging was a formidable occupation, and when everyone traveled on great Ocean liners to Europe. From these letters, I created the story of Marjorie and Griffin.  I’m extremely excited about the selling potential of a book of this nature and time period. DEAR MARJORIE, when completed, will be a 100,000 word single title manuscript.

    Ms. Harms, thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you in the near future.

Sincerely,

Tracey J. Lyons

Don’t forget to include your name, address, telephone number and email on everything you send out to an editor or agent. And good luck with your submissions.