Query Letter Basics

Posted by Kathy Carmichael Sunday, April 24, 2005 on 7:21 PM
I wrote the following query letter basics to help new authors with what should be included (or excluded!) in a query letter. Eventually I'll move it to the articles section on my website, but for now, it's only available here :) -- KC

QUERY LETTER BASICS -- by Kathy Lynch Carmichael

1. The blurb or pitch on your book. What are the hooks? What will make a reader want to read your book? (Check out my article on pitching and my pitch generator in the articles section of my website.)

2. Your publication experience. If you haven't yet sold a book, have you had articles published? Short stories? Have you won writing contests? If you have published, have you been honored in any way (awards, contests, bestseller lists)?

3. What writing organizations do you belong to, if any?

4. Optional: What makes you the authority for writing this book or type of book? For instance, if you're an attorney and writing about a fictional attorney detective, that would have meaning to the publisher. If your work experience does not add credibility to your writing, then it's probably best to omit it. For instance, if you're an accountant and writing science fiction that doesn't have an accountant protagonist, then there's no need to mention your day job.

5. Offer to revise if the story is close. Editors prefer to work with authors who are easy to work with.

6. Be sure to include your name, address, phone, and send an SASE.

7. You might wish to include a 1-2 page synopsis, but no longer than that unless the editor has requested it.

8. Try to keep your query letter to only one page in length, not including the 1-2 page synopsis.

9. Do you have a built-in audience (like a newspaper column or web blog or website with a big readership), marketing hooks, tips, information about your target audience if non-fiction.

10. No cutesy stuff! No negativity. Don't tell the editor that your book received rejections from 50 other publishers. Don't tell her your book doesn't fit her guidelines (if it doesn't fit their guidelines as to what they publish, then DO NOT send it there!). Don't offer a bribe or threaten him. Don't send your query on cutesy letterhead or weird paper. This is a business, so treat your query like a business letter. Your query can be written in your personal voice and style, and it doesn't have to be dry. Shoot for professional.

11. Possible format for a query letter:

Paragraph One:
Your pitch (check out my pitching workshop and pitch generator)

Paragraph Two:
About you. (Depending on how your background ties to your book, this might take 2 paragraphs)

Paragraph Three (Optional):
Your closing (where you can mention offering to revise or possible target audiences etc)

Paragraph Four (Optional):
If you included a synopsis, this is where you mention it. Also mention that you look forward to hearing from her/him.


Dear Editor's (Mr. Or Ms.) Last Name:

A CATCHER IN THE CORN is a story about a female CIA agent who infiltrates an organized crime ring in Omaha, Nebraska, and must learn who the leader is before he destroys all the cornfields in the Midwest. Is it possible that the leader is none other than the teen baseball whiz she attended her high prom with?

I've published several short stories and my web blog has a large readership. I belong to a local writers group, Name of Group, as well as regularly attending a regional writing conference, Name of Conference. I was drawn to write this book because my five-year career as a CIA agent gives me an insider's view into how an undercover agent operates.

Enclosed you will find a two page synopsis of the book as well as a self-addressed postage-paid enveloped. I'm really looking forward to hearing from you and learning what you think!

Your Name



This is a great article, Kathy (as all your articles are). Thanks for sharing!

Carol: Thanks! I'm glad you found it (and my other articles) helpful :) -- KC

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