The dreaded query letter. It makes my entire being cringe, both when I am writing one, and when I am reading some.
Personally, I’ve spent days writing queries. They shouldn’t be insanely long, but they can’t be too short either, you don’t want to bore the reader, but then again you don’t want to come across as overeager either. So what do you do?
There are countless websites that can help you model the perfect cover letter, but no matter which one you select to use as your model there are a few things that you need to include in your query letter.
1. Introduce yourself
2. Brag a bit
3. Talk about your work
Sounds easy, right? Most people do these things, but some include some unnecessary information, or unrelated tidbits.
When you’re introducing yourself to the publishing company it’s okay to tell them what your accomplishments are – but you may want to eliminate the fifth grade writing award you received twenty-three years ago. It’s not relevant, and you should have made large strides in your writing capabilities since then. Stick to the basics: Your most recent education, your experience in the field, and previous publications (if you have them).
As editors and publishers, we like to get a feel for personality. We like to know who you are, so we anticipate the voice of your letter to reflect you in some way. To reveal something about yourself that makes you special. For example, if you used to raise horses, tell us – if it relates to your work. If your book is about aliens and time travel, horses aren’t really related. Unless the “aliens” are an advanced society of intelligent space horses.
Almost every website I’ve visited about writing a query letter, talks about comparing your work to other pieces in your genre. First, make sure you identify your work, and the genre it would be classified in. Second, be well read in your genre; not just the super popular stuff either, read it all! And third, compare your work to current titles in the genre. Really think about what books your work would be competing with. DO NOT use Harry Potter, Twilight, The Hunger Games, Divergent, The Maze Runner, or any other big success to compare your YA Fantasy work with. If you write mystery, don’t compare yourself to Mary Higgins Clark, if you are writing romance, don’t relate your piece to Danielle Steel. In short, utilize your comparison titles to show: You know the genre, and you are realistic about your competitors. Could your book be the next Harry Potter success? It’s possible – but don’t present it as such. Just present the idea, the book and know your market.
After you have introduced yourself and your book, close out your letter respectfully. Too many writers close their letters with things like:
“You’d be a fool not to publish my work.”
“Only idiots would pass up this great opportunity.”
“Don’t make a mistake.”
I can’t speak for everyone, but for me that is an automatic rejection. As a final note, make sure you don’t copy and paste your query letter. If you send it off and forget to change names it does not compel a publisher to accept your work.
So, be yourself, show off a bit, tell the publisher about your work, and don’t copy and paste!
Easy, peasy! Good luck writers!
Corinne is an editor at Ink Smith Publishing. Since her first trip to the library when she was a toddler, Corinne has been collecting books, recommending her favorites and providing commentary on the less-than-stellar. Her belief is that if you have a problem, it’s nothing that a good book can’t solve. Currently, she is pursuing her MFA in Creative Writing at Lindenwood University, editing for Ink Smith Publishing and hoping that her blog posts here will help writers improve and publish their work.