Monday, September 14, 2009

How to Write a Query Letter 101

I've been asked some questions about query letters. I'm not the world's best resource on the matter, but here's a few key pointers. This is geared mostly toward fiction, since that is what I write, but non-fiction follows similar rules. If you have specific questions, there are many great books out there that focus primarily on query letters. Make sure your query is never more than a page long!

The definition of a query letter is basically a mini proposal that aims to:
*Hook the attention of the editor or agent
*Describe your project
*Tell the editor or agent who you are
*Get the editor or agent to ask for more.

The most effective way to do this is obviously straightforward and focusing on elements that are most intriguing or compelling. Your query letter should contain (in this order):
*the hook (something to grab the editor or agent's attention)
*the handle (gives the editor something to hold onto - perhaps the theme)
*a mini-synopsis (a very brief overview)
*your credentials (convey your knowledge of the subject)
*your credits (if you don't have any, leave this out)
*what you're offering (make sure to have the title, word count, genre, etc.)
*the closing (offer to send the completed manuscript)

10 query commandments for article queries.
Each query letter must be, in order of appearance:
1. Professional (includes SASE, is error-free, is addressed to the right editor, etc.)
2. New (idea is fresh, set off, and up front)
3. Provocative (lead pulls you in)
4. Creative (presentation is offbeat)
5. Focused (story is narrowed down, length is kept to one page)
6. Customized (directed to that magazine only)
7. Multifaceted (offers several options on how it could be done)
8. Realistic (instills confidence that you're reliable and the project's doable)
9. Accredited (includes your clips, credits, and qualifications)
10. Conclusion (confirms that you're the best and the only writer to do it)

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