Sunday, October 08, 2006

Query Nation

The perfect query letter -- is it a myth or reality? Hard to say. It's like manuscripts; I've known writers who spend years going to query workshops and buying query how-to books and perfecting their queries with no luck, and others who land an agent and a contract with the first query letter they write. I've had a mixed bag of results with mine; ten years of novel query letters did zip for me; the very first non-fiction query letter I wrote landed my first nonfic sale:

February 1, 1999

Writer's Digest
1507 Dana Avenue
Cincinnati, OH 45207

Re: Submission for Chronicle Article

Dear Ms. Smith:

What could go wrong when an interested editor calls and asks you to send a manuscript overnight? Everything!

I've enclosed my article, "Nothing can Possibly Go Wrong Now" for your consideration. It is 770 words in length, and takes a humorous look at what happens when a writer isn't prepared for that particular phone call.

If you have any questions, please contact me at (123)456-7890 or at the e-mail address above. Thanks for reading this and I look forward to hearing from you.


S.L. Viehl

(BTW, you can read the article I sold with this query in the Aug '99 issue of Writer's Digest.)

It's always interesting to see how other writers compose query letters. I try to work a little humor into mine. Nicholas Sparks writes an extremely earnest, wordy query letter; I got a terrible urge to edit it while I was reading it. Lynn Flewelling goes more for neat and friendly. Personally I like Carolyn Jewel's query examples, which may be a bit too storytellerish for some but gave me a nice sample of her voice without making me think she was twelve.

I feel really terse compared to these folks, but short works better for me. How about you guys? Do you shoot for detailed query letters, brief/concise, or something else?

Related links:

Agent's How to Write a Query.


  1. Brief and business.

  2. am i going to sound really amateurish if I tell you I think I've only written maybe five or six query letters?

    There were a couple before I got pubbed with EC, maybe three and they didn't get me anywhere. Then I submitted to EC and I don't remember what kind of letter I sent, if I sent one at all. There was a short synopsis....which I suck at. But they bought the book anyway.

    My first contract with Berkley, the editor called me out of the blue, so I didn't have to mess with a query.

    The other contracts all went thru my agent, so no letters there either. I hate queries. I hate synopses even more, although those I have had to write several.

    I'd say brief and to the point. Editors read so many, the more extravagant, I'd worry they'd pass on it just cuz they have ten zillion more to read and they don't want to read it a ten page plea.

  3. I write a short, to the point query and there's always a bit of humour in the letter.

    If I had to write the traditoonal business letter my head would explode.

  4. I usually go for short (okay so I did) and back of the book sounding query letters.

  5. Anonymous6:11 PM

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  6. I think short and to the point is the way to go. Just say what you need to say and get out.

  7. I like the short approach with a great hook.

  8. Anonymous1:20 AM

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    That just rings with sincerity, doesn't it? By the way, if you SPAM my comments again, I'm going to delete your advertising and get nasty. You don't want to see me nasty. Really you don't.

  9. Short and businesslike. Emphasis on short. As an editor myself and a fulltime freelance writer, editor and novelist, I can tell you that the last thing I want is a long communication of any sort. The first couple lines will get read carefully and everything else will be skimmed, so get to the point.

    In terms of nonfiction queries, I'm a big believer in telling the editor who I'm going to interview for the article, even if I can't get through to that specific person. A little research ahead of time goes a long ways.

    Mark Terry

  10. I prefer short and sweet. Here's the book. This is what it is about. Thanks much.

    I figure agents or editors have enough to read already, best to get it out there in the open quickly.

  11. PBW,

    That quote sounds typical. I doubt a human ever saw the blog. I think they do it with bots.

    Good info on the query letters. My impression has always been they are to be short, personal, and lead into either the few pages you've sent per the agent/editor's directions or to entice a "Yes, please send me more" response. Anything not toward that end is too much.

  12. Anonymous12:33 PM

    I read the samples and wow. All quite different and all by published authors. Just goes to show, what works for some... that said, I couldn't even finish Sparks'. Yeesh. On and on... I liked Lynn F's the best. :)

  13. Anonymous12:34 PM

    That was me ^


  14. Short and to the point is where I fall as well when it comes to query letters. I don't want to wax on and bore the editor. My goal is to come up with a quick blurb that grabs the editor. I've written a couple articles on writing query letters and synopsis basically because *I* appreciated finding these on the web when I was first starting out. I hope at least a few people have found them helpful. In general, I don't think any of us likes writing query letters/synopses, but they are necessary in this business. :)

  15. Short and me. I have a friend who always chastizes me for my quirks in my queries but I've gotten requests off each one. (One's out now, watch, I put the malocchio on myself)

    I figure the editor reads all day long and me getting all verbose is going to make them hurl. A blurb that tells the gmc for antag and protag, a wobbly resume and it's done.


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