The Query Letter Demystified

At some point or another, whether you write fiction or non-fiction, each of us is going to have to ask someone--somewhere--if they're interested in helping to publish what we write. Enter the query letter.

Essentially, the query is a specific type of business letter, asking an agent or an editor if they would like to take a closer look at your writing. In the case of fiction, you're selling your finished novel. With non-fiction, you're often selling the idea for the article or non-fiction book you'd like to write.

Even seasoned writers can get jittery when formulating a query letter. The style of writing is far different than for fiction.

The most important point to remember when writing a query letter, is to follow that particular agent or editor's specifications. You only get one chance to make a first impression. Don't let an agent's first glance at your writing be a letter where you've ignored what they've asked for. They are looking for a reason to say no to you. Don't make it easy. And always have a few writer friends give you feedback before you send it.

I've collected some great resources for learning the art of the query letter. Even if you are not ready to sell your work to an agent or editor, you may want to bookmark these links for the time when you've got an article or novel ready for primetime.

Dissection of a Query Letter
Writer's Digest, an excellent magazine, posts great articles about writing online. This article takes you paragraph by paragraph through the process of formulating your own query letter.

Writing teacher Elizabeth Lyons explains five parts of a query in this video.

Email Query Letters
More and more agents are reducing paper clutter by requesting e-queries, or queries sent by email. The format for these are a little different than a paper query. Nathan Bransford, with Curtis Brown, Ltd., explains the e-query here.

Keeping Track of Queries You've Sent
QueryTracker is a site that every writer should bookmark. You'll find a database of literary agents and publishers, with statistics on each one of them. Would you like to know what percentage of queries a particular agent responds positively to? Are you interested in a site that can keep track of the queries you've sent out? QueryTracker is the place to go.

AgentQuery is another site with a database of agents. They've got an article on how to write a query letter.

Free Query Ebook
Noah Lukeman, an agent with Lukeman Literary, has written an 85-page ebook titled How to Write a Great Query Letter, and he gives it away. Click here to get a copy. Noah Lukeman answers questions from aspiring authors here.

Check What Agents Themselves Have to Say
Many agents who blog, give away tons of information about what they like and don't like in query letters. Check out the blog tags on your favorite agent's blog, and click on "query" to see what they have to say.

For example, on Friday, I highlighted literary agent Rachelle Gardner, here. Rachelle has posted forty-one times about query letters. That's a lot of good information. And she's not the only one.

For the Thick-Skinned
If you're truly brave, you can post your query letter for critique by actual agents. The downside is that you may discover some major flaws. But isn't that the upside, too?

Miss Snark has a "mystery agent" critique anonymous queries every month.

Ask Daphne, at KT Literary, critiques queries on her blog every day.

If you know of an excellent query article, post a link in the comments. Thanks for reading!

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