There is no sure fire template for how to write a successful query letter. There are, however, smart ways to address each of a letter’s five main sections.
Here are five top-to-bottom tips for a successful query letter that will sell your manuscript.
Every successful query letter needs to address an intended recipient in some manner. While a “Dear Editor” will suffice, you really are better off finding out the name of the specific editor you’re targeting.
If the magazine listing does not list the editor (as is frequently the case) they are not very hard to find. Google the magazine. Find out who is the current editor for the kind of work you’re sending.
It is true that editors change frequently (especially at smaller presses). Even if you have the wrong name, the new person in the old position will recognize the effort.
Your hook. That first line has to immediately sell the editor on your piece’s intrigue.
Here is the professional tip. Don’t be try and be too cute here. The temptation can be great to oversell the manuscript’s supposed “sizzle”. You want to leave something to the imagination.
Here is the section that your query has been aiming for. If your recipient has read this far you’ve got them hooked. Now you need to let them know what the story is all about.
Brevity is the soul of wit. Anyone ever heard that axiom? Use only as much detail in your pitch as you have to to tell what the story is actually about. Almost every story can be boiled down to 4-5 sentences, a short paragraph that compels the reader to want… no, need to see the whole thing.
Let your recipient know you’ve given some thought. You’ve read their magazine. You’ve bought the books from other authors they represent. Non-fiction editors need to know you have some authority to write the book you’re pitching them.
Be professional. So many bad query letters die here because the author comes off as being smug. Perhaps the urge to be casual will arise here but tamp that down.
Stay in the relationship building mode.
To round out your successful query letter, include a simple thank you and your name. It’s OK to reiterate your critical digits.
The overall tip here is that less is more. Your addressee will (likely) have read a hundred letters already by the time they get to yours and will read another hundred before they get around to replying.
Be calm and concise. Each sections is crucial and each one earns the recipient’s respect.