How To Write A Query Letter

Apr 21, 2020 | Publishing, Tips and How To

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There is no sure-fire template on how to write a query letter. There are a few smart ways to address each of the letter’s main sections though.

The query letter is an essential part of reaching traditional publishing outlets like agents, book publishers, magazines and more.

Need a ghostwriter tip? Lucky for you, I’ve got a few.

Here are five top-to-bottom tips for how to write and structure a great query letter that will help sell your manuscript.

How To Write A Query Letter: Salutation

Every successful query letter needs to address its intended recipient. While a basic “Dear Editor” or “To Whom It May Concern” will get you by in a pinch, you are better off finding out the name of the specific editor or agent you’re targeting.

If the magazine or agency does not give the name of the editor are not very hard to locate. Got the extra mile and Google the agency or magazine to find out who the current editor is that handles the kind of work you’re sending out.

The First Line

Ever heard that “you never get a second chance to make a first impression?” Well, even in writing, this is the gospel truth. The first line of your letter is that first chance, so it really needs to be your hook. That first line has to immediately sell the editor on your piece’s intrigue.

Need a ghostwriter tip? Don’t be try and be too cute. The temptation can be great to oversell the manuscript’s supposed “sizzle” or marketability. You may be better off leaving something to the imagination though.

All too often, I sense that writers believe that all they have to do is send a letter and they’ll get the agent of their dreams. You may have a great property, but you can lose your connection easily here if you’re not careful.

How To Write A Query Letter: The Pitch

Here is the section that your query aims for. If your recipient has read this far down on the page you’ve probably got them on the hook. 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 necessary to tell what the manuscript 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.

The Leave Behind

Let your recipient know you have given the whole process the necessary thought. You have read recent issues of their magazine. You have bought (and read) the books from other authors they represent.

Need a ghostwriter tip? Be professional here. So many bad query letters die at this point because the author comes off as being a little too smug. Perhaps the urge to be casual will arise here but tamp that down. Instead of assuming anything, stay in the relationship-building mode.

How To Write A Query Letter: The Salutation

To round out your successful query letter, include a simple thank you and your name.

Need a ghostwriter tip? Less is almost always 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 section is crucial and each one earns the recipient’s respect.