A query letter is a one-page letter used to pitch article ideas to magazine editors, or book ideas or manuscripts to literary agents or publishers, and get them interested in your work.
The purpose of a query letter is to give them a glimpse into your work and yourself as a writer, convincing them that your work is fit for their agency or publication.
So how can you make a good first impression with your query letter?
1. Do your research. What type of publication/agency are you pitching to? Are they interested in your type of writing? You wouldn’t want to pitch a romance novel to an agent that is only interested in children’s fiction. Do they have submission windows? If you send a pitch outside of a submission window, your pitch may never be attended to.
2. A good query letter should be orderly and concise. Literary agents and magazine editors get a lot of pitches from writers like yourself who want to get published as well. So, it is best to play it safe and make your points right off the bat. A page is usually advisable. In this age of computer screens and smartphones, does your letter fit into a single frame, or will your addressee have to scroll a lot more to get to your point?
3. You know what they say about opening lines and first sentences. In the case of the query letter, your greeting is always the first thing your prospective agent reads.
“Dear Ms. Ade” is always a better option than “Dear Editor/Agent”.
This takes us back to the importance of research. Getting to know, not only about the agency or publishing firm, but also the agent or editor. What better way to acquaint yourself with a prospective agent than to know their name?
4. Establish a personal connection. This doesn’t have to be anything intimate. It could simply be about that time they spoke at a panel at a festival you attended. Or that one time you walked up to them at another author’s book launch and introduced yourself and a had a brief conversation on how publishing has become a lot more inclusive in the past few years.
If you have never met them before, you approach the letter with a referral from another established author. “Mr Ade, author of Green Things suggested that I reach out to you regarding representation for my debut novel, Copper Children.”
5. But if you have neither met them in the past nor have a referral, just go straight to your pitch. Grab their attention with the hook and synopsis, as these have the ability to set your letter apart from the tons of others they might have read. Practice how to craft the perfect hook and synopsis.
6. Got any short stories published, won any writing prizes, attended any writing workshops or graduated from any creative writing programs? Here is the place to toot your own horn. When listing your credentials, there is no need to include your day job, unless your day job also revolves around writing or teaching writing.
7. Identify comparable titles. Establishing a connection between your book and an exiting book gives the agent an awareness of the financial viability of your book.
8. It is important to mention your title, genre, audience and word count in your pitch as this helps the publication/agency know immediately if your book is within their scope if interest.
9. Thank the agent and sign off.
10. Proofread. Proofread. Proofread. Do not forget to proofread everything you have written, preferably with the help of a friend or peer editor.
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