Writing the Query Letter & Seizing Opportunity!

“Do not solicit.” These are words we have heard time after time, from companies and individuals alike. And they have a point. There is a right way and a wrong way to go about promoting yourself and your work. But when it comes to the writing industry, soliciting is mandatory. Honestly. The days of printing out novels, and other written works, then mailing them off to publishers for review are long-past. Now, the only way to get your foot in the door with publishing houses is by having an agent solicit your work for you. Authors can petition their work to publishers on their own as well, but your chances of getting a publisher to view your work are significantly higher if an agency does it for you. Most publishers won’t even attempt to read a story unless it was solicited to them first. But I will touch-base on how to find agents later. Before you think about finding agents, you need to know how to “sell” your work. Getting published is challenging, but there is a method to the madness! And it starts with writing the query letter.  

There are three steps to having your work considered for publication. First, you submit a query letter. If the letter is accepted, you submit a story synopsis. If that goes well and they wish to consider you, you will submit either the first three chapters of your book or if it is a short story, the complete manuscript. No matter what your masterpiece is, it is always best to submit a completed manuscript rather than a half-finished one. It is difficult for publishers to make a decision on whether they like your story, if it is not fully completed.

Writing a query letter is the professional way to ask an agent, or publisher, if they might be interested in reading your work. You must never submit your project right away. Agents and publishers have a lot on their plate, so they need to know if your story is worth taking the time to read first.

 Query letters must be no more than one-page long; single spaced, and typed out in size twelve fonts. The best font to use is always Times New Roman. Each publishing agency will have their own submission rules, but the query letter is almost always written in Times New Roman.

Now, let’s focus on setting up your document.

 

Start with Your Address & the Address of the Publisher or Agency

In the upper left-hand corner of your Word document, type out your full name and address. When you list your name, make sure it is your given name and not an alias. The opportunity to reveal your pen name, if you wish to use one, will come later. Underneath your address should be your contact information. Specifically, your phone number and email address.

After you have listed your mailing information, leave a space in your Word document and type out the information about the agent or publisher you are submitting to. Use the exact same method you used for your own contact information.

 

Include the Date of which You will be Submitting the Query Letter

It may take you a day or two to finish writing the letter. So when you set up your document, do not write down the current date. Instead, write the date you believe you will be submitting your query letter. Doing this not only helps you be prepared, but it also gives you a deadline to work towards.

The date should be displayed one or two spaces down from the agents/publishers mailing address.

Query Letter Example Provided By WikiHow

 

Begin Your Letter by Addressing the Agent/Publisher Professionally

When you write your letter you don’t want to sound too casual. Your query should be exciting and interesting to read, but you must also sound professional. After all, you have never met this person. The best way to address them would be by their prefix (if applicable), first name, followed by their last name. Example: Mr. John Doe.

 

Write a Brief (20 word) Sentence Containing the Name of Your Story and What it is About

Introducing your masterpiece in one sentence may sound daunting; but it’s actually easier than you think! Start, by expressing your enthusiasm to the publisher, just like you would do on a cover letter to a potential employer. Then follow that up by telling them the name of your story and what it is centered around.

Query Letter “Hook: Example Provided By WikiHow

 Write a Synopsis of Your Story (No longer than 190 words.)

Don’t let the word synopsis overwhelm you. The opportunity to submit a lengthy, detailed, summary will come later; first you need to get your foot in the door by giving a brief rundown of your story. The best way to do this, is to imagine the back of a book cover. Whether you are submitting a book or a short story, the summary process is the same. What would your story look like in one paragraph?

There is no need to worry about character description at this point. Instead, focus on where the story takes place (your setting) and what challenge your protagonist is facing. Did they start out with a simple life that ended up getting complicated really fast? Do they befriend any other characters during their adventure? And lastly, what is your cliffhanger? Describe what will happen if your character doesn’t manage to defeat their antagonist, whatever, or whoever, that may be.

 

Include a (30 word) Paragraph Describing Your Previous Writing Experience

Agents and publishers need to know that you have the potential to make them money. It’s nothing personal — that is just the way things work. This is why it is very important to have a publishing history when you are first starting out. However, the publication doesn’t have to be something you were compensated for. There are lots of companies out there who look for stories by beginner writers and publish them in their latest book, paper, or blog. This may seem like a step-back at first, because you won’t be paid for your hard work, but it is publicity! And most importantly, it gives you a publishing history! Publishers don’t have to know that you weren’t paid. And even if they did know  that, it wouldn’t make them any less interested in you. You still submitted a piece of work to a publishing company who thought it was interesting enough to share with the world. That’s what counts!

When you list your publishing history, do  your best to make it sound relevant to the story you are submitting now. The more closely related your publishing history is, the better your chances will be for getting your query letter accepted.

Don’t forget to mention your educational background! It doesn’t matter if you mention it before or after your publishing history so long as it is in there. If you didn’t attend college that is okay. No matter what your educational background is, include any and all information that relates to the writing field. You never know!

 

Lastly, Explain Why You Think Your Story will be a Good Fit for the Publishing Company 

Before you start sending off your query letter to publishers, you will need to make a list of potential companies to sell too. Do not send more than one query letter out at a time. Always wait to hear back from the first publisher before you move on to the next one. If three months go by and you haven’t heard anything, you are safe to assume they are not interested. Query letters rarely take three months to receive a response, though. (To find potential publishers for your genre, use The Writer’s Market 99th Edition.)

Once you have your list, and you know who you are addressing your query letter to, tell them why their targeted audience will be interested in your work. For example, if you are submitting an urban fantasy novel that contains traditional elements, such as vampires who terrorize cities, tell them why this will appeal to people and what makes your version different from the rest of the “vampire” publications out there.


 

As you already guessed, having your query letter accepted is not a guarantee that your work will be published. But it definitely means that you have peaked a publisher’s interest — your foot is now at the door. And if your work ends up being turned down in the end, don’t let that get YOU down. Just move on to the next potential publisher. The journey of seeing your work in print is a long one.

10 thoughts on “Writing the Query Letter & Seizing Opportunity!”

  1. Hi Darcy
    And thanks for sharing this clear and instructive guide. I have a number of friends who are self-published authors, though I should be clear none of them have achieved much in the way of financial success. I am wondering whether the same is true for spec movie scripts and whether it is always best to go through an agent. I ask because my spouse has just finished a screenplay that is based on her personal experiences as a news journalist. She also worked for many years in that capacity writing news so has much writing experience though not in the screenplay format. We already have some contacts with production companies and some important and influential people who have agreed to read it so maybe this is a moot point. I guess we will find out soon enough. I think though it will be important to submit to one person at a time and wait for a response. Thanks again, this is very helpful. Best regards Andy

    1. Hello, Andy!
      You are aiming for a wonderful (and quite lucrative) writing field. Going through an agent is usually the best way to solicit your work, but if you already have connections in the field then there is absolutely no harm in speaking with them first! In life, it is often not what you know but WHO you know. And having any sort of connection that could give you a leg-up is worth contacting before submitting to agents.

      You are in the right mindset to submit query’s one at a time as well. If an agency is interested in hearing more about your work, complications will arise if another agency wants to take you on as well.

      There is a huge call for screenplay writers these days, both in writing scripts for companies and submitting your own ideas as well. Former Friends actor, Matt Perry, joined the theatre world and wrote his own plays (as well as screenplays) based on his life after no longer finding success in the film acting industry. But this success is not just achievable for former actors. Any story that is inspired by someones life (if written well) is a great product to sell. People LOVE true stories!

      Please know, that despite the writing world being a challenge it is NOT impossible to be successful. Perseverance is half the battle and you are doing everything right. I will be posting more tips later on regarding how to create a synopsis and a great writing resume which I think will be of great benefit to you and your spouse.

      All the best to you,
      Darcy

  2. This is fantastic! I honestly didn’t know anything like this existed. I’ve had a children’s book in mind for ages, but have never looked into the process of publishing, because I have no idea how it works. This was a great introduction to taking that scary first step and feeling out the possibilities. Thank you!

    1. You are most welcome, Hilary! Publishing written work the traditional way is never an easy goal, but it isn’t an unattainable one either! With a little knowledge, perseverance, and patience — you WILL see your book in print.

  3. Hi there,

    I am a selfpublished author and I know many writers who are querying. They get so many rejections, but they keep on going for it, which is admirable. It is not an easy process, but it is all about getting your foot in the door, as you mentioned.
    The writing world is tough … it is so hard to get your books noticed.
    I have been writing stories all my life, since I was 6 years old, and by the time I was ready to publish, the publishing world had changed so much … I had no idea how to go ahead, but I knew that I did not want to wait a few more years before someone might perhaps pick up my manuscript and read it. (I did not know about agents at the time). I was 40 when I published my first book with a vanity publisher. After that I started self publishing. Much later, I found out about the querying process, but I am happy self publishing now, and I am not sure if I want to approach an agent at this point. It would of course be amazing if I got someone to represent my work, but writing query letters seems daunting to me. I am also wondering about the numbers, why a 21-word sentence? Where did 21 come from ? Sorry, it just made me wonder.
    This is the first article that really explained the querying process clearly. It does seem a lot less intimidating now, and the book may be a good thing to have … if I ever go the querying route.
    I am glad I read this. My querying writer friends will benefit greatly from this article. They often send out several query letters at once, so perhaps it would be good for them to read your advice on that.

    1. Hello, Christine!
      Thank you so much for sharing your passion and journey with me. Congrats on successfully self-publishing your work as well. Self-publishing is a method most people are using in these modern times, and it is truly fantastic.

      Getting your work published through a publishing house, or the long way as I like to say, can be a rough journey, but no writer is alone and it is NOT impossible! That’s why I am doing all I can to help those who are still interested in seeing their writing published in print. Although it can take a long time to finally land a contract — it is well worth it, because you, as a writer, will be leaving behind a legacy. Plus, self-publishing is such a common method nowadays that if your book receives enough sales and attention, you can add your self-published work to the publishing history portion of your query and writing a resume. 🙂

      In regards to your question, the 21 word limit is a helpful guideline to use to ensure you don’t spill-over to another page. When a piece of writing has to be one page long, it is handy to have set “restrictions” for yourself. And I find that the amount of words has often come out in uneven numbers like 21. 😉

    2. What a great article! I’m actually finishing my first novel, about 100 or so pages to go and I’m trying to decide to self publish or try for an agency.

      It is a vampire novel, but a twist no one’s ever written, so it’s definitely a hard decision for me.

      Thanks for providing great information though on how to submit a query!

      1. You are most welcome! And congrats on finding a new angle for a vampire novel! I would love to hear more about it.
        Wishing you the very best in your writing goals.

        Love always,
        Darcy

  4. Hi Darcy,
    Great post about writing query letter to publisher. This is really amazing and detailed but very easy to follow in accomplishing such a task that many people dread. It has been so long anyone even talks about writing a letter. I have also want to write but kind of scared, but this post as giving me the motivation I need.
    Thanks.

    1. You made my day, Benson. Thank you. I have always been a little old fashioned when it comes to writing and reading. Even with all of the technology available today I still prefer to hold a book in my hands. And I know it is every writers dream to see their work on display in stores and homes as well.

      I completely understand the feeling of writing/publishing being scary — but don’t let that stop you! For rejection and struggle are nothing to fear. It is only the beginning of your journey. 🙂

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