Query Letter: Empower Yourself to Put Your Best Foot Forward In 3 Steps

BY Sarah Rexford | Feb 09, 2023 | Publishing, Writing

Query letters are a crucial part of your writing journey and act as a calling card to get you in the door with literary agents and publishers. Just like a job interview demands you put your best foot forward, a query letter is the way to do so when it comes to publishing.

Thankfully, for any introverts out there, unlike a job interview, a query letter is sent via email or snail mail (now uncommon). Sending a query letter alleviates the nerves that come with meeting a potential work partner face to face.

However, just as you should invest the appropriate amount of time investment preparing for a job interview, the same is true when it comes to query letters. To help give you the best chances of success, in this article we discuss: 

Let’s dive into  what exactly a query letter is, the different parts that complete it, and how to write on that stands out. 

What Is A Query Letter?

A query letter is a formal inquiry sent to a literary agent, on occasion a publisher, or magazines you wish to contribute to. The job of the query letter is to pique the interest of its intended audiences to the point where the receiver reaches out asking to see your work. 

Because the job of a query letter is imperative to getting you in the door, how you write one drastically increases or decreases your chance of success. When writing your query, be sure to include the following:

#1 – Your idea

This is often the most important part of your query letter, so spend the proper time solidifying exactly what your idea is and why it matters to the one who will receive your query. If you query a manuscript, make sure your elevator pitch is in top-notch condition and every word counts. 

If you choose to query a magazine and want to publish an article with them, read previously posted articles and get a taste for the ideas they like. This will up your chances of your idea aligning with, but not copying, previous articles.

#2 – Who You Are

Yes, it can feel uncomfortable talking yourself up to a stranger you’ve never met, let alone someone who knows they are your one chance to work with this particular publisher or publication. 

However, what you include in your bio does not need to come across as showy or arrogant. When writing your author bio, simply include the highlights of why you are credible to write on your chosen topic and what you bring to the table. 

#3 – Greeting And Closing 

While beginning your query letter may feel like the easiest part, how you introduce yourself greatly matters. If at all possible, address a person individually and avoid using “to whom it may concern.” 

Keep this mindset when closing your letter as well. Be polite, professional, and cognizant of their time. Once you have concisely included the few points necessary, thank them for their time and close your letter in a timely fashion. 

When Do You Need To Write One?

Next, let’s break down three of the main audiences you may need to send a query letter to.

#1 – Literary Agent 

If you want to traditionally publish your book, you will likely need a literary agent to represent you to publishers. Professional literary agents do not charge upfront, rather, they take a percentage of your earnings (often 15%) after you sign your first contract. 

Because of this, a literary agent needs to believe in you, your writing, and your potential to secure a book deal. The confidence they place in you starts with your query letter. In order to write a great query for a potential agent, you traditionally must:

  • Create a compelling elevator pitch
  • Synopsise your book a precise manner
  • Showcase your credentials in a professional way
  • Be concise

Query letters are short, precise, and pack a punch. Keep this in mind as your write your first draft!

#2 – Acquisitions Editor/Publisher 

On occasion, you may be invited to directly query an acquisitions editor (the editor who acquires manuscripts at a publishing house) or the publisher directly. If you obtain an invite, choose every word carefully. 

This is the editor or publisher’s first impression of you and your writing, so make every sentence count. Typos or redundancies do not belong in your writing, and most certainly do not belong in your query letter.

#3 – Magazine

Maybe you want to pitch an article idea to a well-known magazine or online publication. If this is a goal for you, your query letter is the biggest leverage you have in making your dream come true. Magazine editors receive so many queries that yours must stand out in several ways:

  • Uniqueness of your idea 
  • Well-crafted text
  • Personal bio

The more credentials you have and the stronger your idea, the higher likelihood you have of securing a hard-earned yes!

Examples Of Query Letters

Concrete examples give you a template to work from when writing your own query letter. Jane Friedman recommends following four points when submitting a query. 

  • The genre, category, word count, title and subtitle of your book
  • The hook, description, or elevator pitch 
  • Your author bio as it relates to your project 
  • Thank you and closing

Look at the following example as a general idea to follow when writing your next query:

Dear [NAME],
At the recent [NAME OF WRITING CONFERENCE], you looked at my work and encouraged me to send my query.
[TITLE] is a [GENRE] of [WORD COUNT] and tells the story of [BRIEF DESCRIPTION]
My work in [OCCUPATION] inspired me to write this book. [CREDENTIALS]
Thank you,

You can follow this template and rearrange it for various types of query letters. For instance, if you want to query an article idea for a magazine, you could follow this type of format

Dear [NAME],
My name is [NAME] and my research in [FIELD OF STUDY] inspired an article I believe your readership would resonate with. [CREDENTIALS]
Thank you,

Now that you’ve seen a few professional examples, let’s take a quick look at an example of what not to do

Hey there [NAME],
I love writing and my family loves the books I’ve written. My book [TITLE] is a perfect fit for your company.
[TITLE] is a [GENRE] of [WORD COUNT] and tells the story of [DETAILED DESCRIPTION].
All my friends have read it and said it should be a movie and as soon as you read the first chapter you’ll see why. 
I can’t wait to hear from you!

The above is an exaggerated example of what not to do. Now, let's take an action step!

Begin Writing Your Query Letter Today

Query letters are an important aspect of the writing process, and even if you never need to send one, are a great exercise to distill your idea and showcase to yourself why you are credible. 

Whether your idea is fully created or not, try writing a sample query. You’ll be surprised how much it helps you! We’re rooting for your success and can’t wait to hear how your queries turn out! 

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