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Write Time Inc.

The Query Letter

The following style guide is specific to the writing and submission of a


successful formal query letter. By way of definition, a query letter is:

“…a formal letter sent to magazine editors, literary agents


and sometimes publishing houses or companies. Writers
write query letters to propose writing ideas.”
--Wikipedia.com

If you are writing a query letter you have only two choices: Join the
masses of unsolicited unread and unpublished submissions -or- write a
formal query letter that commands and imparts attention, respect, and
confidence.

A successful query letter is the essential step to launching a writing


career. If those who publish even so much as actually read your letter,
your foot is in the door. If you carry them, through your excitement
and word control, to the title page of your manuscript whether by way
of nagging curiosity, unbridled absorption, or even nonchalant duty-
you have what I call ‘the Chance’. So, let’s don’t mess up what may be
the difference between industry regard and the endless spinning of
your wheels.

The letter is actually your own personal voice, and should be as warm
and outgoing as you wish to be addressed. The easy style is to match
the tone of the letter with that of the piece you are writing. Always with
proper regard for the person who can make or break your career,
bearing in mind that it is your first impression. It should be constructed
with the same particular, critical taste that you have seared all of your
writings…

Though there are standards and formats which must be adhered to,
there is much freedom and personality in the character and content of
you personal query letter. By following this style guide, you will
simultaneously learn to write a solid formal query letter and familiarize
yourself with the Write Time Inc. formula for submission success. The
steps outlined below will generate a successful letter, but your
personalization of the letter will ultimately be what wins you a chance
at publication. Relax, read through the steps then write draft based on
what stands out to you. Then, after proofreading the draft, compare it
again with this style guide and you will find the shape and texture of a

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strong query letter are slowly becoming as personal to you as your
writing—which you know is solid.

Consider the following as a formal writing assignment, do your


research and begin to formulate the voice of persuasion that you have
used all along in writing the pieces that have built you the confidence
upon which you stand today—the of a writer who will not wait, but is
determined to be heard, and published. There are a thousand ways to
succeed, and but one way to fail—inaction.

I. Know your target


• Study any publication before you submit a query letter.
• Get writer’s guidelines (style guide) for the publication if they are
available.

II. Professional Look


• A query letter is a single page cover letter, introducing you and
your book.
• There should be no spelling or grammar errors.
• Be sure to include the date on your letter. This can be important
if you feel later on that your idea has been stolen.
• It should be addressed to the appropriate editor. Use their full
name and do not use Mr. Mrs. or otherwise. The exception to this
rule is Dr. or other professional title.
• The publication name and address should be correct.
• The salutation should be formal.
• If mailed, the paper and the letterhead should be clean and
professional. Standard 8 1/2 x 11 inch paper should be used.
• Single-space your paragraphs and double-space between
paragraphs.
• If mailed, the Query should include Self Addressed Stamped
Envelope (SASE) so that the editor can return your article or
reply to you conveniently.
• Include your name, postal address, email address and phone
number in the letterhead or at the bottom of the letter.

• A decent letterhead. At the very least, your name and address


and other contact information should be printed at the top of

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your letter (not at the bottom or under your signature) in an
attractive font. You can have an inexpensive letterhead designed
and typeset at your local printing shop, or online through
iPrint.com. Or, design your own on your computer.

• A formal salutation. Don't address the editor by first name


unless you know him/her personally.

• Clean, proofread copy. Don't rely on your spellchecker; review


your query yourself before mailing it out.

• Quality paper. Use at least 20-lb. bond paper for queries. Some
writers like to use fancier papers -- parchment, linen, etc. -- on
the theory that a nicer paper with a professional tint will stand
out amidst all the white paper on an editor's desk. Don't go to
"colors" however -- pink paper and blue type scream for
rejection.

III. Interesting
• Your query should introduce a fresh idea/topic/angle.
• The idea should be set off in the type so it is easily viewed.
• Your idea should be presented at the very beginning of your
letter.
• Your lead-in should excite the editor.

IV. Specific
• Keep your query letter to a single page in length.
• Lay out exactly what you intend to include and exclude from
your article.
• Give a proposed article length. Round to the nearest 100 for
under 2000 words and to nearest 500 for articles over that
length. The length should be appropriate for that publication.
• Identify which section of the publication you believe your article
fits within.

V. Persuasive

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• Include writing samples that are appropriate to the publication,
article topic, and writing style you believe the publication is
looking for.
• Present any credentials or awards you have that show you are
qualified to write, especially about this subject.
• Identify other similar publications that have published your work.
• Identify any sources you have that you feel would help persuade
the editor.
• Your article should show why you are the best and only person to
write this article for them.
• Close your letter with a phrase such as: “I look forward to
hearing from you. Please write or call if you have any questions.”

VI. Credentials
• Professional experience (some publications accept material only
from qualified experts)
• Academic degrees or training
• Teaching experience in the subject area
• Personal experience (especially if the article relates to personal
issues/problems)
• Writing experience

VII. Do Not (Troubleshooting Guide)


• Do not mention who has rejected the piece before.
• Do not include other people’s statements about your article.
• Do not tell the editor how long and hard you have been working
on this article.
• Do not mention the assistance of others.
• Do not tell them that the piece still needs work.
• Do not request advice, comments, criticism or analysis.
• Do not talk about how thrilling it would be to be published.
• Do not include inappropriate or off-subject information about
yourself.
• Do not discuss the rights you wish to sell.
• Do not discuss price or payment.

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• Do not give your social security number.
• Do not give or discuss copyright information.
• Do not wear out your welcome by writing too much or failing to
get to the point.
• Do not query without studying the publication enough to know
whether your idea is appropriate.
• Do not waste your time querying an unreceptive editor over and
over again.
• Do not present ideas for several different articles in the same
letter. This can be done once you have established a rapport with
an editor, but should not be done in a blind query.
• Do not use obscenities or inappropriate content.
• Do not send inappropriate, off-subject samples.
• Do NOT start off your query by saying, "I am querying you
because I found your name in 'such and such' writing guide or
internet agent database" (like AQ!). Not only does this take up
valuable query letter space, but it's also the sign of an amateur.
• Do NOT refer to your novel as a fictional novel. That’s redundant.
Just call it a novel.
• Do NOT sing the praises of your book or compare it with other
best selling books.
• Do NOT send gifts or other bribes with your query.
• Do NOT print your query on perfumed or colored paper. Use plain
business stationery.
• Do NOT shrink your font down to 9 point so it all fits on one page.
12 point is standard. 11 point if you’re really desperate.
• Do NOT Fedex or mail your query in a lavish, signature-required
fashion in order to make your query stand out. It will stand out,
but in a very "annoying, over-zealous, bad first impression" kind
of way. Not to mention, it's a friggin' waste of money.
• Do NOT apologize in your query for being a newbie writer with
zero publishing credits and experience.
• Do NOT include sample chapters of your novel with your query
UNLESS an agent's submission guidelines specifically SAY to
include sample pages with your snail mail query. Never send
more than the first 5 pages with your query unless the guidelines
say.
• Do NOT forget to list your email address or contact phone
number on your query.
• Do NOT forget to enclose a self-addressed stamped envelope
(SASE).