If you want to break into the writing business, your job isn’t over when you finish your final draft. You have to keep going and write a killer query letter. This document essentially introduces your work to an editor, so the better your query letter is, the more likely it is that the editor will take a gander at the manuscript you’ve sent.
Your first job with the query letter is to make sure you’ve listed the contact information for the editor/publishing house. Always address the letter to a specific person rather than using “To Whom It May Concern” or “Editor” unless you are specifically instructed to do so in the submission guidelines. If you don’t know to whom you should address the letter, email or call the publishing house and ask. Next, include your contact information–you want the editor to be able to contact you quickly and easily if they get interested in your work. Also include subject and date lines so the editor knows right away what the purpose of the letter is and how long ago you wrote it.
The first paragraph of your query letter introduces your manuscript. It includes a “hook” or engaging line that catches the editor’s attention. Don’t shortchange the time you spend writing the hook–if you can’t catch the editor’s eye here in the first few lines, he might not keep reading. Be creative and to the point.
The second paragraph goes into a little more detail about the manuscript, summarizing some of the main plot points (think dust jacket here). Include a specific word count. Explain to the editor how the manuscript fits his publication needs and tell why it is different from the competition. This shows you’ve done some basic research into the publishing house and have an idea of why your work could sell compared to other manuscripts in the same genre.
The third paragraph of a query letter details some of your publication experience, if you have it. This gives you some credibility, which helps the editor decide whether you’re prepared for the publication process and whether the public would accept or believe what you wrote. If you don’t have any publication credits, then focus on your education or other experience that has made you an expert in writing the manuscript. For example, if you want to write a book on anatomy, you might mention you are an M.D. or have taught anatomy for x years.
The last paragraph of your query letter brings attention to the enclosures you’re sending (i.e., the manuscript, your writing resume). At the end of the paragraph, invite the editor to contact you if he is interested in your work, and reference your contact information. End with a professional closing statement such as “Sincerely” or “Thanking you in advance.”
Once you print your letter, be sure to proofread it. The letter is the first experience an editor has with you, and he won’t take you as seriously if your first correspondence already contains errors. Have a friend or family member read it over, too–you might miss something, as people have a tendency to skim over document text.
After you know your letter is perfect, get your enclosures together, sign the letter, and get it all in the mail. Now all you have to do is wait for a response!