Write Like a Pro: Your Image on Paper—The Query Letter

By Mary Andonian

If you want to make a good impression on editors every time, you’ll want to master the fine art of the query letter. The query letter is simply your pitch in print. It’s what you’d say to your editor if you had her cornered for two minutes at a writers’ conference. (But try not to do it in the bathroom. They really hate that.)

Before your salutation, you’ll address your editor in the upper left corner. If you don’t have a specific name, you’re not ready to query yet. For example, do NOT call him “Acquisitions Editor” or “Senior Editor.” Instead, go on-line to Writers Market and research the publications you’re targeting. Find out who’s buying the materials you write, and address your query to this person. Be sure to spell her name correctly.

Salutations are addressed to Mr. or Ms., never by a first name unless you know this person and have done business with him in the past.

Your opening paragraph should establish common ground. Who referred you and/or why are you writing? Name your piece in your opening. Ex: Christina Katz suggested I contact you regarding my proposed book, Sell Yourself a Writing Career: 100 Sales Strategies That Will Help You Sell your Next Book.

Your next one or two paragraphs offer important details. What is your book idea and what section would it live in at the bookstore ? Compare and contrast your books to others currently on the hit list.

Explain why you’re the best person to write your book. Describe your platform. What is your previous publication experience? How does your reading audience find you? Website? Blog? Online class or conference workshop? The editor will want to know if you are qualified, and this is the paragraph where you prove it.

Close with an offer to send more. Thank your editor for considering your query. Remember to print your contact information on your stationery, especially your e-mail address.

Finally, don’t forget the most important item in your query package, if requested in the guidelines: The SASE (self addressed, stamped envelope).

Bonus: Use the Forever stamp on your SASE so your editor won’t have to add postage after the obligatory USPS rate change in May. She’ll appreciate your efforts to make her job that much easier.

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Mary Andonian is the agents and edtiors coordinator for the Willamette Writers Conference, one of the largest writers’ conferences in the United States. In past years, she was Co-chair and Program Coordinator. She just completed her second book, Bitsy’s Labyrinth. Contact Mary at maryandonianwwconference AT yahoo.com.

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