The Editor's cCorner

Tips for an Outstanding Query Letter

 

When it comes to writing an outstanding query letter, details matter. As editor in chief of DLA Editors & Proofers for the past 10 years , I have seen firsthand how authors with great manuscripts and marketing potential fall flat when writing their query letters. Their first mistake? Not completing their manuscripts. Their second mistake? Not ensuring they’ve nailed every detail before querying an agent, producer or publisher.

 

I will cover the details that will help you achieve an outstanding query letter. After you’ve covered the basics, sign up for our Query Letter Editing & Feedback service, as well as our editing and feedback services for your screenplay, nonfiction book or novel, so we can help you get your foot in the door—and keep it there.

 

Step 1: Take a Formal Approach to the Query Letter

 

First, check whether the agent, producer or publisher has any particular guidelines for you to follow. If they do, then follow them, even if they differ than what I describe here.

 

Take a business letter approach to the layout of your query letter. This applies no matter whether you are sending your query letter by mail, email or copy-and-paste to an online form.

 

Step 2: Your Contact Information and Date of the Query Letter

 

Start the query letter by putting your contact information. Put your name, street address, and city, state and zip code. On the next line, put your phone number, then on the next line, put your email address.

 

Skip a line and put the date you are sending the query letter.

 

Right:

 

David Lombardino
1700 Post Oak Blvd
2 Blvd Place, Suite 600
Houston, TX 77056
832-426-3455
email@dlaeditors.com

 

April 12, 2018

 

Step 3: Recipient’s Name or Title, and Address and Delivery Method

 

Skip a line and put the name and address of the query letter recipient. At a minimum, this will be the name of the agency, publisher or producer to whom you are sending your query letter. Make every effort to know the name of the individual at the agency, publisher or producer who will receive your query letter, or at least the title of the person, and put that on an attention line after the agency’s, publisher’s or production company’s name. Do not use a salutation like Mr., Ms. or Mrs. here. That will come later.

 

Fill in the rest of the recipient’s address block (i.e., street address, city, state and zip code).

 

Skip a line. If you are sending your query letter by email or online form, put “Via: Email delivery” or “Via: Online delivery.” If you are sending your letter by snail (regular) mail, then do not put the delivery method unless you are sending your query letter by certified mail, which I do not recommend unless you have been specifically requested to do so, as that would raise a red flag for your query letter.

 

Right:

 

DLA Editors & Proofers
Attn: David Lombardino
1700 Post Oak Blvd
2 Blvd Place, Suite 600
Houston, TX 77056

 

Via: Email delivery

 

Or, if you have to:

 

DLA Editors & Proofers
Attn: Editor in Chief
1700 Post Oak Blvd
2 Blvd Place, Suite 600
Houston, TX 77056

 

Via: Email delivery

 

Step 4: The Salutation (or Greeting)

 

Skip a line, and put Dear Mr./Ms. Last Name followed by a colon. Do not put Mrs. unless you are sure that is the recipient’s preference. When in doubt, use Ms. A colon is the correct punctuation for a formal letter.

 

Right:

 

Dear Mr. Lombardino:

 

Or, if you have to:

 

Dear Editor in Chief:

 

Step 5: Formatting of the Body Paragraphs

 

Flush the body paragraphs of your query letter completely against the left-hand margin. Do not indent the first line, and skip a line between paragraphs. Do not fully justify your paragraphs.

 

The paragraphs in this article are laid out as they should be in your query letter.

 

Step 6: The Introduction

 

In the introduction to your query letter, include the title, genre (e.g., fiction, screenplay), intended audience, word count and whether the manuscript is complete (which, of course, it should be). Be specific about the intended audience. You can mention that it is your first manuscript if that is true.

 

Optionally, include your biographical and marketing information in the introduction to your query letter. See the next section for more on including biographical and marketing information in your query letter.

 

Step 7: Biographical and Marketing Information

 

You should include biographical information in your query letter, but only if it is relevant to your manuscript.

 

For marketing information, provide any relevant information in your query letter that shows you have a built-in market, for example that you are a regular guest speaker or write a blog with a readership of 5,000. Also mention in your query letter if you have had previous works published or produced, along with any relevant awards you or your works have received.

 

If your biographical and/or marketing information is short (e.g., total of one sentence) you can include it in the introduction. Alternatively, you can put it in the conclusion to your query letter. If it is longer than one sentence, you can put it as its own paragraph prior to the conclusion paragraph.

 

See more on the conclusion to your query letter later in this article.

 

Step 8: The Body

 

The body of the query letter should be one to two paragraphs providing a complete understanding of the key characters and plot points of your manuscript. Provide only the key information in your query letter, but also enough information to provide a complete understanding of your main characters and plot points, including a short, compelling description of each character. Do not leave out the conclusion of your manuscript in your query letter.

 

Write the body paragraphs of your query letter in the same writing style as you used for your manuscript, or at least in accordance with your personality.

 

Step 9: The Conclusion

 

All that needs to be in the conclusion of your query letter is: “Thank you for your time and consideration.”

 

Step 10: The Complimentary Close and Signature Line

 

Close the letter with Regards or Sincerely followed by a comma, then your name on the next line.

 

Right:

 

Regards,
David Lombardino

 

Or:

 

Sincerely,
David Lombardino

 

Putting It All Together

 

Putting it all together, your query letter should look something like:

 

David Lombardino
1700 Post Oak Blvd
2 Blvd Place, Suite 600
Houston, TX 77056
832-426-3455
email@dlaeditors.com

 

April 12, 2018

 

DLA Editors & Proofers
Attn: David Lombardino
1700 Post Oak Blvd
2 Blvd Place, Suite 600
Houston, TX 77056

 

Via: Email delivery

 

Dear Mr. Lombardino:

 

This is the introduction to your query letter. The introduction to your query letter can be one to two sentences.

 

This is body paragraph one of your query letter. Body paragraph one of your query letter can be several sentences. It can be longer if there is only one body paragraph, but it should be shorter if there are two body paragraphs.

 

This is the optional body paragraph two of your query letter. Using a second body paragraph in your cover letter can help the organization and readability of your query letter, but it does not automatically do so. Make a judgment call on whether to use one or two body paragraphs in your query letter.

 

This is the biographical information paragraph of your query letter. Biographical information can go in its own paragraph if it needs a couple of sentences. If it can be condensed to just a phrase or one sentence, it can be included in your query letter’s introduction paragraph.

 

This is the marketing paragraph of your query letter. Marketing information can go in its own paragraph if it needs a couple of sentences. If it can be condensed to just a phrase or one sentence, it can be included in your query letter’s introduction paragraph.

 

Thank you for your time and consideration.

 

Regards,
David Lombardino

Posted in Book Editing, Copy Editing, Novel Editing, Screenplays

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