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Answering Queries About Query Letters

New writers often ask, “Why are query letters important?” or “I want a publisher to read my work, but what is the point of writing a query letter?” A query letter is that doorstop that will get a writer’s foot in the door of a publishing company or with a literary agent. This article talks about pitfalls new writers have when writing a query letter, why a query letter is important, and why some publishers do not accept query letters.

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The question asked is, “what is a query letter?” Wendy Burt-Thomas, the author of “The Writer’s Digest Guide To Query Letters,” explains “This is a one-page letter used to get an editor or agent interested in the work you’d like to send him.” It is a writer’s sales pitch that will convince the editor to read a writer’s manuscript. Burt-Thomas explains that editors, publishers, and agents don’t have time to read a document thoroughly. They want the “Cliff Notes version of your idea so they can see if it’s a good fit.”

After a writer finishes his/her first piece, it is tempting to send it to multiple publishers at once. This is one of the many problems that new writers face when it comes to the publishing process. What new writers often neglect to do is to write a personalized query letter to the editor who will be reading their manuscript. Burt-Thomas goes on to talk about that each magazine has different editors for different topics. She explains how important it is to know who the editor is for the subject that you are writing on. Betty Sargent, founder, and CEO of BookWorks, says in her “Ask the Editor” article in “Publishers Weekly” “Determine which agents are right for your book. Check the acknowledgments page in similar titles.” By submitting to editors that deal with the same genre that the writer is writing in, it will have more of a chance to be read by agents or editors.

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Burt-Thomas, writes, “The truth is, writing queries isn’t so much about doing hard work as it is about doing smart work.” By carpet-bombing the market with a “one-size-fits-all” letter, a writer runs the risk of their work put into the rejection pile (or the editor’s spam folder). MNBrian, founder of Pubtips on Reddit.com and author of Habits & Traits newsletter, explains in his article for Writer’s Digest “7 Query Letter Strategies That Don’t Work (But Many Writers Try)” “…much like finding a job, the hope is that you apply for jobs that you are qualified for, can do well, and have researched at least a little bit.” Sargent quotes Robin Straus, owner of the Robin Straus Agency in New York, by saying [she] “looks for enticing, well-crafted letters. Grammatical and spelling errors, over-the-top boasting, and generic submissions to multiple agents are instant turnoffs.”

Although writers can be self-conscious of their grammar, new writers tend to write a query letter as fast as they can and often forget to check for grammatical errors. In Writer’s Digest article “Top 10 Paths to Auto-Rejection: How NOT to Write a Query Letter,” the first reason listed for rejection is “Queries that have typos in the first sentence.”

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Another issue that new writers face is how to format their query letters. Experts agree that a query letter needs formatted in a way that makes it easy to follow. John McNally, author of “The Creative Writer’s Survival Guide: Advice from an Unrepentant Novelist, writes “Most query letters are written in three parts: the introduction; the pitch; and a mini-bio that highlights your writing and /or educational credits, or any credits that would be applicable to the book.” A query should short, and right to the point. Most successful queries are one page and include a greeting to the editor or agent that the writer is explicitly sending their work to. A brief synopsis of the story and a short biography tells the editor why a writer has the qualifications to be writing about a subject. Kate Davis, a writer for “Writing,” explains “Set up your query letter in business style, neatly typed. Address your letter to a specific editor.”

Some publishing companies believe that query letters are unnecessary and will not accept them. Tom Doherty Associates, LLC is one company that will not receive letters. On their FAQ’s webpage, it states, “Don’t send a query letter. It’s practically impossible to judge a project from a query. We’d rather see your proposal.” While this approach has the advantage of the editors reading pieces, this method also involves time that a writer cannot submit their work to other agents and publishers.

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Writing query letters can be a robust process, but it is essential in order to be considered to be ready for publication. Writers have to remember to personalize messages to editors and agents in whom will possibly be reading the manuscript. Although some publishers do not require query letters, they take time to respond and are not fond of simultaneous submissions to other publishers. That may affect how soon a writer can send their work to another publisher for consideration.

Resources for writing query letters are plentiful.

For help with writing a query letter, read Burt-Thomas’ “The Writer’s Digest Guide To Query Letters” as well as visiting Writer’s Digest website.

Sources:

“7 Query Letter Strategies That Don’t Work (But Many Writers Try).” WritersDigest.com, 30 Mar. 2018, www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/questions-and-quandaries/query-letters/query-letter-strategies-that-dont-work.

Burt-Thomas, Wendy, and Writer’s Digest Books (Firm). The Writer’s Digest Guide To Query Letters. 1st ed, Writer’s Digest Books, 2008. EBook Collection, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=565873&authtype=sso&custid=s3915890&site=eds-live&scope=site. Accessed 1 Nov. 2018.

Davis, Kate. “How to Write a Query Letter.” Writing, vol. 26, no. 2, Oct. 2003, p. 10. Literary Reference Center, EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=lfh&AN=10824443&authtype=sso&custid=s3915890&site=eds-live&scope=site. Accessed 1 Nov. 2018.

Mcnally, John. The Creative Writer’s Survival Guide : Advice from an Unrepentant Novelist. University of Iowa Press, 2010, p. 117. Edspmu, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edspmu&AN=edspmu.MUSE9781587299490.35&authtype=sso&custid=s3915890&site=eds-live&scope=site. Accessed 1 Nov. 2018.

Sargent, Betty Kelly. “Ask the Editor.” Publishers Weekly, vol. 265, no. 17, 23 Apr. 2018, pp. 48–48. Literary Reference Center, EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=lfh&AN=129237300&authtype=sso&custid=s3915890&site=eds-live&scope=site. Accessed 1 Nov. 2018.

“Top 10 Paths to Auto-Rejection: How NOT to Write a Query Letter.” WritersDigest.com, 12 Nov. 2018, www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/guide-to-literary-agents/pitching/top-10-paths-to-auto-rejection-how-not-to-write-a-query-letter.

FAQ — Tor Forge. https://us.macmillan.com/torforge/about/faq

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