The Do's and Don'ts of Query Letter Writing

Query Letters by author Jane Friedman's apt definition are: "To seduce the agent or editor into reading or requesting your work. The query is so much of a sales piece that you should be able to write it without having written a single word of the manuscript."

Before sending your query letter, do your due diligence and research and then come back here to refer to some of the do's and don'ts of writing these letters as posted below:

  • DO use the publisher/agent's name. Being too formal and generic with your greetings can be misconstrued as spam and it shows you've done very little to research.
  • DON'T use incorrect grammar or spelling (obviously) because this is a professional letter, not a message to your friend about what happened after the party you attended the night before. 
  • DO use concise sentences. Use punctuation and double check your spelling. Limit your query to three paragraphs.
  • DON'T send a blank email message with just an attachment file and nothing written. This will be deleted by the agent faster than you clicked send.  
  • DO tell a publisher if you have a fans/ followers with some of your work. Having an audience will help sell your work.
  • DON'T forget to check their guidelines. Publishers are all different for the most part. Make sure you read the fine print. 
  • DO make sure you send exactly what they ask for, in the proper format they require. Asking for the first chapter means exactly how it sounds, not the full manuscript. Do more or less and you risk losing your manuscript in the trash compactor.
  • DON'T mention works you've accomplished that aren't relevant to your current manuscript. Publishing a review about a shoe on a sneaker website isn't the same as winning the contest for best short fiction fantasy
  • DO mention why you've chosen said publisher/agent. If they've represented a book in the past that has a genre similar to yours, let them know! 

Finally, realize that although you may be a wonderful writer, luck and quality of your work is subjective and often times even the best manuscripts are tossed like last night's salad. So if things don't work out the first time, jump back on that pony and continue riding until you find success!