Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Tuesday Tip: Query Letters

Recently I was emailing back and forth with an old friend from high school, filling him in on my writing adventures. And among the things he asked me was "Was there any trick to getting published?"

My first thought was "no" but then I thought, "Well, sort of. Define trick."

So I think I will start the first of my less-rambling blog segments, the Tuesday Tip, wherein I will share my personal experiences so far in the crazy world of writing and publishing. I hope you all will chime in with your own experiences as well!

So, query letters. The key thing with query letters is: don't give them an excuse to dismiss you out of hand.

DO YOUR RESEARCH. Find out if the person or company you are querying has query guidelines. (They are nearly guaranteed to have some form of submission guidelines, which may or may not extend to the query format they prefer.) This will usually be in with their submission guidelines on their website. Also, take some time to read up on what industry professionals are looking for in a good query. As well as looking through "Formatting & Submitting Your Manuscript", you should read agent and author blogs and websites to see what the latest industry trends are.

FOLLOW THE GUIDELINES. Seriously. Not following the guidelines doesn't make you look like someone who is a trendsetter or a free thinker or a rebel. It makes you look like someone who is either too lazy, arrogant, ignorant, or stupid to follow instructions. This does not bode well for a professional relationship. And if you send an attachment when they specifically request the text to be pasted into the body of the email, your query may very well be deleted without even being read.

INCLUDE EVERYTHING THEY ASK FOR. This means that if they ask for a query letter, a synopsis, and an author bio along with the story, don't just send a query letter and your story.

KEEP IT SIMPLE. Your query letter should be short and to the point. Don't include anything that isn't absolutely essential AND relevant. I try to keep mine to roughly half a page of letter text if I were to print it in letter format.

BE PROFESSIONAL. It doesn't matter if this is your very first query or if you are doing it on a lark. Be professional. Be courteous, be concise, be on-task, and for goodness' sake PROOFREAD AND EDIT your query!

Below is the standard format of query letter that I use for short stories.


Attached is my short story, [STORY NAME] ([WORD COUNT] words) which I hope you will consider for your upcoming anthology [ANTHOLOGY NAME]. In this story, [ONE-TO-TWO-SENTENCE SUMMARY]. This story has not been previously published.


Thank you for considering [STORY NAME]. Please let me know if there is any further assistance I can provide. I look forward to hearing from you.


Mercy Loomis

Author Bio: Mercy Loomis graduated from college one class short of an accidental certificate in Folklore. She has a BA in Psychology, but don’t hold that against her. Her favorite pastimes include practicing Urban Krav Maga, playing Rock Band, and studying ancient history. She and her husband live near Madison, Wisconsin."

I have started including the author bio in all my submissions to save time, since so many asked for one. We'll cover author bios in an upcoming Tuesday Tip.

Yes, this query is kind of boring. But you know what? The STORY is the part that's supposed to be exciting. The query lets you know (in order): the reason for the email/letter (story submission for X anthology, in this case), the pertinent information about the story (word count, what it's about, and whether it's been published before), my credentials (which aren't as important as you might think), and the fact that I can at least pretend to be a professional. There is nothing there to distract the recipient from my summary, which is hopefully good enough to get them to take a look at the story. We'll cover summaries in a future Tip too.

Is this the only way to do a query? No. Are there other things you can include? Yes. (A personal note, such as why you are submitting to this particular agent/editor/publisher, can be very effective when done well.) But this format has netted me five short story sales in less than four months, so feel free to use it as a template for your own queries if you aren't sure what to say.

For novel queries, I use a slightly longer version. Substitute "editor" for "agent" as necessary:



[NOVEL TITLE] is a [GENRE] novel that is [WORD COUNT] words long. [MENTION ANY ATTACHMENTS/INCLUSIONS IF THERE ARE ANY.] I am currently querying yourself and one other agent. [OR This is not a simultaneous query.]



Thank you for taking the time to consider representing my work. Please let me know if there is any further information I can provide. I look forward to hearing from you.


Mercy Loomis


Query guidelines vary a lot more for agents and editors, so make sure you are including everything they ask for, and nothing that they haven't. Fortunately most agents and editors seem to have very clear guidelines.

Some people prefer to start with the personal note. I prefer to start with the novel, because in my mind the novel is the important part.

Now, I haven't sold my novel yet, but I have gotten requests for a partial, which I take to mean that my novel query letter does not completely suck. Take from it what you will.


  1. Great advice! I subscribe to several literary agents' blogs and it always amazes me the obvious mistakes people make. Of course, they write to complain about these things but we all know the worst offenders aren't online reading literary agents' blogs!

  2. True enough. Hopefully they have friends who will send them links and get them hooked. ;) The gods know I've learned tons since I found a few blogs to follow.