Editors know what they are looking for in a query letter. This guide follows the teaching of Noah Lukeman, editor, novelist, literary agent and teacher at Writer’s University. Ten thousand queries cross his desk every year.
The query letter has but one function - to make the editor want to read more.
Do not address your letter with Dear Editor, To Whom it May Concern, or Dear Agent, or it will be trashed immediately. Always call the magazine to verify the name and spelling of the editor.
Improper formatting, colored paper or print, exclamations, bold print, underlining, cursive script, large font, etc., will be tossed immediately. If you must emphasize, use italics.
Use white or off-white good, quality paper measuring 8 ½” by 11”. Invest in good, personalized stationary with contact information in the header or footer. Include your phone number and email.
Use plain black ink and a laser or high quality inkjet. The print should be 12-point font, such as Times or Garamond.
Leave ample one-inch margins all around. Do not use justified margins. Single space, indent paragraphs and double space between paragraphs. If you are pitching a book, use all caps for the title.
Your first paragraph should consist of one or two sentences. That is your hook. The next sentence or two should describe the plot and summary. Just answer the question, “What is my story about?” If you have statistics or demographics, use them here. The last sentence or two should be your biography. Use your credits here, if you have any major credits.
Three to six sentences must suffice. You may use a simple closing, such as: “Thank you for your consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.” Nothing more. Your grand total should not exceed eight sentences for an article, story or essay. For a book, no more than three sentences to three paragraphs, and a brief closing, with no spaces between paragraphs.
Do not use the names of characters. Refer to them as the “main character" or “the antagonist,” “the protagonist” or “the narrator.”
Do not mention subplots, quote your own work or try anything "cutesy".
Do not mention minor publications, minor awards or endorsements from unknown authors.
Do not say:
1. "I've never read your magazine, but... "
2. "My aunt loved this story... "
3. "You will be glad... "
4. "I don't have any writing credits, but... "
5. "I hope you like my story... "
6. "If you don't buy my story, someone else will."
1. Show the time period your story is written in.
2. Be specific.
3. Tell the location.
4. If climate plays a large part, mention the climate.
5. Could you say you are writing in the tradition of Thomas Wolfe or some other author? Then say that.
6. Can you accurately compare your story with another well known work?
7. If your life experience is relative to your story, mention it briefly.
8. Be humble.
Your last paragraph will be your biography. If you have no credits, leave them out. Be sure you include a SASE (self-addressed, stamped envelope).
If you really want to get the editor’s attention, Fed-Ex your story. Fed-exed stories go to the top of the editor's pile.
Expect rejections. Mr. Lukeman says he gets up to 10 rejections every day, but he has written 200 books. It is the persistence that counts.