The Query Letter: An Important Skill for Freelance Writers

The query letter is the publishing world’s equivalent to a resume. It is the means by which you introduce and sell your work to an editor or agent. It is also your one and only chance to make the right first impression.

Writing a query letter is not difficult, but it does come with specific rules of conduct. When thinking about how to write a query letter, consider these query do’s and don’ts.

Query Letter Do’s

1. Do keep your letter one page in length.
2. Do address the letter to a specific person, by name when possible.
3. Do start your query letter with a brief statement of why you are contacting them. Include the title of your story, and the genre.
4. Do include a paragraph summarizing your story.
5. Do tell the editor who your intended audience is and why you feel your story fits into their publication.
6. Do add a brief biography and writing credits or reference attached clippings.
7. Do end the letter by letting the editor know you are open to providing further information about the project.
8. Do include a formal salutation, your name, address, email address, and phone number.
9. Do stay on topic. The editor doesn’t care whether you have six cats and two children unless it is pertinent to the story you are trying to sell.
10. Do follow the submission guidelines. If the guidelines say to include a copy of the first three chapters of your novel, this means the first three chapters, not the entire novel manuscript.

Query Letter Don’ts

1. Don’t talk about money.
2. Don’t send any unnecessary enclosures. This is where it is important to have read the submission guidelines.
3. Don’t ask for a meeting, advice, or feedback. Most editors barely have time to read their mail. If they feel the urge to provide feedback or want to meet with you, they will without your request.
4. If you do not have publishing credits, don’t be afraid to say so. Make it a brief statement, and move on to the positive aspects of the project.
5. Don’t make threats. In other words, don’t tell the editor that if you don’t hear back within six weeks, you will take your story elsewhere.
6. Don’t tell the editor what other people think of your manuscript. The editor doesn’t care what you neighbor, best friend, or spouse thinks of your work. He cares about what he thinks. In other words, let the quality of your work speak for itself.
7. Don’t submit work that is not appropriate for that specific publisher. If the publisher is accepting mystery manuscripts, you are wasting everyone’s time by submitting a historical romance.
8. Don’t badger the editor for a response. Often, the submission guidelines will reference a timetable for expecting a response. If not, allow at least 4 to 6 weeks before following up with the editor. And, many editors will not respond at all unless they are interested.
9. Don’t send your manuscript or query letter by certified mail or by any means requiring a signature upon receipt. Many editors receive hundreds of pieces of mail a week and will find signing for your query letter as an unnecessary interruption. You may include a self-addressed stamped postcard with the query letter and ask that it be mailed to you upon receipt, as a means of acknowledging the editor received your work.
10. Don’t think emailing your query gives you permission to disregard any of this advice. The query letter is a formal business letter and should be treated as such. Avoid using Internet shorthand, cutesy backgrounds, or including any information that is not pertinent to the project, including attachments unless the submission guidelines specify otherwise.

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