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Okay, writers—strap on your safety goggles and break out your sharpest red pencil. It’s time for dissection class, and pinned on your lab tray today is…a query letter! (Trust us, you don’t want to know where we got it from. Mwa-ha-ha!) The query letter doctors at Writer’s Relief are getting elbow-deep in the guts of a query to explore what makes it tick. Let’s dig in!
The Anatomy Of A Query Letter
The salutation. The salutation line of a query is like a friendly smile—or a creepy leer, if you bungle the etiquette. If possible, rather than using the generic “Dear Agent,” find out the actual name of the person to whom the query letter should be addressed. And these days, the best salutations don’t make assumptions about gender identity. Instead of “Dear Mr. Smith,” modern etiquette favors “Dear First Name & Last Name.” An offensive salutation is one of our 9 query mistakes that could lead to instant rejection.
Please consider my 100,000-word weird menace novel, The Thing From Hyde Swamp. It’s a campy, spine-tingling throwback to 1950s sci-fi pulp, with a modern twist.
The first line. A query letter’s opening line is the brain of a query letter—just the facts please! In the specimen above, the author gets it right: word count, genre, and title right up in the prefrontal cortex. Then, the author throws in a little more info to clarify that while the book echoes 1950s horror pulp, it does so with fresh, modern sensibility.
Mr. Cary Rockheart Devereaux is a jaded private eye who has seen the worst of humanity on the seedy, booze-scented streets of New Orleans. But when whole boatloads of tourists begin to go missing on the bayou, the city calls him in for a discreet investigation. His first stop lands him locked in the basement of an illegal bordello….
Summary. Your summary is the blood-pumping heart of your query. And with any luck, it makes literary agents’ hearts beat a little faster when they read it. A good summary hooks readers with fascinating, human stories (or, in some cases, nonhuman stories). It grabs readers by the jugular and doesn’t let go—with great characters, larger-than-life plots and storylines, and tantalizing cliffhanger endings. Learn more about how to write an emotional, evocative summary for a query.
I’ve been published with Names of Horror Genre Literary Journals, and won an honorable mention in a contest from Another Literary Magazine. I am a member of Mystery Writers of America and have attended numerous local conferences. When I’m not writing, I am an actor at a local haunted house—and I also volunteer as a creative writing club coordinator at the school where I am an English teacher (without the horror makeup, of course!).
Your author bio. A query’s list of publishing credits is a kind of DNA code—full of hidden information and instructions. It tells agents the inside scoop about a writer’s makeup: it shows that a writer has the, um, guts to go the distance at a professional level. A little personal info in an author bio can hint at potential agent-writer chemistry. Whether you’re a multi-published author or just starting out, here’s how your query DNA can look great in its genes.
I would love to send you all or part of the manuscript upon request. I genuinely thank you for your consideration and hope we can connect.
Famous last words. The final words of a query should offer heartfelt thanks—as opposed to form letter gratitude.
The Secret Of Mastering A Professional Tone And Style
Now that we’ve dissected the basic parts of a query letter, take one last look at the letter as a whole. An effective query letter leaves readers with a sense that the writer has confidence in his/her future in the publishing industry. Want to know how you avoid grave mistakes and make sure your query is dead on? Check out these query letter tips!
Question: What scares you most about submitting a query to a literary agent?