Query Letter Basics by guest blogger Melody Steiner

The first queries I mailed were pitiful. I tried to pack in every detail I could about my novel, detailed my plethora of writing experience including self-published poetry and college essays, and expounded on how I knew my novel would become a best-seller. All are serious no-nos in the publishing industry—but I didn’t know it at the time.

If I could go back now and tell my greener self how to make a positive impression, I’d give myself these few nuggets of advice:

1)    Keep it brief. A query is not the place to write a summary or a synopsis of your book. You want to focus on your book’s highlights in a short paragraph or two.

2)    Keep it blockbuster. Mention the Big Idea behind your book. What makes your story different from countless others out there? Why would anybody want to read it? Also, don’t focus so much on plot that you forget to talk about the emotional stakes for your character. That’s what will keep your audience invested in your book.

3)    Keep it befitting the particular organization. On the agent and editor blogs I follow, I read countless articles about how so many queries get tossed into the slush pile because the writer didn’t bother to read the basic manuscript guidelines on their website. Writers who submit romance novels to publishers who only accept historical novels are only shooting themselves in the foot and wasting valuable time. So read up on the places where you send your query. Follow the agent or editor on Twitter to get a better sense of what he/she likes to see in their queries (but do NOT pitch to anybody on Twitter…that’s also a huge no-no). Check out the guidelines on the website. Read agent interviews or review the recently published material they represent.

In some ways, query letters are every bit as important as your manuscript itself, so give it the time and research needed to stand out. Ask friends to critique your query. Would it make them want to read your book? Even more important, would it make them want to work with you? Because, the way I see it, query letters are the “cover letters” of the writing career industry.

– Melody

Melody Steiner works at an academic library as a circulation technician. In 2006, she graduated from a small private college in Ohio with a Bachelors of Arts in English. After she met and married her husband, they relocated to Seattle, WA. In March, 2011, she graduated from the University of Washington with a Master in Library and Information Science, aspiring to becoming a full-time librarian. Her hobbies include reading the latest YA series (recent favorites include Patrick Ness’ The Knife of Never Letting Go and Paoli Bacigalupi’s Shipbreaker), camping, and enjoying long walks with her best friend. Last November, they had their first little peanut—a rambunctious baby girl. In addition to adult science fiction, she writes fantasy and YA novels. She is represented by Nicole Resciniti of The Seymour Agency. You can find her at http://twitter.com/melody_steiner.

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