Jun 12, 2010

Query Letters

By Cindy R. Williams

Writing a query letter is much like becoming the Little Engine that Could. You have to see your story through clear eyes, forget the details and all the nuances and be able to create a pitch that entices an agent, editor or publisher to want to sign you. It takes a lot of "I think I can, I think I can, I think I can," to make this happen.

I’ve been researching queries for several months. Querytracker.net has some great links to help. Travel around many authors blogs and you will find tons of advice. The only sure thing is that there are many ways to write a query.

Here are a few tricks that you may find helpful:

1. Whether you are looking for an agent, an editor or a publisher, take time to do your research and make a list of those you believe would be a good fit for you. Before you write your query, research their websites and find out exactly what they are looking for. This is not a process for the weak at heart. You must do your homework. Once you have the name and what they’re looking for, then write your query to fit. You may have to write a new query for each submission. At a minimum, you will have to tweak your query so that it’s specific.  NOTE: Querytracker.net is a great place to look for agents. Writer’s Market is available online and also at most book stores and is where J.K. Rowling found her leads. It also lists gazillions of publishers –or pretty close to.
2. Create a pitch with less than 25 words.
3. Create a one sentence pitch.
4. Never ask a question. An example; “Do you believe there are aliens at the library?” If you ask a question, you give the agent/publisher an open door to say “No,” and toss your query then and there.
5. Keep it open-ended, don’t give the entire plot. Many agents I have read about lately say to read blurbs on the back of books. These are meant to entice people to buy the book, and you want your query to do the same.
6. Agents, editors and publishers like to know if you have a track record –meaning “Are you published?” If so, mention it. If not, then just include items about yourself that are relevant to what you are querying. Don’t go on about how you are a nurse when your book is about making ice cream.
7. Have people outside your normal critique group read your query and tell you what they think. Would they want to know more? Does the pitch catch them? Fresh eyes of “normal” readers can give you a real sense of what is good about your query and what is missing.

Be the Little Engine that Could. Keep telling yourself, “I think I can. I think I can. I think I can.” You will not only climb that mountain, but you will be one of the 2% or so that never gives up. If you never get up, there will come a day that you will be gliding down the other side of that mountain with a book contract and then your book in your hands. Now that’s something to smile about.


  1. My example for #1. Years ago, I wrote a faith-based youth chapter book and sent to a publisher. I thought my book fit their agenda well. With their letter saying they had accepted my book for publication, came also their catalogue. I flipped through it and saw many anti Mormon publications. Oops! It was one of the hardest and most disappointing things I ever had to do--call them and say why I wasn't going to publish with them.

    These are all great suggestions. Thanks for the post.

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  3. Cindy,
    Although I am not to query stage yet, I hope to be some day. I appreciate the information.
    Cindy, Joan what difficult decisions to make. You can both feel comfortable looking in the mirror.

  4. Hey I'm close to this stage and am loving the advice. Thanks.

  5. Joan, I applaud you for standing tall with your standards. What a great thing you did. I had an opportunity to publish in an anthology but one story was extremely violent and the other too um . . . adult. I chose not to participate. My goal is to write wholesome stories that are so greatly needed in our world.

  6. Good summary, Cindy. I, too, have been researching all of this and I can attest that QueryTracker will, indeed, make the whole process much easier. (Besides, their emails are full of great information and links.) My queries should start going out at the end of the month.


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