If creating a great novel is the door that leads to getting a book on the best-seller list then writing an excellent query letter is one of the critical keys to opening that door. Sad to say, many excellent novels end up on the slush pile because the query letter didn’t open the first door. Agents and editors receive hundreds of query letters a week. They sort through them as quickly as possible, pausing only if something they read grabs their interest. How can a mystery author write a query letter that will halt h/er novel’s destination to the trashcan? Here are some guidelines:
•The query letter is a one page, single-spaced letter designed to introduce you and your book. Try to keep it between 250-350 words. 12 point font, aligned left with no paragraph indentations. Double space between each paragraph.
• Place information about your novel at the top left of your letter—Title, Genre and Word Count. Editors appreciate this because they can see at a glance if your novel fits their submission guidelines and needs.
• Put your contact information right under the book information. Include your name, address, phone number, and email address. Also add your phone number and email address after your name at the bottom of the page. If you’re sending an email query, include the word “Query” followed by the title of your book in the subject line.
• Directly under your contact information, place the full address of the agency. If you know the agent’s name even better. Use it in the address and the salutation.
• The query should consist of no more than four paragraphs. The order of these paragraphs may vary but should begin with a short 1 or 2 sentence paragraph that states why you chose this particular agent. A personal comment about the agent or agency is helpful: I met you at…, I reviewed your website and determined…., I read your blog and…
• The next paragraph dives right into the content of your novel. This will be your longest and most important paragraph. This is a mini-synopsis. You should be as specific as possible about the plot. Show your voice in this plot description. For example if your book is funny, make your plot description funny.
• The next paragraph is your writer’s biography. Only mention biographical data that relates directly to your novel. For example my novel, “Murder in a Teacup” deals with sexual harassment. So I pointed out that I presented training sessions in identifying and preventing sexual harassment.
• In the last paragraph list your marketing efforts. These days authors need to do most of their own marketing. You might say things like: To promote my book I will use my blog which has links to Twitter and Facebook. I will promote my novel through organizations like MWA, CWC and Sisters in Crime. I will work with our local Barnes & Noble to schedule book signings and arrange book signings at libraries, book clubs and writers’ conferences.
• A one-sentence closing completes your query. Something as simple as: Thank you for taking the time to consider my novel.
Now go do it.
Photo: Open Library