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Fiction Query Letters

You’ve just spent the better part of a year writing and revising a 400-page manuscript and now you’re being asked to present the story and yourself in 250-words or less. Writing a query letter that catches my eye (or any agent’s eye for that matter) is a difficult task.

The format for a query letter is the same for standard business letters. The letter is single-spaced in a legible font and is printed on white or cream 20 lb. paper. If you are not using letterhead, make certain that you include your return address along with a telephone number and an email address.

A common error I see in query letters is the misspelling of my last name. I receive many query letters each day. If my name is spelled incorrectly on the envelope and on the inside address I automatically discount whatever the writer has written. Make sure that you spell my name or any editor’s or agent’s name correctly. And don’t address your letter to “Dear Agent,” or “To Whom it May Concern.”

Open the letter by letting me know what kind of book you have written, for example a 100,000 word contemporary romance or a 75,000 word Silhouette Intimate Moments. If you write that you’ve written a 50,000 word single-title romance or a 100,000 word Harlequin American you have just told me that you do not know your markets and I stop reading the letter. I also stop reading if you have written a book for a genre I do not represent. After you’ve told me the type of book you’ve written give me a one sentence description of your book, a.k.a., your hook.

Follow with a brief summary of your book, one or two paragraphs at most. Provide me with a quick glimpse of your main characters; the basic gist of the plot; the source of the internal and external conflicts the main characters will overcome and the plot’s resolution.

Make sure to tell me something about yourself, but only something that is relevant to the writing and subsequent sale of your book. If your heroine grows prize winning roses it makes sense to let me know that you’re an avid gardener. It doesn’t make sense to let me know that you live with your husband, three kids, two dogs and a turtle. Nor do I need to know that you’ve wanted to be a writer since your third grade poem was published in your town’s weekly paper. If you are an RWA member, if this manuscript has won or placed in contests, if you’ve worked with a professional editor, or if you have sold a book prior to this – these are all things that do belong in your query letter.

End your letter by asking if you may send a partial or the complete manuscript and do not forget to enclose a #10 SASE for my response. Unless I am out of the office on business or vacation you should hear back from me within two weeks. If you do not include the SASE you will not hear back from me at all.