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A well-written query letter is your best first impression to an agent or editor. It is more than just the ‘cover letter’ to your submission, it can be your ‘foot in the door’ to getting published. However, a good or even great query letter is not going to guarantee publication, but it goes a long way toward your book being noticed and remembered and that can sometimes make all the difference.
The best query letter I’ve ever received came from Elliot Baker for his novel, The Sun God’s Heir. Elliot has given me permission to share his query letter with you, so I want to discuss what makes it so great, so you can have an idea what an editor or publisher is looking for.
Dear Ms. Dowsett and Ms. Damodred,
(Even in the opening line, the author is showing that he has done his research and knows whom he is addressing +10 points.)
It was a pleasant surprise to read your request coming on the heels of my former publisher’s unfortunate demise. Thank you for reaching out.
(Here the author mentions how he/she came across this opportunity. Something like this or really anything that creates a possible link the author has to the publisher will help to form an immediate connection in the publisher’s mind and therefore make that author, or his book, stand out. +10 points.)
I am seeking a new home for The Sun God’s Heir.
(Direct and to the point. +10 points)
an epic metaphysical adventure with historical underpinnings
(He tells us what it is, the genre and possible target audience. Lets us know immediately if it is something we would be interested in. And, it is. +10 points.)
complete at 105,000 words.
(This information is actually important. Crucial, even. It tells us how big of a project this is. Whether it’s a short story, a novella or a full-length novel. In our case, we only publish full-length novels of 50,000+words, but might balk if it was 200,000+words as we don’t have the time and man-power to dedicate to a project that size. No points awarded for this, it should just be included, every time.)
A possible well-worn comp would be Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series.
(Negative 1 point for shortening the word ‘comparison’. This is a novel he is pitching and he is a writer, so we expect to see full words used. However, I like the comparison. You can’t go wrong with comparing yourself to a well-loved and undisputedly well-written novel series. Not necessary, but it helps us to understand again the style and genre of your book as well as a possible target audience for it. )
I have completed the second book in the series along with ninety-thousand words of the third.
(Ok. It’s a series, not a stand-alone. +10 points that he is pitching the first in the series and not all three. Obviously if we like the first enough to pick it up, we will probably end up publishing the series, but this way we only have to look at one book at a time. That being said, it’s nice to know in advance that there will be more to come. It’s good to be upfront about things like that. It lets the publisher make an informed decision and know what they are getting into should they choose to go forward.)
In 17th-century France, a young pacifist kills to protect the woman he loves, unwittingly opening a door for the reincarnation of an ancient Egyptian general determined to continue a reign of terror begun three thousand years ago.
(A concise synopsis that captures the imagination and also manages to show a hint of the author’s style at the same time. Excellent +20 points.)
Taking up the sword will not be enough. Rene must reclaim his own ancient past to stop the red tide of slavery from engulfing the world.
Joined by a powerful sheikh, his sword wielding daughter, and a family of Maranos escaping the Spanish Inquisition, they fight their way through pirates, typhoons, and dark assassins to reach Morocco, the home of an occult sect that has waited for Rene through the eons.
(A little more information now that we’re drawn in can’t hurt. He tells us what’s at stake, what we can expect, and again hints at genre and target audience.)
Published in July of 2014, I was pleased with the review response the work received on Amazon and elsewhere. http://tinyurl.com/12345
(Both mentions the author’s history as well as how the book has been received so far by people who have read it, but doesn’t dwell on the details. He also helpfully provides a link should we wish to research it further ourselves. +10 points)
I understand that everything is up for change in a re-publication, but I have acquired the images on the current cover anyway.
(Shows the author is both flexible and helpful and understands the publishing business. +10 points. Since authors and publishers are essentially entering into a business partnership, these qualities are important and it’s nice to see them as early as the query letter.)
Attached please find the first three chapters and a brief synopsis. Thank you for your time. I look forward to hearing from you.
(This shows the author read the submission guidelines and has followed them. He is also again polite and subtly requesting a response from us. +10 points)
So that’s… a lot of points, but the count isn’t what’s important and neither is following a template. What you need to do is be yourself, use your own writing style and hit all the highlights. You’re a writer. Let your writer’s ‘voice’ speak for you. If a publisher likes your style of writing and its present right from the query letter, that publisher or editor will be that much more inclined to like the rest of your work also. When it comes down to it, a query letter is basically just a first impression, so make it count!
Address the person you are speaking to.
- Create a connection.
- Be direct and concise.
- State your genre, target audience, and wordcount.
- Include a brief synopsis to ‘hook’ your reader
- Mention your author history or credentials
- Be polite, show your style, and most importantly FOLLOW THE GUIDELINES!