Query Dos and Don’ts by Lois Winston

As I mentioned yesterday, Tuesdays will be Tip Tuesdays! Every Tuesday, look for tips on writing, cooking or whatever else may strike my fancy or yours. Have something you’d like to see? Maybe a tip about websites or other things? Feel free to let me know.

For today, a special blog for my Edison B&N Writing Group who is sweating the query letter (don’t we all?) Thanks to my friend and fellow author — Lois Winston — for contributing these tips.

Query Letter Dos and Don’ts
By Lois Winston

Do write a query letter about the book.

Do include information which will pique the editor/agent’s interest about the specific work you are asking them to read.

Don’t fill the query letter with all sorts of biographical facts about yourself and not enough about your book.

Do include any information about yourself that would show your expertise in the field you’re writing about.

Do keep your query letter to one page.

Do tighten the query until it squeaks.

Don’t tell the editor/agent how wonderful your book is or that your great-aunt Mabel thinks it will be a bestseller.

Do make sure you include ALL necessary information.

Do keep your query in the form of a standard business letter: letterhead, date, recipient’s address, salutation, body of letter, closing and signature.

Do make sure the letterhead includes your name, address, telephone, email, and website (if you have one). Email queries should contain ALL of the same information although the letterhead information generally comes at the end of the email instead of at the beginning.

Do keep the query letter professional and business-like.

Don’t write to the agent/editor as if he/she is your best friend.

Do send as much material as the guidelines allow.

Do include the first two or three pages of the manuscript, even if not mentioned in the guidelines.

Do carefully compose the query.

Don’t use run-on sentences.

Do check for grammatical errors.

Do proofread for spelling errors and typos.

Do begin your query with a hook or attention-grabbing sentence.

Do include the title, genre/subgenre, and word count.

Do state any information about your previous experience with the agent/editor (if any,) such as previous requests and/or meetings (even casual ones) or referrals from another author who works with that editor/agent, whether they judged one of your contest entries, etc.

Don’t comparing your writing to an author the editor/agent already handles. Why would they want you when they already have her?

Do give a short plot summary, including “high concept.”

Do state where and when the book is set.

Do tell who the main characters are.

Do try to echo your writing voice in your query.

Do state if the book is first in a planned series and mention your plans for the other books in the series, but emphasize that the book has a satisfying ending and would work as a stand-alone.

Do mention what else you’re currently working on.

Do include a very brief summary of other completed manuscripts.

Do include if you have a “platform” or built-in audience for your book.

Don’t mention contest wins or writing awards unless they’re major ones.

Don’t mention contests that you’ve finaled in but haven’t won unless it’s a prestigious contest like RWA’s Golden Heart or St. Martin’s Press Malice Domestic.

Do mention if you’re an RWA member or the member of any other major writing organizations.

Don’t list all the chapters you belong to.

Don’t mention your “day” job or educational degrees unless they have bearing on your writing.

Do end your letter with a brief, professional, courteous closing.

I hope this helps all of you! If you have any questions about query letters or any other submission questions, just leave a comment and I will attempt to answer it as best as I can.

4 thoughts on “Query Dos and Don’ts by Lois Winston”

  1. Thanks Lois and Caridad!

    this was REALLY helpful.

    I finished my first query and I am going to polish it now until it shines.

    See you all next month!

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