Thursday, June 28, 2012

What does the perfect query letter look like?

by Roseanna M. White, Editor WhiteFire Publishing



We've already examined what a really, really bad query letter looks like. So today, we're going to answer the reader question that deals with the other side--the good query letter. =) To keep it real, I'm going use as an example a query I got from one of the ladies who is now a WhiteFire author, whose project we bought after receiving this query. (Well, and after reading the manuscript, of course, LOL.)


Dear Ms. White:

Thank you for taking time to read the proposal for my Women’s Fiction novel, Jasmine. My completed manuscript contains 82,600 words.

Jasmine is a survivor. She’s lived through the abuse of her father, running away at age fourteen, living on the streets, and now she counsels at risk young women—giving them a second chance at life. But when her mother dies, can she go home again and face the past she’s forced herself to forget for the last twenty years? Or will the past she’s long forgotten take over her present once again?

Through the story, Jasmine realizes that even while she suffered at the hands of others, God never leaves or forsakes any of us. Jasmine will reach adult readers as it offers healing Biblical truths, touching on issues of abuse, abortion and reconciliation with the Lord. Readers that like Lori Copeland’s Simple Gifts, or Francine River’s Her Daughter’s Dream will enjoy Jasmine.
I won The Writer Magazine’s prompt contest in May 2010 for my short story The Gift. I have previously published a short story in The Storyteller. I am a member of Oregon Christian Writers and American Christian Fiction Writers. My blog, Faith and Fiction, has over 4000 hits and 700 followers—these numbers are increasing. I am also a regular attendee of Christian writer’s conferences. I can help promote my books via blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Grace and Faith Author’s Marketing Group, and at writers’ conferences.

I hope you enjoy reading Jasmine, and I look forward to hearing your response. Would you please send me an email confirming you have received my proposal? Thank you.


Sincerely,

April McGowan

Okay, now let's examine it point by point. 

She opens respectfully, which is always good, and knows who she's talking to--a definite plus. ;-) As it happens, I met this author at a conference and had already looked at another of her manuscripts, but she still retained a professional tone. Now, as a note, I had already agreed to read the proposal, hence that first paragraph. But for a cold-query, you can just not mention that.

Next, she gives the important stats right away: title, genre, word count. These are bread and butter to the editor. Why? Because we build lines. And while I was most definitely looking for a contemporary, I was not actively seeking, say, a children's picture book. So it's helpful to know right away what she's pitching, and whether or not I want to read more. She goes directly into a brief blurb of her book, which is both compelling and brief. Brief is good in a query--if the description goes beyond a paragraph or two, the editor will start skimming. Avoid that. ;-)

But after the official blurb, April touches on some of the issues in the story that are not easily included in a blurb, and includes a few comparables--books that are similar in genre or tone, so that I have an idea where it fits in the market.

Next the author lists her credentials--note that this doesn't have to be publishing credits, per se. Contest wins count, as does an active online following. I now know that April has a marketing machine ready to move and can get the word out about her book.

You'll also notice that she asks me to simply acknowledge receipt, so she doesn't have to worry it got gobbled by the cyber monster. This is perfectly acceptable--don't ask for a reply right away on the query itself, but I totally understand wanting to be sure it arrived safe and sound. =)

Now, not all queries are going to follow this exact format, but April's is a fine example of a what works. It's brief, to the point, compelling, and covers all the pertinent information I want to know up front.

And when it does it's job right, you might just end up with a book in your hands someday. =)

I'll be stopping by to reply to comments and questions. And if you have a question you'd like to ask for a future post, either leave a comment with it or email me at roseanna [at] roseannawhite [dot] com.

31 comments:

  1. This is exactly what I needed. Thank you.

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  2. Query Letters have always confused me. Thanks for the explanation. :)

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  3. Glad it was helpful, Princess and Hannah!

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    1. I agree, Princess and Hannah! Query letters are like one of the dark unknowns of the writing/publishing process. Thank for enlightening us, Mrs. White!

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  4. Wow, thanks for puting an actual letter in. I'm more of a visual learner then just hearing like building blocks for how to do it. Seeing is so much better.

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    1. That was my thought too, and April's made for a great example, so I was glad when she agreed that I could use it for this. =)

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    2. Me too!! It was great! You shall have to thank her for us! And it's awesome that you found another book to publish. That is excting!

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    3. 4readin, this acquisition was one of five we made in a single day, LOL. And we just made another this week, so our line is BOOMING!

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  5. Do you have any experience with fantasy type books? I guess the query letters for those would be basically the same. What if you don't have many credentials, would you just leave that part out? Thank you :D

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    1. The credentials always baffled me when I was unpublished too, Bethany. That's why I like April's example--she lists things like "I have a blog" and "I belong to these writers groups." It proves she's serious, even if the doesn't have a bestseller under her belt. (Yet, of course.) ;-)

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    2. Yes, I have that same question. What I you do not have many or any credentials? Like if you have never won a contest or have a blog or Facebook page? Do you say, "I do not have anything like a website right now, but my book is great and we can work around my non-existant credentials?"

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    3. Bethany, when I was at the conference last week listening to pitches, most of the writers were fantasy or sci-fi. After a few appointments, I noticed that I was always searching their descriptions for what was unique about their story world.

      While it's important for all writers to establish what's unique about their story, I think it's especially important for fantasy/sci-fi authors. (I say as a person who is neither an agent nor an editor.)

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    4. Well, 4readin, you can say you're active on Go Teen Writers, which proves you're learning. =) Mention what steps you HAVE taken toward being a serious writer, but don't go into what you haven't yet. That stuff can always come later.

      And Stephanie, that's a great observation. I haven't gotten a ton of spec-fic queries, but the one that caught me interest did exactly that.

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    5. Thanks for both of the answers! I'm going to be sure to do my best to make my book unique. And the thing about having a blog and all is good too. Thanks for advice!

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  6. Thank you for such an awesome post, Mrs. White! It was very imformative and extremely helpful. You are on a roll today!

    Mrs. Morrill, I am so glad you brought in other authors to Go Teen Writers! You do such wonderful things here! What would we do without you?

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  7. Thanks for another wonderful post! :) Very helpful, and the book sounds great!

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    1. You're welcome. =) And the book is awesome--a prerequisite for anything we publish, LOL.

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  8. I'm going to tuck this away for when I'm ready to query, you really simplified it & made it seem not so scary but I'm sure when I need to write a query il agonize anyways!

    Funny story, I've been working on a WIP since last fall. The best friends name is Jasmine. I had her all planned out. She Polynesian and real outgoing & spunky. I moved into a new house a couple months ago. There is this little girl who waits for the bus in the mornings, she looks like little girl Jasmine. She's really friendly & cute, but I don't know her name. She's Jasmine in my mind, which is fine until the day I go outside & say "hi jasmine" hahaha

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    1. That's too funny, Tonya!

      And yes, I'm sure you'll still agonize over sending your first queries. It's our nature--I know I sure did, even last summer when I was querying agents again after mine retired, and I was already published!

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    2. Tonya--You probably will not stress anymore than I will! And I know I will worry over a query letter a lot. Good luck to you though when you do!

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  9. I thought word count and genre and such went at the end? :S I must have heard wrong! Thanks for the post!

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    1. The most important thing is that it's in there--you'll get varying opinions on where it should go, but when I took an agent panel at a writers conference, ALL the agents agreed that they liked to see it right away. And as an editor, I want it to be where I can see it at a glance too.

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    2. Okay, thanks so much. I'm self-editing right now, but when I get to this stage . . . Also, do you round to the nearest hundred-words, or what? Like, would you say, 57,000, 57,400, or 57,432?

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  10. Thank you so much for this post! I shall have to add it to my list of ones to print out and stick in my folder for future reference. Can I just say Go Teen Writers is a Godsend? Thank you all so much!

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  11. Thank you for posting this, great post.
    Quick question; how long does it usually take before one gets a reply for their query letter?

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  12. I love it when not only are how-to's addressed, but an example is provided! Thank you so much!

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  13. Found this post to be very helpful. Thank you Roseanna.

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  14. Which do you write first a proposal or a query letter?

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    1. The query letter goes first (it's like an invitation for them to look at your proposal) but I wouldn't query until you have your proposal put together :)

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