Many factors help or hurt the marketability of a writer’s work. Often, the first impression an editor or agent gets of a writer is from their query letter. Therefore, an error-free letter is imperative.
While the occasional error might be excused in a 300-page manuscript because the editor is so engrossed in your wonderful story J, I can assure you that’s not the case for a query letter.
An acquisitions editor or agent will not dive below to search for pearls. So you have one shot to show them the quality of your work.
For proper formatting and content, read the submission guidelines on the publisher or agent website. They usually explain what they expect in a query. If not, last week’s blog, Top 10 Fantastic Writer Resources, lists websites with articles on writing queries.
The following suggestions may seem elementary, but believe me, they’re often overlooked.
Use the correct editor/agent name and spell it correctly. This can be found in the submission guidelines. On rare occasions for magazine submissions, I’ve addressed a query or cover letter to the editor without a name. I can’t think of a single situation where this would be appropriate for a book submission. If you’re getting guidelines from Writer’s Market or another guide, check the publisher/agent website for the most current information.
Send to ONE recipient at a time. Do NOT mass email your query letter to multiple agents or editors in the same email! If you do, your chances of getting a response are close to zero.
Stick to the guidelines. Anyone can make a mistake in interpretation, and writing your first query letter can be daunting. But blatant disregard for guidelines a publisher has taken the time to share will be a waste of your time. Don’t use fancy fonts or try to impress them with your life story or how your book will be their next best seller.
Grammatical errors/typos are a huge no-no. Avoidable mistakes tell the prospective editor/agent your work is subpar. Why would they want to represent you or publish your book?
A practical tip: Except for simple emails, everything I write, whether it’s a blog post, a query letter, an important/lengthy email, or manuscript, is written in MS Word and printed out. I sit down with my little red pen to proofread after I’ve done my final edit.
Then I do my final final edit.
Then I save my document and come back a few hours later or even the next day and do one more read-through before sending or posting. Does this sound like a laborious, convoluted system?
But it keeps me from going nuts when I catch a typo in blog post or sent query. Do errors still happen? Sometimes, but my method decreases the percentage.
As a new writer, you might want to go a step farther and have a trusted friend or loved one read your query for errors, even if they’re not a writer. Reading your work aloud is another great way to catch omitted and misspelled words.
If you have a question about query letters I haven’t addressed or can’t find through one of the links from last week’s blog, please let me know. If you’re an editor or agent and would like to share a tip or add something to what I’ve said, please do so. Thanks!
© Laura Hodges Poole