Avoid Mistakes When Writing a Query Letter to Sell a Manuscript

Query letters to editors and literary agents need to be as tightly focused as the manuscript itself. Making common mistakes will result in rejection.

Writing a query letter is as important as writing the manuscript. Without a great query letter an editor might not request to read the entire manuscript. By side stepping simple mistakes in queries or cover letters it is possible to avoid missing the sale.

Simple Steps to Avoid When Querying an Editor or Literary Agent

The editor or agent needs to gain a feel for the story or article right off the bat. Without enough information up front the query will end up in the garbage along with the dreams of having the manuscript published. Some writer’s think that by leaving the editor guessing about what will happen in the manuscript he will request to read the entire piece. This is not always the case. It is best to add enough information to hook the editor into wanting to read more than leaving gaps in the information provided. Include things such as: interviews used, different or unique material, and main sources or research involved.

Avoid Mistakes When Writing a Query Letter

Most editors and literary agents have a list of subjects they are looking for or prefer. Does the manuscript fit into the writer’s guidelines that is set forth on the website? If not, do research to find an editor who is looking for such material. Magazines often contain a list of upcoming themes listed on their websites. Check each one carefully to avoid any delays by rejection for oversight of themes or preferences.

Editors and agents come and go from time to time. Be sure to have the current editor’s name and address before submitting. Another step to avoid is misspelling the editor’s name or the name of the publication. If submitting to an agent, check to make sure the agent accepts the type of manuscript to be submitted. Most agents list the type of manuscripts they prefer to represent.

What to Include in a Query Letter Submission

The upper right corner of the query letter should include: writer’s address, phone number, email address, date, and cell phone number. Double-space down and add the editor’s information along with the publication they represent and the address on the left side of the paper. Double-space again before beginning the letter with Mr./Mrs. and the editor’s name. Do not put ‘To Whom It May Concern’.

In the first paragraph try to catch the editor’s attention. Followed by the second paragraph giving the information the editor will need about the manuscript enabling him to decide if he would like to read more. The third paragraph should include the sources used, interviews, or anything unique that sets the manuscript apart from the hundreds of other manuscripts the editor receives each day.

Before ending the letter add any experience that may give credibility to the manuscript. Close the letter briefly thanking the editor for taking time to consider the manuscript.

What’s Next After the Query Letter is Sent?

Have a notebook handy to keep track of manuscript submissions. List the editor, manuscript title, date sent, and when to resend to a new editor in the notebook. Some editor’s do not reply if they are not interested. This will keep work more organized and avoid any resubmissions or waiting to long before submitting to a new editor or agent. Some editors and agents have begun to switch from the old fashion ‘snail mail’ to more e-mail submissions. Take care to read each guideline thoroughly and remember, don’t sit around waiting for a reply. Sit down with a clean sheet of paper and begin to write the next story.

Another thing to keep in mind is some editor’s prefer to have the first three chapters sent with a cover letter. Others will ask for the entire manuscript if it is a picture book submission. In some cases, editors will only accept manuscripts through literary agents. It is very important to read all submission guidelines and check to see if a SASE is required.