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Anne Wallingford, WordSmith


Freelancer's FAQ

Write A Query Letter That Sells!

To provide both encouragement and to help other freelancers, I have obtained permission to share this article with you.

Write A Query Letter That Sells!
      - by Marilyn Henderson

Are agents saying, "No thanks," to your query letters? Or worse, are they ignoring them?

It may not be your novel but how you describe it that's keeping your manuscript unread.

When you finish your novel and have revised, edited and polished it, you reach a new challenge on your path to becoming a selling author. Now you need to convince someone you have never met to read your manuscript and believe it will sell to a publisher. And you have only a one-page letter in which to do this.

The biggest mistake writers make in drafting a query letter is not realizing the letter is an important sales tool. It must sell the agent on the idea that he wants to represent your novel. An agent works on commission. He doesn't earn anything unless he sells your book. Your query letter gives him his first impression of you and your work. The impression you need to make is, "This story will sell!"

You knew the audience your novel was aimed at before you began writing, now your query is aimed at someone who receives hundreds of letters like yours. Unless yours makes him sit up and take notice, it's already on its way to the rejection pile.

Marketers know you have only three to eight seconds to capture the attention of a prospect. That means the opening sentences of your query letter must hook the agent into reading more. How do you do this?

1. Don't waste your opening lines introducing yourself. This isn't a social contact. Your name will only be important if he wants to read your manuscript.

2. Start with a hook. What excited you about your original idea that made you develop it into a novel? Express that idea or theme in one sentence, then turn it into a provocative question that makes the agent want to learn more. Open your query with that question, then create a second sentence that steers his thinking in the direction you want it to go. Don't answer the question, just give him an angle to consider.

3. Now tell him what your story is about. Do this in one or two short paragraphs. Write the description in broad strokes rather than details of the plot. Describe your storyline, not the story itself. Concentrate on building the emotion you want the agent to feel.

4. Write a description, not hype. Don't use adjectives and adverbs instead of facts. The agent knows the difference. Saying your book is terrifying is hype; saying a stalker's persistence terrifies the heroine is fact.

5. Don't sound like an eager amateur by comparing yourself or the book to writers or books on the bestseller list. He's read too many similar boasts. He has no reason to believe your book is a winner unless you convince him by getting him to read the manuscript.

6. Don't tell him details of how the story ends. If you present a dramatic picture that leaves him eager to read the manuscript, anticipating the finale will add to his excitement.

7. Close your letter stating the length of your manuscript, your background or special qualifications that give you expertise in the subject matter of the story, and any writing credits you have. Then ask if he would be willing to read your manuscript and thank him for his consideration. Sign it and enclose a SASE for his convenience. If he specifies wanting sample pages, enclose them and a SASE of the proper size.

8. Creating an impression of professionalism is vital. Don't be cute or try to be clever. Don't enclose gimmicks--pens, keychains, candy or anything you think will impress him. It won't, and he'll know you're an amateur.

9. Don't call the agent to find out if he got your letter. Don't e-mail him unless asked to do so.

10. Most agents respond within three to four weeks to a query. If you don't hear in that time, a polite, brief inquiry asking if he is considering your request is in order.

When an agent rejects your query, it means the description of your book didn't intrigue him enough to ask for the manuscript or sample chapters. That's a big responsibility to put on one brief letter, so it's up to you to make your query convince him your manuscript will sell.

© 2006 Marilyn Henderson. All rights reserved.

Marilyn Henderson chose writing as a second career so she could work from home. She had no idea how hard it was to make that first sale then keep selling, but she soon learned the difference between writing a novel she hoped would sell and what agents and editors really want. Now after more than 60 novels published, she mentors writers and shares that expertise with writers who want to build careers or make those first sales. Contact Marilyn at

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Monday, October 06, 2008