By Diane Thomas
The query letter is simply a business letter that serves a dual purpose. It is an introduction of you to an agent, and an inquiry as to whether the agent would be interested in seeing a particular piece of your work. Your query letter is the first "picture" an agent will have of you and your work; and is perhaps your strongest selling tool.
Why the query letter? Basically it serves to save time. Agents and publishers simply do not have the time to read unsolicited manuscripts, and it is certainly a waste of your time (and money) to make copies and send manuscripts out to numerous agents knowing that most, if not all, will be sent back, left unread or perhaps discarded. So how do these opposing forces finally meet up? The query letter!
Keep in mind the query letter is a sales tool. You will be selling yourself and your work and you must do so in a polite and professional manner - but sell, you must!
A good query letter has three basic parts. The first paragraphs focus on selling the work. This part should be thorough and convincing, yet brief (not always easy to do). It should contain the type of work your presenting, where and when it is set, and a general idea of the plot.
The second part of your letter should be spent selling yourself. List your writing credits and any information pertinent to that particular work. If you do not have any writing credits, explain your expertise with the subject matter. Mention any writer's groups or associations of which you are a member. However, only relate information that is pertinent to your writing and the particular work you are promoting - do not include personal information.
In the third part of the Query you should mention whether the work is in progress or completed (rule-of-thumb: everything except non-fiction should be in completed form.), when you can have it in the agent's hands, and your contact information. Suggest he/she contact you either by telephone or by the enclosed SASE (always enclose a SASE, this is a courtesy most editors insist upon.), whichever is most convenient.
Go over your letter with a fine-tooth-comb. You don't want any typo's, or wrong information; and make sure you haven't left out any pertinent information. Your first impression must be a good one - a professional one.
If you want to know how soon you will get a response, it depends on the agent and his/her backlog. It could be anywhere from two to six weeks, possibly more - which is why you query many agents rather than waiting for an answer from one before sending to another. This is normal practice. If, however, several agents ask to see your manuscript you should not send it to more than one at a time. At this point in the process you should have spoken with the agents and made a decision as to who you feel would be best suited to your needs.
Copyright © 2002
About the Author