Friday Speak Out!: How to Write a Better Query

Friday, December 30, 2016

by Tammie Ortlieb

The query is the business equivalent of a cover letter to a resume. It introduces your work in a no-nonsense, polished, professional sort of way.

First, what is a query? Think of a query letter as that two-year-old tugging on your shirtsleeves, “Look at me! Look at me! Look at ME!!!” The query is simply a letter that asks the agent, editor, or publisher to give your writing a look. That’s it, nothing more. The query is a sales piece.

The query process differs for fiction and nonfiction.

Fiction writers will complete the book or short story first and then send out queries. Nonfiction writers will pitch an idea. The idea, however, should be formed enough to provide sample paragraphs, an outline, or sample chapters should you be asked for that.

Good queries are constructed using the following basic format:

Paragraph 1 — Introduce your topic with some statistics, interesting facts, or research for a nonfiction piece. Offer up a tantalizing teaser for a short story or novel.

Paragraph 2 — Give the title of your work, potential word count, and tell us why the world needs to hear your story.

Paragraph 3 — Provide a short personal biography. Include only relevant information. Keep it short. Discuss any links or clips that showcase your work. Do not attach the clips. Editors will ask for these if they choose.

Sign off with a polite “Thank you for your consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.”

Provide contact information, speak in a professional tone, and introduce a bit of your personal voice.

Unlike in the business world, avoid follow up if you have not heard back from the editor in a few weeks. Many editors will not respond to “no’s” and will only get annoyed from continued correspondence. This kills future chances at publication with that particular source. Many queries can be sent out for a single piece at any one time. Only one query, however, should be sent to each source at any time. For example, you might send out ten queries to different agents trying to sell your first romance novel. You would not, however, send queries to a single agent marketing your finished romance novel, a short story, and a How To Write Love Stories informational piece.

Many beginning writers feel they need to get fancy with font or format to stand out. The query process is one place you don’t want to stand out with glitter and curlicues. You want to follow format, appear professional, and leave the door open for future correspondence. Stand out with a strong voice, an interesting idea, and material that will interest the agent, publisher, or publication you are targeting. Do your research. Different agents are interested in different kinds of work.

Most importantly, get ready for rejection. It will happen. Keep your chin up, your head strong, and your fingers to the keyboard.

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Tammie Ortlieb is cofounder of and content creator for She also blogs at Professor, writer, and mother of four, she hones her query skills through channeling her inner two-year-old.
Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!


Sioux Roslawski said...

Tammie--Thanks for the reminder of how queries should be organized. I've done more writing and simply submitting than querying, because I mostly submit to markets that don't require queries. However, I have a couple of larger, more substantial WIPs I'm working on, so queries are in the future. Shudder. ;)

I followed your link and read some of Life, Love and Pixie Dust posts, and was especially moved by your November 28th post. I got divorced 36 years ago. There was no real "reason." I just knew there was more to life than what my husband could offer me, and I knew if he thought about it and was honest about it, he would have said the same.

Good luck. I hope 2017 is a wonderful year for you, both professionally and personally.

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