Thursday, March 29, 2007

Query Letter Basics

Since we’re on the subject of query letters, let’s talk basics.

Print your letter on stationery. I don’t mean you have to have special stationery printed on high quality colorful paper. No fancy colors, use white paper. Not some super thick paper with a linen feel to it. Regular paper. You can make your own letterhead as a template. You can design whatever suits you, but include your name, address, and other contact information. On mine I include phone, fax, cell, website, and blog address. I put all of that at the top. You can divide it between header and footer, if you want. Then, whenever you type a query letter, use your template and print it out on your own printer.

If your printer will print envelopes, then use it. No sin in hand writing an envelope, but there’s less chance of the post office misreading the address if it’s been done on a machine rather than by hand.

Include a SASE. It’s becoming more common for writers to include only a reply SASE when they send in pages. In other words, an agent asks for the first fifty pages. You send it in a manilla envelope, but rather than include a stamped self-addressed manilla envelope for the return of all the pages, you send only a regular business envelope for the reply. If you do that, though, then let the agent know that it’s okay with you to discard the pages. If it’s not okay with you or if you want to have the pages back so you can see if there’s any clue that he/she actually read the pages, then send enough postage and the correct size envelope for all of it to be returned.

Don’t do any overnight or signature-required mailings. No need to do that. It’s expensive, and it marks you as an amateur. It also won’t do anything to speed up the response from the agent.

Do pay attention to the really basic stuff like spelling (especially of the agent’s name), grammar, punctuation, and enclosures. Don’t get so involved in sending out multiple queries that you stuff the letter to agent X in the envelope addressed to agent Y. If you can’t tell whether the agent is a man or woman by looking at the first name, then don’t put Mr. or Mrs. or Ms. Use their full name. Or look on the agency’s website to see if there are pictures of the agents. Or do a little investigating on the web to look for articles by or about the agent which might give you a clue. Or call the agency and ask.

That’s pretty much the basics. Oh yeah, don’t forget to sign the letter.

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