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5 Elements of Query Letters

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Earlier this year, I taught an online class where I offered "extreme makeovers" on query letters. To help ensure everyone took away some concrete advice, every attendee was invited to submit a 1-page query for review.

It was a successful workshop, so we're repeating it again this Thursday. In preparation for the workshop, I take the query letters that are submitted and categorize their basic elements into "good", "OK", and "needs revamped." The five elements I look at are:

  • Personalization. What effort has the writer made to ensure this letter has been customized for a particular editor, agent, or publishing house?
  • Hook. How effective is the hook? Is it too long? Is it clear? Does it cover everything an editor/agent needs to know to say, "Yes, I've got to see more!"
  • Bio. For nonfiction, people often slip up and don't emphasize the right aspects of platform or credentials. For fiction, it can be difficult to know what to mention, if anything, when you're unpublished. So I always give examples showing the best-case scenario, as well as examples when you rely on your hook and overall charm or professionalism to carry you to the finish line.
  • Basic info. Have you included the necessary information about title, genre, word count?
  • Opening/closing. There are lots of red flags and stumbles that can make it onto the page. Some aren't deal breakers, others are. I show examples of both.

I speak at conferences frequently about query letters, but seeing real examples of what's working and not working can be the best way to learn how to fix your own. Go here for the link to register ($99); after the event has concluded, you'll have access to the recording for a year. Plus I'll share a recap of the event on this blog, offering some takeaways for everyone.

In the meantime, here are some excellent query resources.

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