Kelly's thoughts on The Writer’s Digest Guide to Query Letters:
There was one book I found myself recommending over and over again during the one-on-one writer critiques at the recent Writer’s Digest Conference: The Writer’s Digest Guide to Query Letters by Wendy Burt-Thomas.
Query letters—those one-page pitch letters—are so simple they’re complicated. As Wendy notes early in her book:
A query letter is an opportunity to use your brilliance to not only impress an editor (or agent) with your idea, but also demonstrate your ability to follow the specific submission guidelines the publisher or agency gives. … In a nutshell, your query is your sales pitch. You’re selling your writing before the editor has even read your manuscript.
Most writers seem to trip up when attempting to summarize their projects. They either (1) run long, giving too much detail on the most mundane aspects of their stories (like the name of the family dog), or (2) skip the hook altogether, revealing virtually nothing about the project they’re pitching.
When it comes to summarizing a project’s hook within the confined space of a one-page query, Wendy advises checking out the back cover copy of competing titles. How are those books being sold? What reader benefits are being called out on the back of that similarly focused self-help book? What plot points are being emphasized on the back of that romance novel? What makes you want to buy one book over another?
Regardless of whether you’re pitching fiction or nonfiction, it’s crucial that you know how to succinctly convey what your book is about and how to properly introduce yourself as a qualified and capable writer. In Chapter 3: Nonfiction Book Queries, Wendy suggests the following query letter structure to ensure you hit all the key points:
- The opening hook (one paragraph)
- The supporting details (two or three paragraphs)
- Your qualifications (one paragraph)
- The summary (one paragraph)
- The thank-you and request to send the proposal (one paragraph)