Because We Writers Are Gluttons for Punishment...On Query Letters

We send out query letters!

That’s right, we just can’t get enough of good old-fashioned rejection, can we?

I’ve just finished with another book of mine and am about to start the bittersweet process of querying.

For those who are in the dark about querying, allow me to enlighten you:

It’s not fun.

But it’s oh-so-necessary.

A query is a letter that writers and a few other professions send out to people they want to represent or buy their work.

The Query:

A query letter has a few important components:

  • It is EXTREMELY professional. No bawling or groveling or pleading or threatening or making promises you can’t hope to keep.
  • Your name. Duh.
  • Your information so they can contact you. Double duh.
  • A hook that describes why your (book, article, play, blah blah blah) is the greatest gift to mankind since pockets and oxygen.
  •  If you actually know the agent or editor you’re querying, tell them! If the person you’re querying knows you, that’s actually a good thing unless they’re homicidal or want to get back at you for sneezing into their drink or something.
  • A gripping, heart stopping description of your book in one paragraph. Pshh. Good luck.
  • A section on your accomplishments as an author or writer or professional lion wrestler or whatever else you do as long as you think it will help you sell whatever you’re trying to sell. Be smart about this. Telling an agent you are a professional clown when you’re trying to sell them a book about a clown serial killer could show them you know a lot about your killer. Then again, it may just come off as very, very creepy.
  • Finally, restate your information. And your gratitude. Lots and lots of gratitude. You have to understand that agents receive a lot of crap. A lot. And they don’t always get thanked for it. Make it short, make it sweet, thank them for their time and get out of there.

The Art of Querying:

You’ve crafted your query letter that would make your grammar-Nazi second grade English teacher weep with happiness and you’re ready to send it out to the world. First off, you must decide if:

You will send it to an Agent

Or send it to an Editor.

Here’s the difference:

  • Editors are the actual editors of publishing houses. They oversee what does and does not get published. Querying them is like a direct line to the book making process
  • Agents are just that, agents. They are professionals in their field and as such can help you navigate the ins and outs of publishing and make sure your book has a stellar chance at getting in front of the editor. Oh yeah, agents also take a cut from your profits if you do get published.

Here’s the catch:

You might be thinking, ‘Gee, Sean, why on earth would I go to an agent and get my money taken?’

An excellent question.

Editors, like agents, receive thousands of letters every WEEK and most of those are from people who have almost no credentials in the writing field and who have no business querying. Most editors these days will NOT take queries directly, and insist you go through an agent.

Though agents do get a cut of the profit, they are usually worth it. They know their stuff. They’ve probably been through this before and they will only want to help you get published because then they get a small cut of your earnings.

So would you rather sell directly to an editor, and, because of your lack of experience, only get 100% of a $5000 royalty


Go through a reputable agent with many connections and get 75% of a $20,000 royalty?

Do the math.

There are, of course, good and bad of not going with an agent as well. As for me, a first timer, I’m going to try with one and then see what self-publishing has to offer.

So there’s a very basic outline of starting your querying journey. It will be rough and you can expect a lot of rejection letters. Every great author has gotten them and I would list all of them here if the list wasn’t so long. Clear a space on your wall like I did to pin up each rejection as you get it. Marvel in it, embrace it, soak it with you tears, cherish it. They’ll be plenty a comin’ but at least you’re a tryin’.