Whether you decide to sent a query letter via snail mail or you’re taking advantage of email, there are often going to be specific formatting guidelines requested of you. You must follow these guidelines to the letter if you want your query to be considered. Any missing information or changes to the format that you make on your own will typically result in an outright rejection.
But what do you do if there are no specific guidelines available? Knowing how to format a query letter so that it is professional in design and in content without specific guidelines is a skill that could be the difference in your work becoming represented or published. Here is what you’re going to want to do.
#1. Be professional in all regards.
This is especially true if you are sending your query letter via email. If your email address is not a professional address, then create a new one before sending in your letter. Although you don’t need to have your name be the email address, there shouldn’t be any inappropriate words or abbreviations included.
#2. Use the SASE.
SASE stands for “Self-Addressed Stamped Envelope.” You’ll want to include one of these if you are sending a query letter by regular post. This will help to make sure that you receive a response to your query, even if the answer is something that you don’t want to hear. If you’re submitting a manuscript and want to have it returned to you, then you’ll need a SASE with enough postage to make that happen.
#3. Keep it short and simple.
Professionals in the publishing industry are usually very busy people. They don’t have the time to read through a 5 page dissertation about why you and your work are so awesome. Keep your query letter to one page, include a brief synopsis of your work, a short bio, and what you hope to convey with the work you’re submitting. Put a lot of information into 3-4 short paragraphs, being precise with every word that you use.
#4. Make sure that you format your query letter to industry standards.
Current industry standards mean using white paper, black ink and Times New Roman font that is size 12. It might be tempting to use different colored paper, scented paper, or different fonts – don’t fall for the temptation. Despite what some people might advise, this won’t make you stand out in a good way 99% of the time. Your goal should be to make the query letter as easy to read as possible.
#5. Format the header as a professional business letter.
This means your information goes up top in the upper right. Then the editor, agent, or publisher’s contact information goes underneath it, but on the left. Include names, addresses, telephone numbers, email addresses, and even websites if needed. Include the date as part of the header as well, just above where you are going to address the letter to the contact person.
#6. You will want to have a specific contact person.
Most editors, agents, and publishers will have a specific contact person listed for query letter correspondence. You will want to address your letter to this person. If you don’t see this information, can’t find it, or it just isn’t there, then contact the business and ask them who you should be contacting in regards to your query. There are also certain books that list this contact information. “To Whom It May Concern” should only be used as a complete last resort.
#7. Triple check your query letter for errors.
You’ll want to make sure that you spell the name of your contact correctly. The address should also be accurate. This can sometimes be difficult if the business you’re contacting has multiple offices, so make sure you get the correct address for where the query letter should be sent. Then check the spelling and grammar in the body text of your letter, not relying on your word processing program to highlight errors for you. A good rule of thumb here is to read your query letter out loud so that you can hear how it flows and easily pick out any letters.
#8. Sign your letter.
It can be difficult to sign an email, of course, but you should sign a query letter you’re sending by regular post. End with a simple, “Best Wishes” or “Best Regards” above your signature in conclusion. Remember: the goal here is to be professional and to the point. This is the last part of the letter your contact will see. If it leaves a bad taste in their mouth, you have no chance at a recovery.
Knowing how to format a query letter properly when there are no published guidelines can help erase the discomfort that can arise in contacting someone. Use these tips to get your letter up to expectations and then best of luck with getting your work represented or published.