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Basic Tips for Writing an Email Query That Actually Gets Read, All the Way Through.

640px-Møns_Klint_beech_trees_in_gorge_2015-04-01-4864This post is not about what content to include in a query letter, it is about how it should ‘sound’–the professional tone the letter should take. It discusses how to address an overburdened agent, editor, or publisher in a manner that makes them consider you a potential business partner, not a supplicant, a novice, an egomaniac, or desperate. That increases the chances that your query letter will actually get read, perhaps even all the way through.

In my day job, I work with a researcher who gets dozens of unsolicited email requests daily—for a job, for a position, for help, for collaboration, for reviews, for submissions, for purchasing equipment, for endorsements, for public appearances. While these inquiries are not quite the same as author queries, after wading through mountains of these unsolicited requests on a daily basis, I’ve developed a short checklist about what to do and what not to do in basic letter-writing terms to keep your message from getting immediately rejected. If some of the suggestions I am about to offer seem commonsense, or even ludicrously obvious, all I will say is that I have abstracted all of the examples of what not to do from actual received inquiries.

Put Yourself in Their Shoes:

The goal of the query letter is not to tell the addressee what you want or need; the goal of the query letter is to convince the addressee why they might want to work with you.  Don’t write about how badly you want to be a writer/make a living as a writer/become a bestseller/change the direction of literature. Lots of us want that (LOTS!). Stating it in a query letter simply puts extra social pressure on the reader, which does not increase the desire to continue reading.

First Sentences/Paragraphs.

The decision of whether or not to read a letter all the way through happens within seconds. The opening should sing, better than the fat lady ever did, and in your voice. The first sentences determine whether any more of the letter gets read. The first paragraph establishes whether you have done your research, are professional, would be someone interesting (and sane), someone who might be a good collaborator, and whether you can pitch your work, not your dreams.

Establish that you are a Professional

Prove that you are not doing this on a whim, but have been working to learn the craft, the profession, the business, and the community. That means giving (brief) evidence that you treat writing as a serious and difficult endeavor, not as an easy road to fame and fortune. Examples:

Basic Email Etiquette

Add In Yourself, Your Personality

Even in writing a query letter you are a writer. You are presenting yourself as a writer worth reading; your ‘voice’ should shine through in the letter. Be yourself. If successive edits have cut the letter down to a dry, densely-packed tome, then add yourself back into the mix, and make it fun to read. If you can write a query that is actually enjoyable to read, then not only will it get read, but it will raise some serious expectations that your work might also be enjoyable.

I know that many of our readers are experienced query writers (and readers).Do any of you have any more dos/don’ts for query letter writers? 

For query-newbies—do you have any questions about what to do/not to do that were not covered above?

Query Letter Content:

If you want more information on what information to include or how to structure a query letter, a number of our other contributors (who are much more knowledgeable than I am) have already covered the topic, and there are regular discussions about queries on the Writer Unboxed Facebook page. To find other Writer Unboxed posts about queries, then simply scroll down to the search button in the lefthand sidebar and type in “query.”

If you enjoyed this post, feel free to buy me a cup a joe, but please be aware that I donate all the cups to Writer Unboxed’s general fund, to keep the good information (as well as coffee) flowing.

Image By Slaunger – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=40209845

About Jeanne Kisacky [1]

Jeanne Kisacky trained to be an architect before going back to her first love--writing. She studied the history of architecture, has written and published nonfiction, and has taught college courses. She is the author of the recently published book, Rise of the Modern Hospital: An Architectural History of Health and Healing, 1870-1940 [2]. She currently fights valiantly to keep her writing time despite the demands of a day-job, a family, and a very particular cat.