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Bob Nailor

Query Letter Protocol

Query letter!! Your heart just froze and your hands became clammy. A sweat broke out. Your worst fears claw up your back, sending chills through your body.

Nobody wants to do a query letter. Why? A query letter is not a sentence of death but it is a dreaded chore that must be addressed by any writer worth their hard-written work.

But it can easy! Surprised?

There is a protocol for submitting a query letter. That means there are a myriad of "do" and "don't" that must be addressed. What are they? Here's a quick list:

  • DON'T forget to enclose a self-addressed stamped envelope (SASE) — for those who need to use snail-mail.
  • DON'T add this line to your query: "I am querying you because I found your name in 'such and such' writing guide or internet agent database." This takes up valuable query letter space, and it's a big sign of an amateur.
  • DON'T sing the praises of your book or compare it with other best selling books. Let the agent/publisher decide if it is next Great American Novel or has the stuff to be compared to Top 10 author.
  • DON'T send gifts or other bribes with your query. (Although a professional editor — me — might consider a good bottle of scotch to ease the editing process! Just kidding!)
  • DON'T shrink the font to 9 point to make it all fit on one page. 12 point is standard. 11 point if you’re really desperate — but only after crucial editing of the document.
  • DON'T print your query on perfumed, colored or in any way non-standard bond paper.
  • DON'T be too innovative in your delivery. No Fedex. No signature required. It is annoying. ALSO no clowns, singing telegrams and definitely no large placards and balloons.
  • DON'T refer to your novel as a fictional novel. Just call it a novel. No need for redundancy.
  • DON'T apologize for being a newbie writer and the lack of publishing credits or experience. Your aim is to write a tight, alluring, eye-catching query and come across as a professional. Just keep quiet and let the writing speak for itself.
  • DON'T include any of the manuscript UNLESS specified otherwise by guidelines or requested to send X number of pages by the person you are querying.

There are other DON'Ts but the above list should keep you on your toes and help you look professional. Now, what should you make sure to do?

  • First and foremost, follow the specified guidelines! Everything else in this tip is void and null if the guideline specifies something else.
  • DO address your query to a specific agent.
  • DO make sure to state the title, word count and genre of your book.
  • DO keep your query to ONE page — period.
  • DO keep a "proper" and professional tone for your query letter.
  • DO list your mailing address, phone number and email address ONLY if you are sending snail mail. IF dealing electronically, your email address is sufficient.
  • DO have another set of eyes check the final letter before sending for grammar, spelling and punctuation errors. An error in the query letter indicates multiple errors in the manuscript.

This is not an all-inclusive listing of what to do or not do, but it is a beginning list. Be honest and open in your letter but at all times, be professional. A query letter is not something to fear or cause you angst.

What is a query letter? Think of it this way — it is a request from you to them, asking that person to read/represent/publish your novel. Nothing more. If you don't approach them, they won't be knocking on your door. The worst they can do is say "No" and you move on. Of course, the other side of the coin — they can say "yes" and you've found yourself a reader and maybe an agent or publisher. That's right! Even if they say yes, it is only a yes to read your story. That person still has to decide if they want to represent or publish the book.

As the muppet (in his fancy boxers) on the television commercial for loans so eloquently says: You can do it from the comfort of your home.

May I suggest one more protocol. Send your queries out to approximately 5 or 10 agents/publishers. While you await the response, make a list of another 5 or 10 places to mail. As each negative response come back, send out another so you continually have 5 or 10 queries out.

Now, take a deep breath and begin the process of querying.

  Click to add a comment - say something!


Scott Bury
Great list of do's and don'ts. It seems we all need to be reminded about the obvious: follow the directions! Weird, isn't it.
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Nichole Hall
Great tips Bob! Looking at quering agents soon. Thanks for this.
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Elyse Salpeter
I think I might disagree with a lot of this - why? Because tried and true queries may not let you stand out any longer. Heck, if I perfumed all of my snail mail, maybe it would stand out like Elle in Legally Blonde. Most queries these days are email format too - so standing out with them is even harder.
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Charles Dougherty
Good suggestions, Bob, for those who feel compelled to query agents.
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Tamie Dearen
Thanks for the great tips!
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Lisa Jey Davis
I have never followed the rules... LOL
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James Prescott
Thanks for the tips, as ever Bob.
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