How to Write a Query/Cover Letter

Ready to send off.

Ready to submit your writing somewhere? You’ve formatted your manuscript according to their guidelines, and you’re ready to email it, but what next?

Lately, I’ve found myself immersed in the art of writing query letters, both because I’ve been working hard to pitch my book, Sun Bleached Winter to publishers (which involves a lot of juggling emails and annoying manuscript submissions) [EDIT: it’s since been published] and because, as the Managing Editor of a fledgling e-zine, I encounter them everyday – both the good ones and the bad.

Your manuscript is finished.
All those piles of paper finally led to something!

Hence, prompted by the fact that I recently helped a young friend of mine submit his first piece of writing to a journal and I had to give him tips on how to do so, I thought I’d quickly go over how to write a brief, informative query letter for a submission, since it’s really something a lot of new writers don’t know how to do, and (unless you’re lucky enough to be studying Creative Writing/Publishing at a university and you’re taught how to) the information isn’t often easily accessible.

According to Wikipedia (and yes, we should take that with a grain of salt, but the idea is correct in this case), a query letter is “a formal letter sent to magazine editors, literary agents and sometimes publishing houses or companies. Writers write query letters to propose writing ideas.

That’s essentially correct, and when you’re writing a query letter, your purpose is basically to just introduce yourself and propose the idea of your story to a publisher/editor. You’re basically just writing to tell them who you are, that you have something you’re submitting for their consideration, and what it is exactly that you’re submitting.

It sounds a lot more daunting when you don’t actually know what “query letter” means, but that’s really all it is. It’s really nothing to worry about. The best query letters are short and informative, usually just two or three paragraphs that familiarises the editor with you and entices them to read your work. Usually, they’re included just in the body of your email (for any place accepting e-submissions), or on a sheet of paper alongside your manuscript (in hardcopy).

Here’s a good example of a succinct, friendly query letter. Always remember to be courteous and respectful, and try to stick to the point and not to meander and waste the editor’s time – they want to focus on reading your manuscript, not your query.

To whom it may concern on the editing team,

Dear Editor,

I would like to respectfully submit a manuscript for your consideration. The manuscript is entitled “Attack of the Killer Space Worms” and it is a novella of 29,000 words. It’s an action packed science fiction/horror piece about a man struggling to survive whilst simultaneously having to take care of his pet worm farm.

I am a deep sea diver/part time game show host hailing from Las Vegas, Nevada. My work has appeared in Dark Edifice Magazine and Mushroom Review Monthly. My full length novel, “Are you a cat?” is being launched in December by Printing Press. Inc.

I hope that my manuscript is a good fit for your publishing house, and I look forward to hearing your reply.

Yours faithfully,

Thomas C. Fothambotham

And your personal details (pen name, address, email, phone number etc) are usually listed at the end, unless the publisher specifically asks otherwise.

Got it?

Get submitting.

One Response to “How to Write a Query/Cover Letter”
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  1. […] Query the market and submit your piece. Often, you’ll be asked to write a query letter. There’s a specific way to do this. If they ask for one, don’t forget to include one, because no editor likes receiving a blank […]

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