This is an author's first chance to show the editor/agent that they can put together coherent sentences and follow the rules (an important consideration for starting a relationship based on the ability to deliver a polished product and willingness to discuss and implement revisions.) You've worked hard to finish the manuscript. Don't skimp on putting together a dynamite query letter.
I learn best from studying an example. Here's the query I'd send if I was shopping out STROKE OF GENIUS (coming May 25th to your local bookseller!)
My Real Name
City, State, zip (I'd add an email and phone number as well. Make it easy for the agent/editor to reach you.)
Agent/Editor's Name (Pick a specific target! Know who's buying/representing your type of fiction.)Company
City, State, Zip
Dear Mr./Ms. Last Name; (You'll never go wrong with too much formality. Later you'll be on a first name basis. No need to be pushy here. Make sure you've got the gender right. If you send something to Ms. Chris Keeslar, he might be amused, but you'll feel pretty silly. If you are doing multiple submissions, make sure you match up the name with the right mailing address. Nothing will get you "File-13'ed" faster than sending a query to one person with the name of their competitor here.)
I enjoyed meeting you at the NECRWA conference last weekend. Here is the proposal for STROKE OF GENIUS you requested. (If you have pitched the project, this short opening is the place to remind them. It also allows you to go ahead and include the three chapters and synopsis or full manuscript they've already asked you for. If you haven't pitched, here's where you show you've done your homework. If they represent/buy books similar to yours, demonstrate that you are saavy enough to connect the dots. For example: I enjoyed your author Lisa Kleypas's latest release, Tempt me at Twilight. I hope you'll be interested in my light-hearted historical as well.)
STROKE OF GENIUS is a 90,000 word, sexy historical romance set in the heart of the Regency. It's Pygmalion meets Cyrano De Bergerac. (This is the "tell 'em whatcha got" portion of the query. It's essential to give them an approximate word count, sensuality level and romance subgenre. Don't say your work defies classification. They need to know where to shelve your story in order to sell it. Don't offer them a 150,000 word manuscript and tell them you wouldn't know where to cut it because it's all too beautiful. Be sure you've checked the submission guidelines on their website to make sure your offering fits their parameters. If you have a one sentence way to give them the gist of the story, insert it here. Then follow it up with a short--no more than three paragraphs--blurb style description of your story. Help the editor/agent envision the back cover of your book.)
Crispin Hawke is revered by the ton. His artistic creations are celebrated in every fashionable parlor, tales of his fiery bed skills whispered behind every fashionable fan.
Grace Makepeace is determined to wed a titled lord, but her Bostonian bluntness leaves her least likely to succeed. To be accepted by the ‘high-in-the-instep’ crowd, she has her hands ‘done’ in marble by the incomparable Crispin Hawke.
Crispin schools Grace in flirting and the delights of the flesh. But when she catches the eye of a marquess, Crispin regrets helping her. Can an artistic genius transform an American heiress into the most sought-after Original without falling for her himself?
A partial and synopsis of STROKE OF GENIUS is available upon request. (If you are a first time novelist, you must have a completed, polished and thoroughly sanded manuscript. Until you finish the book, you have nothing to sell. Once you're published, you may be able to sell on three chapters and a synopsis, but until then, only query completed works.)
(The next portion of your letter deals with your publishing credits. Contest wins go here. If you've had a non-fiction book published, share that info. If you earned an MFA or journalism degree, that doesn't hurt. If your day job relates to your fiction, be sure to point it out. Demonstrate that you have a platform--a group of people who will be interested enough in your work to buy it. Do not share how much your mother loves your work or what being published would mean to you. Keep it professional.)
My most recent release, A CHRISTMAS BALL (October 2009 Leisure Books) was listed in the top 100 romances on Bookscan for 8 weeks. I have a frequently visited website, http://www.emilybryan.com/, an active blog, http://www.emilybryan.blogspot.com/ and a vibrant web presence on the major social networks. I am represented by Natasha Kern. (A caveat here: Natasha wouldn't let me query my own stuff. She'll do it for me, but I help her pull together the same sort of material you see here. Other agents may want you to send editor queries.)
Thank you for your time and consideration. I hope to hear from you soon.
Your Real Name
w/a Your Pen Name
Then you wait.
After a couple months, you may drop a quick email just to make sure your package was received. Do not press them for a decision or I promise you it will be "no." If you are submitting to multiple parties and receive a request from one of them, as a courtesy to the others, you may wish to let them know you've granted an exclusive to X for a certain length of time. This is a gray area since most agent/editors hate multiple submissions, but the wheels of publishing grind with such glacial slowness, it's a fact of life.
If someone has asked for a partial or full manuscript based on a face-to-face pitch, it's good manners not to submit elsewhere till they've had time to review your work. If you're a newbie, after six months with no response, I'd think it would be logical for you to send the party a note letting them know you're ready to start submitting elsewhere. This may move your work up the TBR pile, but maybe not. Be prepared to move on.
And of course, while you're waiting you're busy writing the next Great American Novel, because once they buy the one you've queried their first question will be: "What else have you got?"
Remember what you're looking for is not just the sale of one book. You are looking for an agent or a publishing home that will help you grow a career. Good things take time. And finding the right agent and publishing house are both good things.
Ok, now it's your turn to ask questions, correct my mistakes or offer your own advice! I look forward to hearing from YOU!