Assuming you've done your research, and the agents or publishers on your list represent the genre you write, you are ready to draft your query letter.
Let's start with the greeting, and please be advised, this is being submitted by email, so you skip the address and date. After you type Dear (the name of the person you are addressing), you continue on with an introduction of who you are--or do you? Here's where you'll see conflicting advice and varying opinions. It's also good to note you do not address this to Dear Editor, Dear Agent. Pick a person and address them by name.
I am submitting for your consideration, my 97k word (genre) novel, (title).
The Query Shark hates this. You will hear her rant about it constantly, but one of my editors prefers this kind of personal opening. Again, it's a matter of taste. Some want you to get down and dirty and skip the formality until you tell them what the book is about. Others want to know who you are before you tell them a word about your story. My recommendation is to look at their sites and see if they have samples of queries they liked. Many do.
To show how varied taste can be, I sent my current query letter to two of my editors upon request. Both saw it completely different. One liked the opening, the other did not.
Moving on--the pitch. Try to tell me in 150 words or less about your story and why I shouldn't pass on it. This is the hardest part for many authors to write and one of my favorites. Here are some of my pitches, otherwise called blurbs.
Cinderella Wore Combat Boots
Sometimes Fairytales come true. First Sergeant Cori Valentine faces a bleak future. She’s turning forty in three weeks and life as she knows it is over. An injury received while on deployment has earned her an early retirement from the Marine Corps, something she’s not sure she’ll survive. Things get even better when interfering Marines set her up on a blind date for a party she doesn’t want. The guy has to be a total toad to want to go out with her. Right?
When Madame Eve informs Retired SEAL, Sol Keller she’s found his perfect match, he doesn’t believe it, but takes up the challenge. One look at the First Sergeant in a sexy dress and combat boots has him wondering if fairytales really can come true. Madame Eve might be the legendary Fairy Godmother, and Cori his Cinderella. Sol intends to show the Marine beauty a Prince Charming she’ll never forget, and that retirement isn’t the end of her story but merely the beginning.
Courtesan Boot Camp
And courtesan boot camp starts now. When Shay lands on Elatia, she knows she has one shot to be chosen as courtesan for a king and queen. Mess up—everything she was born to be, all she’s trained her entire life to become—will be lost. The alternative is unthinkable.
What a pampered priss.
Dayne’s first impression isn’t a good one, but he’s determined to turn the spoiled beauty into the next royal courtesan at any cost. As a Dominus, a master of all things sexual, he agrees to help a friend, his sovereign, and promises to do nothing to compromise her future.
Except the promise may cause him to question his loyalty, friendship and honor. All he knows is on the line…when he falls in love with a woman who can never be his.
You’ll die in three minutes without oxygen, three hours without shelter, three days without water and three weeks without food. But could you live a lifetime with a broken heart? Mercy Evans has come to Evans Point hoping to collect herself and find a way to resurrect her career as an anchorwoman for Cheyenne’s news station. Sergeant Justin Redway has come to Evans Point to try to forget his past and survive all he’s done.
One is a battle-damaged veteran, the other a desperate woman who will go to any extreme to get his story. When their worlds collide, sparks fly and old wounds open. As the chasm between the fated lovers widens, it might be too big to cross.
One town, two lovers, and a second chance at finding mercy.
Once you complete the pitch, you need to include two or three sentences that tell them about you. No, that does not mean they want to hear about how many children or grandchildren you have, or that you paint on the weekends. Tell them things about yourself that have to do with your writing. If you are writing a book about a grandmother raising her grandchildren, then yes, include the little dumplings. Otherwise, don't. You are selling yourself as much as your book.
To wrap this up, I'm sharing a complete query letter I sent out five years ago, that got partial requests. You will notice the pitch section is a little larger than recommended. That's okay. Go with your gut, but keep it to one page, New Times Roman and 12pt.
Dear Ms. (Name);
I am seeking representation for my completed science fiction romance of 91,000 words. An Alien’s Guide to Abducting a Bride mixes elements of science fiction, fantasy and comic romance in an urban setting.
Earth. Population 6.6 billion. Approximately fifty percent female. Finding the perfect bride should be easy.
Confirmed bachelor, Tribus leader and bastard prince, Darius of the Malamagnus is ordered to Earth to procure a wife. He's found what he's looking for packaged in the five foot ten inches of sexy, jaded medical examiner—Doctor Elizabeth LaRue. Armed with an erotica novel he believes is a guide to Terran romance, Darius decides to use this instruction manual to woo her, instead of going with the standard alien abduction.
Elizabeth has her own issues. A body to autopsy with concrete mob connections. A sleazy homicide detective, who doesn't know the meaning of no, and her eccentric grandmother who’s escaped the nursing home. Again. When Darius strolls into her autopsy, Elizabeth adds one more problem to the list. A hot, mouth-watering stranger. She soon discovers her grandmother really is acquainted with aliens, but it seems dementia is contagious. Now, Elizabeth is not only seeing them, she’s somehow managed to marry one.
Darius is perplexed. All should be going as planned. Travel to Earth, find a woman and fly home. But, when Russian Mob boss Kazimir Volkov abducts Elizabeth first, Darius finds himself scrambling to her rescue. From hijacked busloads of bingo-playing senior citizens, to shady arms dealers and cops in donut shops, Darius learns first hand why Earth is the insane asylum of the universe. Now, it’s a race against time. Darius needs to find his bride and get off Earth before he creates an intergalactic incident.
Earth. Population 6.6 billion. Approximately fifty percent crazy. Escaping should be easy.
I’m an Army veteran and an avid practitioner of mixed martial arts. I use my experience to punch up my stories with tactical details. I am a member of RomVets and blog at (blog address). Thank you for taking the time to review my query, and if you like what you see here, my manuscript.
D. L. Jackson(Contact information, email, blog, website)
Please also note, at the time I sent this out, I did not have any published stories. Make sure you include something about your published work, and any writing contests you've won, if you have some.
Thanks for stopping by today, and happy querying.