Written by Karen McCullough
You’ve written the book, revised it, edited it, and polished it until it shines. You’re ready to submit it now.
Wait… You haven’t done all those? Stop now, go back and do it. The competition for editor/agent attention is fierce. If your book isn’t so clean it shines, doesn’t flow like the smoothest silk, sits there and broods instead of moving forward, then you’re wasting your time submitting it.
But say you have already honed and revised and had it critiqued and edited and everyone says it’s ready to go. It’s time to work on the query letter.
These days most submissions are made via email or online, but most editors still want a standard query letter. The query letter sounds intimidating, but really it isn’t. A query letter is basically a way for you to introduce yourself and your work to the agent or editor. I’m providing an easy guide for you to follow.
First, though, a query is a standard business letter. If you don’t know how to format one, Google it. Beyond the header you need four, maybe five paragraphs, and each serves a specific purpose.
Below, I’ve copied the query letter that helped sell my novel, A Gift for Murder, which was first published by Five Star/Gale Group in hardcover in 2011. Always address the letter to a specific person if you can.
The first paragraph after the heading and salutation gives the basic facts about the book: title, length, genre, and the fact that it’s completed. I mention that it has series potential, and I’ve outlined two additional stories, but that’s it. You query one book at a time.
The second (and third if needed) paragraphs are a quick introduction to the novel, identifying the protagonist, the challenges she faces, how she tries to solve them, the setting, and what’s at stake. It sets the story scene with a few specific details and tells about the main conflict(s) as sharply and briefly as possible.
The next paragraph tells the editor or agent a bit about yourself and your credentials for writing the story. In my letter I included both my writing credentials (publishing credits and awards) and the background that makes me the right person to write this book. Note: Because I’ve published a number of books and won quite a few awards, I keep the list in a separate curriculum vitae, which I attach to my queries. If you don’t have any publication credits, don’t sweat it. Talk about your writing group memberships, workshops you’ve taken, etc. The point is to show the person you’re querying that you’re serious about writing and trying to build a professional career. Ultimately, it’s the quality of your writing that sells the story, not your background, so don’t agonize over this.
And finally I conclude by mentioning that I’ve attached the submissions material the publisher requests and the fact that the complete manuscript is available.
Once you’ve got it written, edit, revise and polish that letter. Ask someone else you trust to go over it for you. Make sure it’s clean and error-free. Hone it to a sharp point. Then shoot that sucker off to the editor and agents you’re targeting.
Here’s my query letter:
Karen G. McCullough
First line of my address
City, State, Postal CodePhone Number
Five Star/Gale Group/Cengage Publishing
Address First Line
City, State, Postal Code
Dear Rosalind Greenberg,
I’m writing to inquire about your interest in considering my completed 80,000-word novel, A Gift for Murder. The book is a mystery with romantic elements. A Gift for Murder stands alone, but could also be the first in a possible series. I have two additional books outlined.
Heather McNeil, assistant to the director of the Washington DC Market Center, is on a career path that should someday make her director of the center. She’s smart, competent, and trying hard not to be frazzled by the Gift and Home trade show, the biggest show of the year. Misplaced shipments, feuding exhibitors, and malfunctioning popcorn machines are all in a day’s work for her. Finding the body of a murdered executive during the show isn’t. The discovery tips Heather’s life—personal and professional—into havoc.
The police suspect the victim’s wife killed him, but Heather doesn’t believe it. She’s gotten glimmers of an entirely different scenario and possible motive. Her attraction to the Market Center’s new security officer, Scott Brandon, adds to the chaos. An interesting man with a murky past, Brandon might be part of the solution or he could be a serious problem. Despite opposition from some of the exhibitors, her employers, and the police, Heather seeks to expose a murderer before the show ends and all hope of finding the killer disappears. To solve the mystery Heather will have to risk what’s most important to her and be prepared to fight for answers, her job, and possibly her life.
I’ve sold more than fifteen novels to a variety of publishers, including ImaJinn Books, Avalon Books, LTDbooks, and Ellora's Cave; and I’ve won a number of awards. Please see my bio below for more details. In addition, I worked in trade publishing for more than ten years and have a lifetime’s worth of anecdotes gleaned from attending numerous trade shows.
I’ve attached the synopsis and first three chapters to this email. I would be happy to send you the complete manuscript for your review. Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you regarding your interest in the story.
Based on this letter I was asked to submit the full manuscript, and then I had to wait almost a year to receive the contract offer for the book.
Karen McCullough is the author of more than a dozen published novels in the mystery, romantic suspense, and fantasy genres and has won numerous awards, including an Eppie Award for fantasy. She’s also been a four-time Eppie finalist, and a finalist in the Prism, Dream Realm, Rising Star, Lories, Scarlett Letter, and Vixen Awards contests. Her short fiction has appeared in several anthologies and numerous small press publications in the fantasy, science fiction, and romance genres. She has three children, three grandchildren and lives in Greensboro, NC, with her husband of many years.
For fifty-one weeks of the year, Heather McNeil loves her job as assistant to the director of the Washington, D.C. Commerce & Market Show Center. But the Gifts and Home Decorations trade show, the biggest show of the year at the center, is a week-long nightmare. This year’s version is being worse than usual. Misplaced shipments, feuding exhibitors, and malfunctioning popcorn machines are all in a day’s work. Finding the body of a murdered executive dumped in a trash bin during the show isn’t. The discovery tips throws Heather’s life—personal and professional—into havoc.
The police suspect the victim’s wife killed him, but Heather doesn’t believe it. She’s gotten glimmers of an entirely different scenario and possible motive. Questioning exhibitors about the crime doesn’t make her popular with them or with her employers, but if she doesn’t identify the murderer before the show ends, the culprit will remain free to kill again.
Her only help comes from an exhibitor with ulterior motives and the Market Center’s attractive new security officer, Scott Brandon. Despite opposition from some of the exhibitors, her employers, and the police, Heather seeks to expose the killer before the show ends. To solve the mystery, she will havehas to risk what’s most important to her and be prepared to fight for answers, her job, and possibly her life.
The book was published in hardcover and trade paperback by Five Star/Gale Group, in mass market paperback by Harlequin Worldwide Mysteries, and as an ebook by yours truly.