Query Letters for Agents, Book Publishers, and Magazines

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book doctor 2015by Bobbie Christmas

Q: Is there a secret to writing a good query letter to an agent or a book publisher?

A: I would not call it a secret, but a formula. The letter must have specific elements in it and not be more than one page long. For an excellent example of a query letter, see http://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/how-to-write-the-perfect-query-letter.

Q: I’m fifteen and really into writing. Right now I use an online site to post my stories, but I would really like to get a book out. Do you have any ideas on what I can do about this?

A: Yes, but you cannot learn in one email all you must know to get a book published. Join writers groups. Write. Take classes in creative writing. Write. Join a critique circle. Write. Read books on writing. Write. Subscribe to Writer’s Digest. Write. Volunteer for your school newspaper or yearbook. Write. Read Strunk & White‘s Elements of Style. Read Write In Style (my book). Read William Zinsser‘s book, On Writing Well. Write. Learn to use standard manuscript format. After all that, edit, edit, edit, revise, revise, and revise, and eventually you may have a polished manuscript. If so, read books on how to submit a manuscript. Learn how to write a professional query letter. Write an irresistible synopsis. After doing all those things, you may be ready to submit a manuscript to a publisher or agent.

You will find other answers and information in the free reports on my website at www.zebraeditor.com under Tools for Writers. Open all the reports you need and study them carefully.

Most of all, never give up. Keep writing. I wish you much success.

Q: I’ve published in trade magazines, but I want to break into the consumer magazine market. I need feedback on query letters. Having sent only one to Family Circle and been duly rejected, I’m skittish about firing off the next one without some advice from an insider.

A: One rejection from such a topnotch magazine could possibly mean only that you shot too high too soon. Until you have clips from lesser consumer magazines, you may not get assignments from the top-level periodicals. You’re right to look for an insider, and I hope you find one who is willing to mentor you. To find one, attend local meetings for writers and ask around. Lacking direct feedback from a fellow writer, search the Internet. Here’s a link to a Writer’s Life blog entry that gives a prime example of a query letter to a magazine.

Q: I wrote a short profile during a feature-writing class that I believe would be a good fit for magazines geared to young adult females, but I want someone to advise me before submitting a query. Since I’ve already written the profile, can I just submit it as is, indicating that I can lengthen or slant it as desired?

A: The quick answer would be never to write an article without an assignment, because it’s often a waste of time. Conventional wisdom aside, many articles have been sold through submissions without assignments, so ignore what the naysayers say. You may submit the article as is, as you said, indicating that you can adjust it in any way the magazine wishes. It’s worth a try. It won’t burn any bridges if a magazine rejects it. Before you send it anywhere, though, study the magazine and see what subjects it covers and what slants it takes. Get the editorial calendar, so you can be sure to submit the article for a specific edition in which that article fits. In addition, read the periodical’s submission guidelines, to ensure the magazine accepts articles and queries from outside contributors.

News of note: Publishers all say they’re looking for a fresh voice. What on earth is a fresh voice, though? Write In Style, my book on how to use any computer to help you uncover your fresh voice, won three awards in 2004 but has been out of print for years. By popular demand, the updated, upgraded, expanded, and improved second edition is finally available. Order your copy today or order a signed copy.


Send your questions to Bobbie@zebraeditor.com. Bobbie Christmas, book editor and owner of Zebra Communications, will answer your questions quickly. Read more Ask the Book Doctor questions and answers at www.zebraeditor.com.

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