Before you send a query letter, always check the agent’s or publisher’s website for instructions or samples regarding what you should send. Most will state exactly what they want, but some could be vague.
If the requirements are not clear, follow these formats:
For nonfiction books, try to keep query letters to a single page, and don’t exceed two pages. Always include all your contact information and a self-addressed, stamped envelope.
Query letters for fictional works also should not exceed a single page. They should include an outline, a synopsis, or a summary of your book, and sample chapters or the completed manuscript. Agents and editors differ on how long the synopsis should run: some want only a page or two whereas others will accept as many as five or six pages.
Err on the side of brevity. Since the agents and editors will be judging the quality of your writing, show in your synopsis that you can clearly and concisely describe your book in two or three pages. Delete all extraneous details and hone your synopsis until it’s tight.
As for samples of your fiction, submit as much as you can to demonstrate the quality of your work.
Some agents and editors request the submission of only two or three sample chapters, but most want the entire manuscript. Show your belief in your work by submitting as much as you have completed. As with nonfiction, always enclose a self-addressed, stamped envelope with sufficient postage or you probably won’t get your submission back.
For all e-mail queries, fiction and nonfiction:
• Write no more than a single screen.
• Don’t send e-mail attachments unless they are specifically requested, because they probably won’t be opened otherwise, due to concerns about computer security.
• Use the same high standards for e-mail queries that you use for print submissions because the recipients will judge with equal severity.
In some agencies, e-mail queries face more challenges than postal submissions do because they’re reviewed by a number of screeners and must be outstanding to reach a decision maker. Conversely, postal mail queries that are addressed to the decision maker usually travel a shorter, less-arduous route before they get through.
Query letters stand a good chance of being read simply because they’re short. If they run long, they run the risk of being skimmed or even disregarded. So craft your query letters carefully and make them brief. If parties are interested, they will request more information.
Feel free to send query letters to more than one agent or publisher at a time; agents simultaneously send proposals to multiple publishers. If an agent shows interest and requests a proposal or manuscript, he or she may also ask for the exclusive right to read or sell your book.
If you agree to a reading exclusive, make it for a short term not longer than a month or six weeks. An exclusive agreement for an agent to sell your work should be in writing and should be cancelable by either party on thirty days’ written notice.
When you forward query letters to publishers or agents, direct them to specific individuals, not to companies, “Editors,” “Gentlemen,” “Dear Sirs or Madams,” and so on. Publishing houses and literary agencies are often large, and imprecisely addressed mailings can get lost. Busy, overworked employees may also seize upon any excuse not to open another envelope.
Address every submission to a specific recipient or it probably won’t be opened or receive sufficient attention. Also, triple-check the spelling of all names, individuals and firms, because misspelling an agent’s or editor’s name could fast-track your submission to oblivion.