Thoroughly Modern Query Letters

There are probably a few literary agents out there who don’t use email, but they are in the minority. As more and more editors and agents switch to electronic communications, the standard advice about submitting has changed.
Writing Tip for Today:

  • Old-style queries: like a business letter, with a letterhead, the date, the addressee and Dear Dream Agent:
  • New-style Query: You are using email or an online form. If it’s email, all that top-of-the-letter stuff is obsolete, and you may begin with “Dear Dream Agent.” You still want to spell the name right and if you don’t know if agent is male or female, use full name instead of Mr. or Ms. Online forms are usually found on the agent’s website and are self-explanatory.
  • Old-style Query: Each query accompanied by SASE (self-addressed, stamped envelope) and number of manuscript pages requested.
  • New-style Query: Email query letter with requested number of pages (usually only 5-10) pasted in the body of the email. No attachments unless you are invited to send that way.
  • Old: You mention in the letter why you are querying this agent or publication. Shows you’ve researched the markets.
  • New: You still mention why you chose this agent or mag to query. Shows you aren’t mass-producing queries. In an email, be careful to ensure all fonts & typesizes are uniform.
  • Old: You wait patiently to receive a yes or no answer. Usually no. You move on.
  • New: No news is the answer and it means “I’m not interested.” A yes answer may appear in your inbox in seconds, OR your email may get dumped into a “Must Read” hopper, where it languishes until six months later, when the agent or editor realizes your story is the one he/she has been looking for.
  • Old: An agent is interested in your project and asks to see your manuscript. You pay 20 bucks to print and overnight it.
  • New: Agent likes your idea and asks to see first 50 pages. This is called a partial. Agent may then request full mss. or ask to see more in 50 page increments. You send the pages requested via email, making sure your mss. is in Word doc format, 12 point font, double-spaced.

About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

1 comment on “Thoroughly Modern Query Letters

  1. Great info! I liked seeing the side by side comparison. My first queries (magazines) were before email became the big thing. While it’s still agony to wait, it sure beats waiting for snail mail. 🙂

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