Sample query letter

Some of you have asked for examples of good query letters as a follow up to my query guidelines. Below is the original query letter from author T.J. Vargo, whose book Low Man will be released later this summer. **Note: contact info has been deleted, but generic spacing left in to let you know where the required info belongs.

T.J. Vargo
Street Address
City, State Zip
Phone #
Email address

Dear Mr. Ishitani,

I recently completed a novel, THE BULLET MANIFESTO, and am interested in knowing if you would consider reading it with an eye toward publication. The synopsis is as follows:

Robbed at gunpoint while working the nightshift at a convenience store, Benny Assissi takes stock of his life. His good-paying factory job is gone – outsourced overseas. His wife sits in a hospital emergency room with his dying son. And there’s a gun under the counter, one he never saw until now. Determined to gain control over his life, he grabs the gun and runs after the thief. One bullet later, he finds out how precious life is and how far he must go to keep it, even if it means walking straight through Hell. In the fog of death, he discovers that life isn’t about what you have, but how much you love – and how far you’ll go to see your love again.

I have been fortunate to have PEN/Faulkner finalist, Karen Joy Fowler, and National Book Award finalist, Dan Chaon read this novel while it was a work-in-progress. Both authors commented on the excellent writing and the engaging storyline.

My novel UNBOUND was published by Willowgate Press in 2003. In response to a poor review by Publishers Weekly, I committed myself to improving my writing and joined a writing group led by Professor Neal Chandler at Cleveland State University.

I’ve included chapters one through three for your review. The manuscript is available upon request. Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,

T.J. Vargo

This is a good example of a simple cover letter/query that could be sent alone, or with your submission packet. The letter includes just enough information about the book to want an editor to read more, gives plenty of background experience on the writer and lists publishing credits. It is well written, clear, flows, and has all of the required contact information.

While you really could do without the first paragraph and just jump into the novel summary, as it doesn’t do anything for the letter, it doesn’t exactly hurt it either.

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7 Responses

  1. This query doesn’t seem to be anything extraordinary. What was it that grabbed you?

    There are a lot of other sites that show examples of queries that are more experimental–or, I could say risky–than this one. Which do you prefer?

  2. I noticed that this author combined the cover letter with his synopsis. Is that a common submission attribute?

    Another thing I was wondering… In software applications like Microsoft Works, there are cover letter formatting templates that add little graphics at the head and/or tail of the letter–I’m sure you’ve seen plenty of examples–do you find such graphics to be eye-catching, or do you consider them amateurish in appearance?

  3. Honestly, I really don’t have a preference as far as graphics. When an author starts putting in pics of their kids and sprays the paper with perfume…THAT’S annoying and distracting.

    To the first part of your comment, that wasn’t a combination synopsis cover letter. It is common (and for us, preferred) for an author to put a short paragraph in the query or cover letter summarizing the book, as well as including a one-page synopsis.

    If an author queries with just “I have a science fiction book I’d like you to read,” it gives us absolutely no idea what the book is about, so why would we want to read it?

  4. Okay, so the example above was followed by a full-page synopsis then, detailing everything that happens from beginning to end?

    I see your point about including details specific to the book that is being offered in the cover/query letter, but most advice seems to recommend somewhere between one to three sentences of description at most.

    I guess I am just confused about how much is too much in an introduction.

  5. Technically, there really is no right or wrong as far as how much to put into your introduction. There is no “god of publishing” that has come down and written commandments as to what must or must not be done “or else…”

    It really varies from publisher to publisher, and from editor to editor within a publishing house–and, unfortunately, because editors are human, it could very well vary from day to day depending on their mood.

    The main thing is to get all of the necessary information into your letter:
    your name
    book title
    book genre
    brief description of what it is about, aka “the hook”
    your past publishing credits or experience
    your contact information

    Really, that’s all that’s necessary. While it is eye catching for an author sometimes to use “grabbing” first sentences, or use new or unique formatting or language to make the cover letter/query stand out, it really depends on the manuscript itself. Regardless of what you put into your CL, it is best to keep it at one page maximum, as an editor only wants to spend a minimal amount of time on it. So, really, it’s however much you can fit onto one side of a sheet…

    Granted, if you’re only sending a query and not a full submission packet (CL, synopsis, first 3 chaps) you’ll want to make sure your writing is not so dull as to lull the editor asleep or make him toss it after the third line.

    But there is no need (against the suggestions of some other editors I know) to throw out all sorts of bells and whistles to entice a fair read. ALL submissions at Leucrota are given a fair read, so it really depends on your writing and plot whether we go farther than the query or the first three chapters…

  6. […] there have been some amount of posts in the blogosphere about the art of writing query letters. One key point has been the […]

  7. Today, I went to the beach front with my kids.
    I found a sea shell and gave it to my 4 year old daughter and said “You can hear the ocean if you put this to your ear.” She put the shell to her ear and screamed.

    There was a hermit crab inside and it pinched her ear.

    She never wants to go back! LoL I know this is totally off topic but I had to tell someone!

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