Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Querying for Beginners--or "How to Write a Query Letter"

You’ve finished your manuscript, lovingly polished it to a high shine. You’ve conquered the synopsis. You’ve made a list of publishers and agents to approach. You’re home free, right? Success is at hand.

Not quite.

One more step to complete your submission package. The dreaded query letter.

Aak! You say. A query letter? What’s a query letter? How do I write one?

Well, let’s look at this. Let’s examine the basic structure. It should be 1.5 spaced, 12 point font, and contain your story and the relevant information about you, all in a single page.
Let’s start at the top. I've put the how-to in black and my query in blue.

The Demographic Information

This is for the when, what/why, who, where, and salutation:

Date (when)   

Query for Artistic Endeavor (what and why)

Contact Information: Whitley Gray, writing as Graycie White (if using a pen name) (who)

Editor’s Contact Info: Target Editor, Favorite Publishing (where you’re sending it)

Dear Target Editor: (salutation)


In this paragraph, you should have the title of the work, the length, the genre, and the state of completion. I strongly suggest not querying before the manuscript is complete and polished. If there’s a particular reason you’re targeting that publisher and/or editor for a particular reason, consider working that in. If a friend published with that publisher will vouch for you, that can be added. Only room for one reason in this intro paragraph, so use the best one for your case. Finally, add your logline (or a version thereof) to introduce your characters. At this point, you want to keep the editor interested and moving on to the next paragraph.

Introduction: I’ve read and enjoyed several of your authors, and feel my contemporary male/male romance would be a good fit for Favorite Publishing. Complete at 20,000 words, Artistic Endeavor is the humorous tale of a commitment-phobic graphic designer and an inexperienced prickly art professor who meet on a blind date.

Paragraph two: introduce your first character. Choose the one whose story it is. Name, a bit about him that is relevant to his attitude toward life at the beginning and then demonstrates his character arc. Here we see Michael:

PGH 2: Michael Esteban has spent most of his adult life enjoying carefree no-strings-attached sex. Settling down is for other people—who needs the emotional baggage? After all, how many “forever” relationships has he seen fall apart? But now that his best friend is making monogamy work, Michael fantasizes what it would be like to have someone who’d support him without question. Looking for a guy who wants more than sex is going to take some work, and Michael will have to rethink his whole approach to dating.

Third paragraph: introduce the other main character in the same way: attitude followed by character arc.

PGH 3: Cobey Miller had his first—and last—sexual encounter in college. After a grope and painfully intrusive fingers, Cobey grabbed his pants and opted for celibacy. College and grad school made a convenient excuse for avoiding his sexuality, but now he’s got a job as a junior professor in the college’s Fine Art program. It’s time to grow up and get some experience with the gay lifestyle. The problem is how to accomplish the goal without getting used and abused. He’s going to need someone to show him the ropes, gently and at his pace.

Next, in paragraph four, you’re going to give a microsynopsis of the main story problem:

PGH 4: When friends introduce them, Cobey’s first thought is to run; Michael is way too experienced. Deflowering virgins isn’t Michael’s thing, but the shy art professor brings out a bit of a protective streak in Michael. A gradual initiation is going to take some time—Michael has to get to know Cobey before he’ll feel comfortable exploring any sort of intimate encounter, and together they’ll discover whether prior acquaintance makes sex better. Michael finds himself falling for Cobey, but will Cobey fall for the first guy he sleeps with?

The final paragraph is to tie up the query. Are you published? Say so. If not, BE HONEST and admit it. We all start somewhere. List any professional organizations. Belonging to these is a mark of your dedication to your craft. Give your marketing platform links: website (if you have one), professional Facebook author page and Twitter if you like.

Final PGH: I am published in erotic and GBLTQ romance, and belong to RWA and the RRW chapter of RWA. I can be found on line at www.whitleygray.com. I look forward to hearing from you.

            Now you’ve got it—the whole letter. Run it by your critique partner, just like you did your MS. Read for typos—twice. Make sure you’ve included your pen name if you intend to use one for this manuscript. Be positive you’ve spelled your name and the names of the publisher, editor, and your characters correctly (Yes, I’ve seen authors misspell the names of their own characters).

Now you’ve got your query letter! Go forth and submit.

Questions? Comments?

BIO: Once upon a misspent youth, Whitley read and wrote stories under the covers at night. Years later, inventing characters and putting them through their paces in interesting ways turned out to be addictive, and along the way Whitley discovered that two heroes is twice as nice. A pot of coffee and a creating an adventure featuring a couple of guys makes for a perfect day. Stop by www.whitleygray.com and feed your fix for heat between the sheets with erotica and M/M romance.
Contact Whitley: whitleygray33(at)yahoo(dot)com.