Question: When I was your student, you gave me a handout on how to write query letters. If you still have it, I'd like to see it again. Fara.
Answer: Sure, Fara, here 'tis.
WRITING QUERY AND COVER LETTERS
One page, tops! Be brief. Be concise. Be truthful, but creative. What you say in that letter can make the difference of whether your manuscript goes right to the top, or ends up in the "slush" pile.
If the manuscript has been requested, say so in the first line. "I am sending along the manuscript or Sample you asked to see when we talked at the IWWG Conference last week." And mark the outside of the box or the e-mail with attachment "Requested Material." A "requested" manuscript goes straight to the person to whom it is addressed. Unrequested manuscripts usually go to a "first reader" for screening.
If the manuscript has not been requested, the FIRST PARAGRAPH should tell what it is you're trying to sell.
AS AN EXAMPLE: DON'T: I've just completed the most wonderful book (or story/article) in the world and I just know you're going to love it. The characters are wonderful, and the plot is a good one too. I'm just sure it will be a best seller and make a lot of money for us both.
DO: Enclosed is a synopsis and the first few chapters of my contemporary thriller, TUTANKHAMEN LIVES! It is aimed for an audience that enjoys paranormal and horror, and offers a new slant on the curse of the tomb legend. Set on an archeological dig in the Valley of the Kings, it centers on the relationship between Egyptian archeologist Aldar Namid, and American exchange student, Delilah Hutton, who becomes his assistant.
The SECOND PARAGRAPH (or more if necessary) tells briefly what happens in the book. It does not explain anything in detail, but does give some idea of the problems that the characters will have to solve. This section should read like cover copy on a book jacket. The function of this part of the letter is to make someone want to read the book.
AS AN EXAMPLE: Aldar and Lilah, engaged in the excavation the tomb of a minor Pharaoh, are puzzled when they find antiquities from the wrong era, artifacts that Lilah believes may have come from Tutankhamen's tomb. Who could have hidden them there? Papyrus scrolls warn of a curse and a series of accidents increases tension on the dig - among the workers and between the hero and heroine as well. A mysterious figure with the head of a dog, an ancient artifact boobytrapped with a modern poison, and the freshly slain body of their foreman, lead Lilah and Aldar further and further into a web of suspense. When Aldar disappears, Lilah investigates on her own, following clues that lead her to a confrontation with an entity more fearsome and powerful than anything she has ever experienced.
The FINAL PARAGRAPH tells who you are, lists your major credits if any, and tells briefly of any special qualifications you have for writing that particular book.
AS AN EXAMPLE: This is my first novel, but short fiction has appeared in PANDORA, CREEPSHOW, and TALES OF THE UNEXPLAINED. Several paranormal novellas appeared in 2004 with a now-defunct e-publisher, and some early works appeared in CAMEO, a collection of gothic tales that ceased publication last year.