Query letters represent a necessity in the world of nonfiction writing. If you want to get your writing published, you have to know how to write a query letter, and you have to, of course, send it out to the correct person. There used to be no choice about how to do the latter. You put your letter into an envelope, addressed it, put a stamp on it, took it to the post office, and mailed it. These days, in many cases you have the option of composing an e-mail instead, typing in the correct e-mail address and then simply hitting the “send” button.
I published a comment on one of my blogs from a writer who told me she had sent out an e-mailed query of just a few lines for a book project to five agents prior to sending a full-length query to more agents. I was surprised but thought she had quite a bit of gumption to approach her query in that fashion. Five lines is short. Really short. Most query letters are a page long and contain three to four paragraphs describing the book project, it’s market and why the author is the right person to write the book.
I find book and article query writing a daunting task. I hate the formality of it and the supposed need to fit everything onto one page. Like this author, I have broken the rules on occasion, although I tend to go the other way. In fact, one of my book projects recently achieved consideration from a publisher with a two-page query letter that included at least two paragraphs you wouldn’t find mentioned in any query formula. I’ve never tried a five-line query to an agent or publisher, though, but it sounds a lot easier than a full-page or even a two-page query. (By the way, writing a two-page query is easier; it’s hard and time-consuming to cram everything you want to say and are supposed to say about your book project into a one page letter and still leave room for the date and your signature.)
I find sending queries to agents and publishers by e-mail much easier than sending them by snail mail. I find this especially true when proposing article idea to magazines, newsletter or e-zines. And once you know the editor, shooting off a short and witty e-mail becomes easy. E-mail is a friendlier and less formal method of communication. That doesn’t mean that I don’t approach agents and publishers – especially those I’ve never contacted before – with a fair degree of respect and formality. Yet, I can do this with a bit lighter tone.
An added benefit of e-mailed query letters comes with the response, which you get more quickly than if you sent the letter by snail mail. This is very helpful. You can wait weeks, and sometimes months, to get a snail mail (or e-mail) response to your snail mail query letter. If you aren’t sending your query out simultaneously, meaning to more than one agent, publisher or magazine at a time, this can really hold up your progress when it comes to actually getting your project published.
When sending e-mailed queries, you still have to be careful of your grammar and spelling, however. I sometimes edit for someone else who has an editorial services company, and she called me on an e-mail I sent to a new client just today. She didn’t like how I began my e-mail (too informal and not grammatically correct – even though I’ve seen this salutation used often in e-mails), and I had included a P.S. in which she noted I had a typo – one missed letter. I had forgotten to run Spellchecker. Oops. It’s easy to get lazy with e-mail and assume no one will care or notice if there is a slight mistake. Believe me, while my client, who needs an editor, might not have noticed, an agent or publisher will notice.
Personally, I’ve always wished I could simply pick up the phone and tell an agent, publisher or editor about my book project or article idea. I’ve almost never had someone turn my idea down when I told them about it in person. My query letters, on the other hand, have not enjoyed as much success.