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05.07.2011 19:00    Comments: 0    Categories: Writing Query Letter      Tags: query letter  crawford kilian  

Ideally, your query letter ought to run to a page or a little more, organized something like this:

First paragraph: Tell us what kind of novel you've written, or are now writing. How long is it, when and where is it set? Describe the hero and heroine, and perhaps one or two other major characters. What's their predicament? How are they proposing to get out of it? And why should we care--that is, what's at stake?

Second paragraph: Describe what happens in the middle of the novel--how your characters interact, what conflicts arise among them.

Third paragraph: The resolution of the novel--the climax and its outcome, and tying up loose ends.

Fourth paragraph: Why this story interests you, what your qualifications are for writing it, and some questions for the editor: If this story interests you, would you like the whole ms., or an outline and sample chapters? Do you have any specific ms. requirements I should be aware of?

Obviously this pattern will vary depending on the nature of the query: If you've included an outline and sample chapters, the plot summary will be very brief or nonexistent, and the query will focus on your background and your questions for the editor. If the book is completed, the plot summary will be easier to supply than if you have only a rough idea of where the book is going.

The query letter is a blurb for your novel, and like any blurb it needs to pique the reader's interest and make the reader wonder: “How is that going to turn out?” The quality of writing in the query had better be first-rate, especially if you haven't included an elegantly written chapter or two. If your query is clumsy or riddled with English errors, the editor will be less than eager to see more of your prose.

Because the query requires little time to read and respond to, it can help you quickly identify potential markets and definite non-markets. But it can't pre-sell your novel; at best, it can only create a cautiously welcoming attitude in an editor who knows how tough it is to sell a first novel during a recession.

Will your query reveal such a knockout story idea that the publisher will steal it--turn you down, pass on your idea to one of their hack writers, and publish it for their own profit? This may be the single most common anxiety of novices, but the sad truth is that your idea probably isn't worth stealing. In fact, the editor may wearily see it as the umpteenth standard variation on some ancient plot, one she's seen a dozen times just this week. This is not to say your idea should be positively weird; most story ideas in genre fiction are indeed variations on ancient plots. The trick is to make the variations appear to be fresh, surprising, and full of potential storytelling power. A query is a direct approach to an editor. But you may well be aware that many, many publishing houses no longer even consider queries or submissions that do not come through an agent. In my next posting I'll consider what that implies in the selling of your novel.


Writing A Query Letter About Your Novel | Query Letter: The Letter Itself

  1. Developing Efficient Work Habits
  2. Elements Of A Successful Story
    • In the opening...
    • In the body of the story...
    • In the conclusion...
    • Throughout the story...
  3. Style: Checklist For Fiction Writers
  4. Manuscript Format
  5. Storyboarding
  6. Ten Points on Plotting
  7. The Story Synopsis
  8. Understanding Genre: Notes on the Thriller
  9. Symbolism and all that
    • The Natural Cycle
    • The Natural Versus the Human World
    • The Hero's Quest: Mysterious or unusual birth
    • Symbolic Images
    • Symbolic Characters
  10. Narrative Voice
  11. Constructing a Scene
  12. Show And Tell: Which Is Better?
  13. Character In Fiction
    • The Character Resume
  14. “Let's Talk About Dialogue,” He Pontificated
    • Some Dialogue Conventions to Consider:
  15. Writing A Query Letter About Your Novel
    • The Letter Itself
  16. Researching Publishers and Agents
  17. Reading a Contract
    • Delivery Of Satisfactory Copy
    • Permission for Copyrighted Material
    • Grant Of Rights
    • Proofreading and Author's Corrections
    • Advances and Royalties
    • Author's Warranties and Indemnities
    • Copies to Author
    • Option Clause
    • Going Out of Print
    • A Word of Advice


About the Author


Crawford Kilian was born in New York City in 1941. He moved to Canada in 1967 and now resides in Vancouver B.C. Crawford has had twelve science fiction and fantasy novels published. He has been nominated for an Aurora Award 3 times for his novels Eyas, Lifter and Rogue Emperor- A Novel of the Chronoplane Wars. His latest contribution to SF is a non-fiction book for would-be SF writers called Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy. Crawford has two more novels in the works.

To learn more about him, visit his blog at: http://crofsblogs.typepad.com/fiction/

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