Free advice from Lukeman on writing the query

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Early on in my writing life, I was sure that the synopsis was the key to earning a publishing deal. But a synopsis of 4 to 16 pages is too long for most agents to read. What these gatekeepers of the publishing world start with is a query letter. It’s a business pitch, even if it promotes an artistic product.

If you haven’t sent off your query yet, here’s the best description of every aspect of how to craft a query letter. Noah Lukeman has three fine books for writers, such as “The First Five Pages: A Writer’s Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile.” His latest is “A Dash of Style: The Art and Mastery of Punctuation.” And as a agent he’s read 100,000 query letters. His Amazon Shorts book is a gift back to the writing community, available on Amazon as a free PDF file.

Here’s the link to the Amazon page:


Yes, they ask for credit card data, but the charge is $0.00. It’s a digital file, so there’s no shipping. Get your free copy today.

I was pretty sure that a query letter was single-spaced. Lukeman confirms this. He also calls the letter a marketing task, but perhaps the only piece of writing you will ever get an agent to read. Marketing can be learned, he says. Easier than artistry, I add.

Keep a query professional

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Sara MegibowThe Kristen Nelson Literary Agency has a helpful newsletter for the writer who’s nearing a query letter date. That’s the deadline I’m approaching for Viral Times, once the revisions are finished. One of the agents at the Nelson Agency offered this advice about writing the query.

Advice of this type often tells a writer not to do silly things, like mail chocolates along with a letter. But at least the agency’s Sara Megibow (at left) affirms some things you should do in a query to an agent.

  • State that you found our agency through or Preditors and Editors, or, etc.
  • Note that you have looked at our website and have read the submission guidelines
  • Mention any of the books represented by Nelson Agency which you may have read
  • Repeat your contact information right in the body of the query letter (you can hardly ever put your name, title of work and email address in too many places).

These are all things that one might do in a job interview too, and following these guidelines always come across as professional to me.

In order to stay professional, try to avoid these common mistakes:

  • Don’t be overly self-deprecating (i.e. “I know I have no experience and I am sure you don’t have time to read my work, but…”)
  • Don’t be too casual (i.e. “Yo! I love to write and I think my stuff rocks!”)
  • Don’t include religious blessings or quotes in the official query letter (although many people do have these kinds of quotes at the ends of the email as a footer, and that seems fine to me)
  • Don’t be cutesy (we find that fancy fonts or colorful backgrounds do not help the professional tone of the query letter)