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1) Never ever send a query letter which opens with one of the following phrases:
To Whom It May Concern,
Dear Sir or Madam,
If you do not know the name of the person that you’d like to represent you or purchase your writing, it means you do not yet know the most basic thing about that person. How are you then going to build a relationship on such a vacuous foundation?
Always research and find the name of agent or editor to whom you are sending your query letter and open the letter with his or her name. For example:
Dear Pat Brown,
Dear Mr. Linkletter,
Dear Ms. Sontag,
Never address the other person with his or her first name unless you know him/her very well.
It’s always safest to use “Ms.” to address a female since it’s impossible to know a woman’s marital status by just looking at her name.
For both males and females it is safe to start the letter just by their first and last names since sometimes for names like “Pat” or “Sam” you can err about the gender.
Here are a few resources to research for and find an agent or editor that is appropriate for your work and who expresses a desire to receive query letters from new writers.
2) Read the agent’s or editor’s requirements carefully and send them exactly what they want. Don’t try to reinterpret the requirements and cut corners. Agents and editors are very busy people. Their time is precious. If they receive a query letter that does not satisfy all their conditions the letter ends up in the trash can, real quick.
For example, if an agent asks for a printed letter sent by regular mail, do not send her an email letter. If they do not specifically ask for a writing sample with the query letter, do not send them a zipped file of the first five chapters of your 900-page novel. If they make it very clear that they do not want poetry submissions, do not send them a letter singing the praises of your poems.
3) Format your letter in a as traditional, classic and “boring” way as possible. Do not try to be “creative” with the paper, ink, etc. of your query letter if you are sending it by regular “snail” mail.
I suggest you print your query letter on a 8.5″ x 11″ white traditional (20 lb.) printing paper by using black ink. I’m assuming it’s not necessary to remind you that you should compose your letter in a word editor on your computer, and not by hand or by using a typewriter (are they left around?), and print it by using a high-quality printer.
Avoid any other kind of paper or combination of paper/ink colors for your query letter.
Use a traditional Times or Times Roman font and a 12-point font size. Don’t use anything else. Stay away from all fancy fonts, especially the “script” fonts or “funky” and “artsy” fonts with unusual lines. When it comes to fonts, less is always more.
Use single spacing and left-justify your paragraphs. Indent the first line of your paragraphs. There is no need for any extra space between the paragraphs. Don’t use any drop-caps.
These provisions (except the font and spacing) of course do not apply if the agent or editor says you can send an email query.
Type your name, address and contact information either in the beginning (top) or the end (bottom, after your signature) of your letter. There is no need to repeat your contact information again within the body of your letter.