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In her column The Write Way, author Katie O'Sullivan discusses the not-so-simple world of writing, editing and publishing.

If you have a question for Katie email her at

The Write Way: Query Letters: First Impressions Count

by Katie O'Sullivan

A query letter is like your first introduction at a cocktail party. You want to make a good impression – you know, smile, make eye contact and have a firm handshake. At the same time, you don't want to be too forward, nor do you want to sound like you don't know what you're talking about.

Query letters are part of the publishing business, the key word being business. The agents and publishers on the receiving end are actively seeking manuscripts to get excited about – it's what they do for a living. Agents and editors want to like you. They aren't in the business of rejection – they're in the business of finding their next big book.

Your letter is your first contact to get them excited about your project.

Each agent and editor has a submission process that they like to follow – you will need to do a little research to figure out just what each one wants to see from you. But almost everyone wants a query letter as part of this process. Write and polish your letter first, then tailor it to specific agents as you go through the submission process.

Good query letter should contain the following parts:

  1. Personalization
  2. Basic manuscript info
  3. The Hook
  4. Author Bio
  5. Closing


Don't start your letter with "Dear Sir/Madam." Customize your query to each agent or editor. Take the time to look up a specific person and address them by name. (And spell it correctly.) Websites like or can help you find agents who are looking for what you're selling. If your story is in the Young Adult genre, don't submit it to an agent who only represents adult mysteries.

Do mention specific reasons you're submitting to him/her, if you have one. If you just read a story in Writers Digest magazine about an editor who is looking for sweeping historical romance – and she sounds perfect for your manuscript – mention that you read the interview. If you just chatted with an agent at the recent Cape Cod Writers Center Conference in August, remind him where you met.

Basic info

Be upfront with your info. Know your genre. Know your word-count. Put this info in the beginning, but don't waste the first paragraph on your bio or the praise you've received from your writing class. Remember this is a business letter. This part should be all business. Here's the basic info line from my successful query for my latest novel:

MY KIND OF CRAZY is a 90,600-word women's fiction/contemporary romance set on Cape Cod.

The Hook

This is the part where your voice and creativity need to shine, boiling your thousands of words into a 100-200 word summary that still sparkles with your voice and personality. Think back of book blurb – introduce the main characters, the conflict, and the goal. Don't give away the ending (save that for the synopsis.) You'll see from my query hook, that's it's very similar to what ended up on the back of my novel.

Kendall Roarke is betting everything on turning her Harwich Port B&B into the premier wedding destination on Cape Cod, despite her own recent (and messy) divorce.

Jonathan Reynolds moved back East to take over his uncle's business and start fresh after his own marriage ended. He's not looking for anything complicated - until he meets Kendall, with her wild mop of curls and big plans for the future.

Throw an uptight new neighbor and an unruly Saint Bernard puppy named Midget into the mix and things get a little crazy. Now Kendall has to decide if it's the kind of crazy that she can live with...for the rest of her life.

Author Bio

You need to tell a bit about who you are, and include any pertinent writing credits, degrees or affiliations. Are you previously published with another publishing house? Have you won any awards that are relevant to this manuscript? Do you belong to a writing organization in the same genre? For example, if you're submitting a romance manuscript, it's relevant to say you belong to the Romance Writers of America (RWA).

On the other hand, you don't need to list everything you've written since second grade, or mention a writing group an agent wouldn't know about. The agent doesn't care about your award winning knitting business, unless the book is about starting your own knitting business. Don't pad this section. One or two sentences to prove you're serious about your writing should be fine.

In my case, I included the facts that I live on the Cape and own a Saint Bernard, because it felt relevant to my story. However, I didn't include the tidbit about my dog in my mermaid book queries.

I live year-round on Cape Cod with my family and big dogs, and yes, one of our dogs is really a Saint Bernard named Midget. My previous publishing credits include two small-press romantic suspense novels: Unfolding the Shadows (Ellora's Cave, 2009) and Perfect Strangers (Moongypsy Press, 2010). Son of a Mermaid is a YA paranormal romance, released May 2013 from Crescent Moon Press and garnering great reviews from readers on Goodreads and Amazon. Blood of a Mermaid will be released in Spring 2014.


Again, this is a business letter. Thank the reader for their time and consideration. Let them know you took the time to read their submission requirements. The best closing would be "Sincerely" just like in any other business letter.

I've included the full synopsis below, as outlined in your submissions guidelines. Thanks for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.


Katie O'Sullivan

(my address)

(my phone number)

If you're sending an email query, expect an email reply. If you're querying by snail mail, you probably have to include a self-addressed stamped envelope (SASE). The current trend is that no reply means a rejection, but sometimes things do get lost in spam filters. Check the agent's guidelines – if she says she'll reply in 2-4 weeks, wait the 4 weeks until you send a polite follow-up inquiry.

And hopefully you'll be hearing back and getting requests for chapters or full manuscripts soon!

Mailbag image

From the Mailbag:

I've been seeing a lot of "grammar jokes" on Facebook about people misusing "Their, There, They're." Is there an easy way to remember which word to use when?

The three "theres" are homophones, words that sound alike but are spelled differently with different meanings. Here's a quick way to think about it:

There is a place. It has "here" as part of the word - definitely a place.

Their means possession. It has "heir" as part of it, another word for owner. Think owner/possession.

They're is a contraction for "they are." There's an apostrophe there for a reason.

My Kind of Crazy

Available at

Available at

Katie O'Sullivan loves editing, writing and playing with words. She lives in Harwich with her family, and the big dogs who "make" her walk on the beach every day.

She writes romance and adventure for young adults and the young at heart. Her latest young adult novel is BLOOD OF A MERMAID, published by Crescent Moon Press in May 2014. It's the sequel to last summer's best-selling SON OF A MERMAID.

Her newest Cape Cod romance is MY KIND OF CRAZY, published by The Wild Rose Press in March 2014. Available now exclusively on Kindle, the world-wide all-format release is slated for July 31, 2014.

Check the Event listings for upcoming book signings, or visit her blog for details.

For more information about working with Katie to make your words sparkle on the page, email her at