One of the most important steps in getting published is writing a query letter. This is the point when you showcase not only your story, but who you are. I’ve often heard writers say they agonize over queries, and to them I say: you’re overthinking it. Be yourself. Have fun—but not too much fun; you must be respectful. Here’s a step-by-step guideline:
1. Always, always, find out who the editor or submission manager is and address him/her as Mr./Ms. I don’t care if you babysit his kids or are related to her. Use Mr./Ms. No exceptions.
2. Next, explain how you know the person, have heard of the person, or might have something in common with the person. Do your research. Is the editor a huge Yankees fan just like you? Mention that. “As a fellow admirer of the Bronx Bombers, I hope you enjoy this tale of a boy, a dog, and a baseball.” Be honest. If you’re a Red Sox fan, lead with something else.
“Dear Mr. Deal,
After hearing you speak at the October 31 event “Boo” at the Bushnell in Hartford, CT, I was inspired to put pen to paper and get my embalming—oops! Creative—juices flowing. The end result was the attached manuscript, a 2250-word short story entitled “Down the Pike,” which I am pleased to offer to your magazine for publication.”
3. Describe your story, as succinctly yet intriguingly as possible. You should be able to summarize any story to a sentence or two. Gone With The Wind: “A Southern belle is thrown into the harsh realities of life during and after the Civil War, evolving into a cold, manipulative woman who survives and succeeds . . . but at what cost?” Anything can be summarized.
Example: “This is a story of a 40-year-old woman trapped in an unhappy marriage who discovers that sometimes, good things happen without the pesky aftermath of a messy murder trial.”
4. Describe yourself. Remember when I said this is a chance to showcase you? Give the editor an idea of who you are, and where you’ve been published.
Example: “I am a B-movie enthusiast, comic book fan, humor blogger, and horror writer whose stories have most recently been published in The Works and The Litchfield Literary Review.”
If you’ve never been published, that’s okay. Write a few words about why you’re starting now—for instance, “It was my love of Mad magazine that inspired me to write comedy.” A word of caution: if you’ve been published in more than, say, six magazines or anthologies, don’t list all of them. Pare down the list to the most recent, and summarize. “My stories have appeared in over twenty publications, most recently in the January 2016 edition of Tin House, Issue 8 of Shock Totem, and in Jeff Strand’s new horror anthology, Crazy Chili Dog Horrors.”
5. Explain why your story is a good fit for the publication you are querying. It’s important to know to whom you are submitting, so be sure to pick up copies of the magazine or other books that the publisher has put out to get an idea of what they prefer.
Example: “I feel that “Down the Pike,” with its desolate setting and carnivorous fish, is well suited for Shroud magazine.”
Close with an interesting fact or tidbit about the story, and be sure to list your contact information, including name, address, phone number, and email address. You don’t want to miss an opportunity because you didn’t tell them how to reach you!
Example: “I can only hope that you will find my story as horrifying as my ex will when he reads it and realizes the grotesquely obese husband and his yappy little dog are very, very familiar to him.
Thank you for your time and consideration. You may reach me by e-mail at the address listed below. Sincerely . . .”
There you have it. Easy-peasy, right? The query I used as an example in this entry is actually one I sent to Tim Deal at Shroud back in 2010. This was his response:
BEST query letter yet! We’re going to move this story forward in the process.
Stacey Longo is the author of Ordinary Boy (nominated for a Pushcart Prize) and Secret Things: Twelve Tales to Terrify.
Her stories have appeared in numerous anthologies and magazines, including Shroud, Shock Totem, and the Litchfield Literary Review.
She is a past Hiram Award winner, and was a featured author on the 2014 Connecticut Authors Trail. A former humor columnist for the Block Island Times, she maintains a weekly humor blog at www.staceylongo.com.