Queries—basic structure

Not all query letters are set up this way, but here's a quick and dirty skeleton structure:

Date (I usually put September 13th, 2006 to make it look nicer)

For editors:
Name, title, house, address
For agents:
Name, agency, address

Greeting (make sure you address the person by name—for example, Dear Ms. Lawton)

First paragraph. Some people start with a hook, some people start with the info line. It's up to you, although I have heard of some editors/agents who detest the hook opener, so I usually play it safe and start with the info line.
I am excited to present my novel, The Twelve Dates of Christmas, a completed 45,000 word Inspirational Christmas romance set in San Jose, California.

Story blurb. Typically they're one to two paragraphs long, and they can be similar to back cover blurb.
Risa Takayama would rather eat rotten tofu than listen to her aunts’ tweaking her about her weight and lack of a Significant Other. She’s the Elephant Man next to her Barbie-doll cousins, so she throws herself into her wedding accessories shop in the mall. She’s becoming so savvy and self-sufficient, she hasn’t needed to bother God for any help in a while.

Three weeks before the Christmas Eve Candlelight Service, her non-Christian brother makes a crazy deal—he’ll go to church with the family if she finds a date for the service. Risa can’t ask family friend Ben Higashi—the entire church knows rice would stop sticking before he’d be interested in her, so they’d assume she couldn’t find anyone else. Ben suggests the mall-sponsored Speed Dating, but when she uncovers a mall shoplifter mystery, can she discover both Mr. Right and the crook as her twelve dates turn into the Twelve Nightmares before Christmas?

Issues, hook, appeal. What makes this novel unique or different? Is the storyline high-concept? How would it appeal to readers? How would it be similar to but different from other books out there? If you're targeting a certain house, it would be a good idea to mention a book in their catalog for a comparative market analysis.
In the tradition of Linda Windsor’s Moonstruck series, The Twelve Dates of Christmas is a humorous romance with a splash of ethnic flavor—Amy Tan meets Bridget Jones. Stepping outside the structure of traditional inspirational romances, this story showcases the trials of a Japanese American woman fighting the foibles of her extended family and her insecurities as she tries to find romance and an identity outside of her work, something many young Christian women can relate to no matter what their ethnic background.

Your bio. What makes you qualified to write this story? Include publishing credits (and any awards), clubs, and/or experiences that are relevant to the story or your writing.
As a fourth generation Japanese American, I have close ties with the Asian American community in both Hawaii and the San Francisco Bay Area, where the story is set. I am a columnist for WordPraize multicultural e-zine, and I have had articles published in Nikkei Heritage, the journal for the National Japanese American Historical Society. I am a member of RWA, Faith, Hope and Love chapter, and American Christian Fiction Writers. The first chapter from another of my manuscripts won first place in its category in the 2005 ACFW Noble Theme contest.

Closing thanks and polite nothings. Keep it short. Also, either here or in the first paragraph, you can include any personal notes if you met the editor or agent at a conference, just to jog their memory.
I have included a one-page synopsis, and I would be happy to send a proposal and the first three chapters. It was a pleasure meeting you at the ACFW conference in Dallas last week. I look forward to hearing from you.

Camy Tang


  1. Camy,

    Thank you for sharing this. One day when God prepares me to write a book, I will be glad to have this example. I printed it out to save. Be blessed, Lynn :)

  2. I'm glad it was helpful, Lynn!

  3. Camy,
    Sounds like a solid outline. One question though: What sort of bio does a writer present when he's just crawled out of a cabbage patch? With no publishing portfolio save a few self-produced Christian tracts/booklets, and perhaps a small part in editing Tricia's novels, I'm as interesting professionally as last week's news.

  4. Hi Jim,
    LOL I'm sure you're more interesting than you think you are. :)

    Put down whatever experience you have that is pertinent for the story you're querying. Most writers write what they know--so if your novel features fly fishing, mention your 15 years of fly fishing experience (doesn't have to be professional or official experience). Since you've edited Tricia's novels, in the query letter, say you've done some freelance editing for a multi-published Moody novelist. Also mention your Christian tracts/booklets by name (a few, at least), no need to say they were self-published.

    Your bio doesn't need to be weighted down with awards and credits, because it's the story blurb that's going to hook the agent/editor first. If they like the blurb, they're not going to NOT ask you to send a proposal just because you've never been published in magazines or never won a writing award.



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