Writing an Effective Query Letter

By Giselle Regus and Emily Brown

So you think you can write? That’s great! But before an editor even lays eyes on your manuscript, she (or he!) needs to see your query letter. As assistants on the Love Inspired lines, we’ve seen query letters run the gamut from perfectly professional to downright disastrous. Below, we’ve included some tips that will help make sure you’ve given your book the best shot at finding a home at Harlequin.

10 Dos and Don’ts of Query Letters

  1. DO include all of your contact information. We get 90 percent of our submissions electronically (do that here!), but sometimes we still receive hard copies. If your manuscript doesn’t work for us, we’ll need your address and a SASE to return it. If your manuscript does work for us, we want to let you know!
  2. DO give us a succinct plot summary. Since a query letter doesn’t include sample chapters, it’s the plot that will let us know—on the most basic level—if the story is right for our line. If we can see that your novel focuses on a love triangle, we’ll know immediately that it won’t be right for a category romance.
  3. DON’T forget to include your hooks! The job of an editor is to help shape a saleable book. Knowing you’ve got a secret baby-reunion romance-with a single-dad cowboy is key to capturing our interest.
  4. DO keep the focus on the story. Everyone who writes for us has as a dynamic and interesting life story. Unfortunately, a query letter is not the place to elaborate on this. We’re most interested in the plot of your story.
  5. DO tell us why your story works for the line that you’re querying. Why do you think your manuscript should be part of our lineup? Harlequin Historicals and Love Inspired Historicals both publish books about rugged and dreamy cowboys, but each line is looking for a very different tone. And to that point…
  6. DON’T send your story to every line.
  7. DO be familiar with the books that we’re currently publishing. It’s nearly always apparent in a query letter if you’re familiar with—and love—our books.
  8. DON’T include information about unrelated published work. We love knowing that you’ve published novels at other houses, but experience in nonfiction writing or journalism won’t necessarily translate to writing a successful romance. Let your story speak for itself.
  9. DO make yourself familiar with our guidelines. Each series has basic standards that need to be met. Your story should meet our word count and our setting requirements. For example, Love Inspired Suspense usually only accepts stories set in North America.
  10. DON’T forget to proofread your query letter. This may sound obvious, but you wouldn’t believe the number of query letters we’ve received with misspelled words and incorrect grammar. Have a friend read over your letter before you send it out. You’ve spent months working on your manuscript; don’t undermine your hard work with typos!

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Comments

  1. Ginger King

    Thank you so much for such an easy-to-follow article. I was wondering if you could perhaps answer a question I’ve had for a long time and never found the right place to ask it.

    I’m targeting LIH and LIS, and have no prior experience in fiction. I have, however, built up a significant marketing platform in anticipation of eventual publication. I have a mailing list of well over 10,000, a Twitter following of almost 10,000, and a fairly high traffic blog. A lot of the general advice on query letters says that platforms sell books, so this is relevant to include. I haven’t heard an official Harlequin take on this, and I don’t want to come off like I’m telling my life story in my query.

    Any advice on whether to include or not?

    Thank you so much in advance.

  2. Ruth Logan Herne

    I used to write the WORST QUERY/COVER LETTERS possible…. Long. Meandering. Sometimes funny, sometimes begging.

    Oy vey, I’ve come a long way and I would have loved this list from two amazing women like you back in the day!!!! Thanks so much for taking the time to blog about this!!! You guys are awesome!

    Ruthy

  3. Thank you so much for that. I do have one question, how many words do you require the quiery to be. I know from past experience, some only want 200-300 word quieries. That was the biggest challenge I thought.

  4. Mary-Theresa Hussey

    Ginger–

    Platforms are particularly important for non-fiction writers, not as essential for fiction writers.

    Certainly having a base to grow from is important, and starting a blog/Twitter/webpage is useful as you’re developing your voice.

    I would say mentioning this in the final paragraph is certainly appropriate, but the fiction voice will be the final determination of a sale!

    Good luck to all!