Hard Lesson 17: How to Send Query Letters without Sounding like a Crazy Person

August 8, 2016

Query letters seem like they should be easy, right? After writing a script of several thousand to a hundred thousand words, writing a one-page email should be cake.

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So why do so many people have problems with it?

It’s because they don’t really understand the purpose of a query letter. A query letter is not designed to tout your greatness, it’s to interest other people in joining your project.

Most query letters are junk because nobody ever takes the receiver’s needs into account, but that is the purpose of emailing somebody right? To get them interested in your project? And the only way to get them interested is to show how your project can help them in concise, tangible terms.

So today I’m going to show you some of the keys behind a good query letter, and then I’ll show you a template I use to query people effectively.

This process can be used for querying artists, writers, editors or publishers. First, let’s talk about some of the keys to a good query letter.

1. It’s all about what you can do for the them

Any artist that is good enough to help sell your project with their art has several other ways they can make money without working with you.

They might be contracted to work on a project already. If they don’t any work at the time they can make money selling commissions and prints. Or they can make creator owned work, build their own product line, and increase their residual income streams.

If you are looking to hire an artist, you have to convince them that your project is better than all of the other projects they could focus their time. What makes your project great? What makes it stand out above the rest? Why is their sensibility uniquely qualified to work on your project? What value to do you bring to the table above just giving them a check?

Most creators think they are doing a favor for an artist by hiring them. In reality, it is a symbiotic relationship. You have a vision for your project that you cannot carry out by yourself. Which means that if an artist does not agree to work with you, your project cannot be completed. They are essential to the process of creating a sellable project.

When I contact artists I speak about my convention schedule, my distribution chain, my payment history with artists, and my ability to finish projects and release them successfully. I give references if they don’t know me and make sure people know I am pleasant to work with and that I can help further their career.

I didn’t always have a track record of success. in the early years, I just showed passion and enthusiasm. I was willing to pay a large deposit upfront (though that’s not always recommended) and kept encouraging them as a partner during the production cycle so they wanted to keep working with me.

My goal has always been that when an artist looks back at their career, they name our project as their favorite work.

2. You are the business owner.

If you are querying an artist, you are a business owner looking to hire a freelance consultant for work. If you are querying a publisher you are looking for an investor in your IP. Either way, you are the business owner.

This is why when a writer who is trying to hire an artist says “I think we both need to get paid”, I cringe.

Yes, it is important that eventually you are both paid. However, business owners are not paid in the same way as employees. Business owners do not collect salaries. They make money on the long term success of the product over time, not on the immediate paycheck for completing work.

It is also essential to think about this when querying publishers. Why would that company be a good fit for investment in your business? Why would your relationship be mutually beneficial? Remember, if you make a bad mistake with your partner you could be left with nothing except a hefty bill from your artist.

3. Construct your emails professionally.

Emails need to be professional at all times. They need to be spellchecked thoroughly for grammar and spelling. There is a free program called Grammarly that can help you spell check all your emails.

They also need to be polite and energetic.

You need to keep the query email short. There is no need for a novella. You can get the same information conveyed in 500 words as you can in 5,000. A longer email is going to turn busy people off from working on your project. A one sentence email is just as bad. Be like Goldilocks; not too long and not too short.

Remember, this first email is a simple introduction. You wouldn’t give your life story at a cocktail party to somebody you just met. Don’t give it inside a query letter, either.

Also, make sure your paragraphs themselves are readable and relevant. Most query letters smash together multiple thoughts into one paragraph.

I hate that.

Make sure every paragraph has a main point, the next sentences support that main point, and the concluding sentence validates that main point, just like we all learned in school.

4. Read websites thoroughly before emailing your query.

There is nothing more grating than receiving an email asking for my submission guidelines. They are on my site. When I receive such an email I automatically know that person is lazy. I never want to work with a lazy person.

Most artists and publishers have some sort of submission guideline on their site. Look for them thoroughly before you submit.

5. Make sure they are a good fit before emailing.

Most artists have a favorite genre or type of project. Some only want to work for hire on anthologies. Others are only open for pin-ups. You must know what the artist specializes in before emailing them, and let them know why you think your project would be a good fit for them.

That’s not to say if an artist specializes in fantasy project you shouldn’t email them your horror script. They might be looking for a project like yours. However, you will only intrigue them if you can make a compelling case why they are a good fit for your project.

6. Unless asked, don’t send any attachments in the first email.

An attachment is a commitment. It’s like asking somebody to marry you on the first date. Sure, you can do it, and sure it might work one in a million times, but everybody else is going to be turned off by it.

7. If an artist or publisher doesn’t respond right away, don’t flood them with emails.

Just because somebody doesn’t get back to you right away doesn’t mean they aren’t interested. Maybe their nose is down on a deadline. Maybe they are on vacation. Maybe they only answer emails once a week. Give people time to get back to you. If you are querying an artist give at least two weeks. For a publisher give it at least a month.

You should always end your emails with an expectation to follow up. Here is an easy one that isn’t pushy. “Please respond so I know this didn’t go into spam. If you don’t, I will email you next week just to make sure you got it. I don’t want to be a pest. I am just really excited to work with you.”

Alright, so now we’re talked about some of the finer points to a good query letter. Now let me show you a good template to use.

1. Introduce yourself. Give your name, company, and a link to your past work so people know you are legit. This is not an excuse to send them to your script. It’s just so they can get a taste of who you are and what you do.

2. Say something nice about their work. This isn’t kissing ass. It’s an honest appreciation of work. If you want to work with this artist or publisher tell them why you were drawn to their work in a quick sentence. You also want to include a quick bit about why this project is a great fit for them. Not too much yet, just a taste.

3. Introduce the project with a logline. This is just a quick one sentence about the project, the length, and the format.

4. Give a one paragraph introduction of the synopsis. Make it short and sweet. One paragraph does not mean 50 sentences. Five sentences max.

5. Talk about why this project is a great fit. Now you can get into a very short reason why this is a good fit. You can’t say “I feel this is a good fit”. You need to provide research behind your data. For instance, “I see you do genre books but don’t have many fantasy books. I think this book would fit your aesthetic because of x reason.”

6. Talk about the scope of the project in slightly more detail. Include time frame (if you have one), budget, and your plan for marketing. If you’ve finished an ashcan let the publisher know the time frame for finished production. This is where you can get into some detail because it will help the publisher or artist know if your project fits into their timeline. For artists, it will also help them price their work. If you have a tight deadline and require all their attention, they will charge more.

7. Sign off with a follow-up expectation. Tell them how much you look forward to hearing from them, set an expectation to follow up, and say goodbye.

With this, you should be able to interest artists and publishers with a lot more ease and they will thank you for your brevity and professionalism.

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4 comments on “Hard Lesson 17: How to Send Query Letters without Sounding like a Crazy Person

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