Today’s guest is Christopher Loke, author of The Housekeeper’s Son. (I reviewed his book a few weeks ago. Feel free to look it up in my archives.) Christopher is also the executive editor for Jolly Fish Press.

As executive editor for a publishing house, I’ve seen my share of query letters—those that draw my attention right away and those that scream, “Dunk me into the slush pile! NOW!” While I try to give every query a chance—overlooking minor typos and such—there are, however, query crimes that must never be committed.

The query letter, no matter how intimidating it sounds to writers, only consists of three major sections. These are also the sections that editors like me care about most. To make it easier, I advise writers to just write one paragraph for each section. A good query letter will consist of three major paragraphs: The intro, the body, and the conclusion.

The Intro
The first paragraph should be your hook, or tagline. To illustrate, I will use The Housekeeper’s Son as example. If I were to query an agent or a publisher on my novel, my first paragraph will go like this:

“When 72-year-old housekeeper, Eleanor Ethel Rose, is found with a bloody knife in her hand beside the dead body of her employer’s 12-year-old daughter, she quickly pleads guilty before her trial even begins. But to Victor Lee, a young journalist who is assigned to cover the story, there is more to Eleanor’s confession.”

And that’s all you will need to write. Simple and to the point. I use two sentences for my hook, but you can concise yours to one if you like. I don’t recommend more than three sentences.

The Body
Once you have the hook, you can expound briefly on what your book is all about. Now, remember not to divulge too much. All you need to write is a brief summary of your book’s major plot. Here’s what I imagine the author of Cinderella will write:

“Cinderella has always been ill-treated by her stepfamily. She lives her life as a servant to her abusive family, who is anything but kind. She longs to break free from the misery she’s in. And when her fairy godmother appears one night to give her the chance to meet the prince and possibly change her life forever, Cinderella’s dream seems to have come true. But magic has its limitation. It will only last till midnight, after which Cinderella will become her poor servant self again. Even in her immaculate gown standing in front of a prince, who is obviously smitten by her beauty and grace, Cinderella cannot foresee the chaos that will unfold as soon as the clock strikes twelve.”

That’s all you need to “tease” the reader without telling too much or being too short.

The Conclusion
There are a few pertinent things in the last paragraph of your query. They are the name of your book, why it should be acquired, the word-count, and the target audience. It is important that you include these few things in your conclusion or all will be in vain. Once you’ve done so, you may write a little about yourself. As editor, I always love to know a little about the author I am reading. It gives me an idea of who you are and your credentials, and it helps.

Here’s a list of things to remember when writing a query letter:

1. Address the agent by name.
2. Be concise.
3. Include the book title, target audience, and word-count.
4. Tell your reader what your book aims to accomplish; what are the underlying themes of the book, if you have one.
5. Include your email address and phone number. Although not necessary, it is always nice to let your reader know where you live.
6. Leave out the subplots and only involve major characters in the body of your letter.
7. Spell check.
8. Grammar check.
9. Punctuation check.
10. Review your letter to be sure it makes sense. Put it away for a week and reread again. If it sounds good, send it. If you are confused, fix it and repeat the process again.
11. Don’t tell the reader how great your book is, show them the plot and let them decide.
12. Don’t use funky fonts.
13. Don’t reduce font-size because you write too much.
14. And never send out a query letter until the novel is complete.

That said, bear in mind that there is no right or wrong way to write a query letter. What you want is a query letter that is clear, easy to follow, and well-written. And if you truly craft it well, good results will follow. Promise.