Submitting Manuscript Queries - Be Specific and Professional


By Karen Coiffi

All writers face the dreaded query. Did I put enough information? Did I put too much? Did I have a great hook? Am I submitting to the right publisher?

These are just a few questions that run through a writer’s mind when mailing, or clicking the send button for the query. So, how do you answer these questions and the many others that go along with the job of crafting a query?

Well, the first simple response to this question is to READ the publisher’s or agent’s guidelines. Okay, that’s not accurate-you need to STUDY and FOLLOW those guidelines precisely.

Items to watch for when reading those guidelines:

1. What genre does that particular publishing house, agent, or magazine publish?

2. Does the publisher/agent accept simultaneous submissions?

3. Is there a specific word count involved if querying for articles?

4. Does the publishing house accept unagented queries?

5. Does the magazine only accept specific themes, if so, is your article on target?

This list is not complete, there are obviously more items to watch out for. So, we go back to the main rule for querying: FOLLOW the GUIDELINES!

But, following the guidelines is just part of the querying process; you also need to know some inclusion essentials.

Six rules to use that will help you create a winning query:

1. Be professional. Writing is a business just like any other-treat it as such.

2. Be sure to include your contact information: address, telephone number, email address and website.

3. If you were referred by someone include it in the query. Every little bit helps, but be sure it’s a referral from someone the editor actually knows.

4. Write tight – be specific and jump right in. You want to provide enough information to warrant the editor to want more, but you need to keep it to one page.

5. The first paragraph is the pitch-within a couple of sentences you need to hook the editor or agent. The second paragraph is about you, again keep it brief and include your credentials. The third paragraph is your conclusion; thank the editor/agent for his/her time and mention if you are enclosing a SASE and if the query is a simultaneous submission.

6. In regard to your bio: Limit personal information unless it adds to your credentials as a writer qualified to write for this publisher.

A good way to practice for queries and pitches is to write a one sentence out of the ball park description of your manuscript. This will help you to think and write tight and choose the perfect words to hook the reader and convey the essence of your story.

This article first appeared at:



Karen Cioffi is an award-winning children’s author, successful children’s ghostwriter with 300+ satisfied clients worldwide, and online platform instructor with WOW! Women on Writing. For children’s writing tips. or if you need help with your children’s story, visit:

You can check out Karen’s books at:



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Terry Whalin said...


Queries or pitches to editors and agents are critical documents. Your article is filled with insights for every author whether you are brand new or (like me) have been doing this for a while. One of the keys to remember is while you may labor over every word (hopefully), the editor or agent will process (read) your query and give it a few seconds. If there is nothing of interest, they will press on to the next query. You have to use your words to grab their attention.


deborah lyn said...

Thank you Karen,
This article is full of encouraging steps every authors needs as we approach the dreaded Query Letter. Following the Guidelines is paramount for a successful query. Sounds simple, but it's the first test. Writing tight, the first paragraph pitch, and limiting personal information to applicable qualifications helps make the query worth reading. And there's so many more tips you've given - Thanks again!

Mplcreative said...

Your article contains vital information for those seeking publication. Writers harm their chances by not researching the pertinent information called for in a query for a particular market. Your article is precise and well written.

Carolyn Howard-Johnson said...

I would like everyone to know you have this! The most worrisome part for my clients is always the author platform part. We tend to overlook lots of things that even beginners can list. Example: even attending a respectable writers conference is an indicator the author is motivated toward learning more and marketing their book. Lots of stuff that sounds tired can be avoided, too. A chapter in the coming third edition of my TheFrugalEditor will help you avoid pet peeves straight from the mouths of agents I interviewed!!❤️❤️ Looking for reviewers for its coming release! My publisher offers paper or ebook review copies. 📚🖊

lastpg said...

Karen, your article is spot on about the specifics of querying agents and editors. I learned in a fiction course to organize the three paragraphs a little differently, though. What I learned was to explain in the first paragraph why you chose the particular agent, editor, or publication. And as you said, tell who recommended you if that's the case. The second paragraph is a brief synopsis of the work, and the third paragraph details the important specifics about the author, especially if an award has been won, books published, and degree that pertains to the subject matter, as examples. Also noteworthy is the number of queries it might take to land a deal. One of my critique partners found her agent on Twitter after sending in many, many queries. She got to know various groups and people on Twitter and kept up with them. It took her two years to find her agent but she never gave up. She tells us that Twitter is a good place to learn what agents are looking for, but you have to keep after it continuously.

Karen Cioffi said...

Terry, that's probably the scariest part for writers - the query will only get a few seconds to entice the editor. That's why it's so important to grab them quickly. Thanks for sharing your years of experience!

Karen Cioffi said...

Deborah, it's so true that there are many elements and things to watch for when writing the query letter. Probably the main one is to follow the publisher/agents guidelines - I like how you put it: First test.

Karen Cioffi said...

Mindy, thanks for mentioning how important research is when preparing a query letter.

Karen Cioffi said...

Carolyn, you made me laugh. We're scaring the daylights out of writers, but it's so true that if you follow the steps and have created a quality story, every author has a shot. And it is important that your author platform is strong. This includes being visible and involved.
And, I'd love to review The Frugal Editor Third Edition!

Karen Cioffi said...

Linda, thanks for the input. The paragraph structure, except for the last one, is just a guideline. That's where the research comes in. And a main aspect of querying is perseverance. The authors of Chicken Soup for the Soul had 144 rejections before they got a contract with a small publisher. They're a great example of having a vision, aiming for it, and staying on course.

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