Annelies Cowan. Letter of a Fallen Female War Hero. Grade 11, Age 16. 2012 Silver Medal, Mixed Media.

Zara Asked:

Do you have any advice for a young aspiring author who is looking at agents and publishing houses to query. How can I narrow down the search and what makes a good query letter? Thanks!

Ned Answered:

Zara, If you’re looking for agents and publishers, get Writer’s Market. It’s a book — I suppose you could get an e-version but it’s the sort of book you want to circle things in and write notes in — that lists all of the agents and publishers in the business. From small independent houses to big-name representatives, if they work in books, they’re in Writer’s Market.

Remember when you use Writer’s Market to be targeted. Specificity is important in publishing. If you have written a paranormal romance, find a publisher or agent who specializes in paranormal romance.

Also, you can query independent publishers directly, but you will need an agent before querying major publishers (HarperCollins, Random House, and the rest of the Big Six).

When it comes to your actual query letter, whether for a publisher or an agent, here’s the basic format:

Dear [Editor/Agent]:

Enclosed are the first three chapters plus an outline of my 85,000-word science fiction novel, Voodoo Robot. It is [insert here a one- or two-sentence summary of the basic setup and story arc]. This is my first novel. [OR: I have the following publication credits.] [Optionally, and only if EXTREMELY pertinent: In addition, I have the following related credentials or experience.] I also enclose a self-addressed stamped envelope. [OR: You need not return the manuscript.]

Thank you for considering my submission. I look forward to hearing from you.

[your name here]

(The source for this letter is the very funny Making Light.)

One tip: don’t start out your letter with “My name is…” Your name should already be on the return address of the letter; there’s no need to repeat it. Good luck!


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Have questions about writing or the business of publishing? Ask a real writer! Ned Vizzini is the author of It’s Kind of a Funny Story, Be More Chill, and Teen Angst? Naaah…. He has written for The New York Times, The Daily Beast, and season 2 of MTV’s Teen Wolf. His work has been translated into seven languages and will soon be in Czech. He is the co-author, with Chris Columbus, of the forthcoming fantasy-adventure series House of Secrets. His next novel, The Other Normals, will be published in fall 2012. E-mail your questions to

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