Friday, July 22, 2011

Query Letters 101 – Salutation and Sign Off

A query letter is the first face you show to a potential literary agent or publisher. It should read and look as professional as possible. Remember, you’re not writing a friend or even a colleague, you’re writing someone with whom you hope to enter into a business relationship and every interaction should reflect this relationship, even before it’s actually begun.

Font and style

No two ways about it: use a 12-point font, preferably Times New Roman or Courier, in black. If you must be a rebel, use Arial or Helvetica.

Yes, there are a whole host of lovely and creative font faces out there. Use them for your grocery lists and emails to your friends. For these purposes, stick with one of the four fonts mentioned above, 12 point, black. That is all.


Margins must be one inch all around. Do not cheat on your margins to squeeze in a half-page summary of your manuscript. In this case, readability (not to mention following the rules) is more important than whatever text you can fit inside of a 0.1 margin. Your target reader will notice and it will diminish your professional tone and make it seem as though you are either a) the type of person who takes short cuts or b) the type of person who tries to manipulate the rules. Few people want to work with this kind of person.

Sign on

Letters have a standard format. Start with the date at the top of the page and then your recipient’s address, which should include: name, business title, company, and street address.

Don’t get fancy. “Dear” works well for everyone. And most people (perhaps not all) have names. Indeed, they often have both a first and a last name. Address them by their title: Mr., Ms. or Dr., as the case may be, and their last name. I default to Ms. for women but feel free to use Mrs. or Miss if you are confident that they use that title (i.e. if it’s on their website).

Use a comma or a colon after the salutation line.

Example: Dear Ms. Smith,

If you don’t know the gender of the target reader, that is if you feel you have to guess, use the person’s full name. I’ve been addressed as “Mr. Comargue” in correspondence and it never stops hurting.

Example: Dear Taylor Smith:

Do NOT use “Hi”, “Hello”, “Dearest” etc. Do NOT use the person’s first name unless you actually know them personally (and they know you). Do NOT, repeat, DO NOT misspell the target reader’s name.

Read the name over several times. Spell it out loud. Better yet, copy and paste it off of the person’s website. Just remember to adjust the style so that your font is consistent throughout your query letter.

Sign off

Your concluding sentence should always thank your reader for their time. You should also say that you’re looking forward to their response. Don’t put a timeline on it. Just leave it at that. If a lot of time has passed, and you read in their guidelines that you should have had a response already, you may need to follow up.

End the letter with “Sincerely” or “Yours truly” or, if you’re feeling particularly affectionate, “Yours very truly”. Follow that with a comma and your full name. They don’t know you well enough yet to be on a first name basis.

Yours very truly,

Nan Comargue

Photo courtesy of Arvind Balaraman at

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