So one of the biggest questions I hear on loops an at conferences is about those mystical things called query letters. For those of you who don't know, a query letter is generally the first contact a writer makes with an agent or an editor. It's a one page intro to a writer's career and the book's outline. Basically, be brilliant in ten lines or less.
The frustration with query letters, similar to the frustration with synopsis pages is that there is no real laid out template. Oh, editors will tell you what they are looking for in a query letter, but chances are they speak in generalities. Writers wants specifics since so much rides on the query letter. A query letter is the thing that either opens a door or slams it shut for an unpublished novel.
Here's what's worked for me: NOTHING! I loathe query letters as much as you do! I sold "Dream in Color" based on a chance meeting at a chocolate fountain during a WisRWA conference last year. The first request I got for "Chance to Walk" is solely based on the book's quarterfinal finish in the Amazon.com 2009 Breakthrough Novel Awards this past spring.
However, three days ago I got a response to an email query that I sent out three months ago. That gave me some hope that I could speak intelligently on the subject of query letters.
My best advice is to think of a query letter like a business letter you'd write to a prospective employer. Start by writing down everything you think you want to say about yourself and your book. That will take up about three pages. Then, take out all the poetic description. Now you're down to a page and a half. Then, boil down your writing experience to only the most impressive bits. If you've sold a book or published some articles, list that like bullet points. If you've won a writing award, list that. Your high school newspaper probably doesn't count anymore as a writing credit. Your college paper might, but only if you were the editor, and only if you were in college in the last ten years. The reason editors and agents ask for your writing credits is to see if anyone else thought your writing was good. In all honesty, unless you've been published, they don't care. So if you haven't sold a book or won an award, underscore the fact that your book is FINISHED and READY TO GO! (Seriously, don't query a work of fiction unless you are finished writing it.)
Now the hard part. Describe your book in four sentences or less. You've just spent the last six years tapping out your great opus in your basement after the kids have gone to bed. Now boil that amazing 100K word novel down to twenty words or less. It can be done. It just takes time and practice.
Once you've gotten a reasonable page, put it in professional letter format and send it out. Then forget about it. Seriously. Forget about it until you get a rejection, or someone asks you for a partial. Mail it and forget it. That's what my critique partner and good friend Linda does. She sends queries out to agents and editors every day. Sort of a clear cutting of the editorial world. She sends it and forgets it.
Above all, don't worry about your query letter all that much. Getting a sale is a complete crapshoot, based on hard work, hard networking, and a huge dose of luck. (Again, I met Rhonda Penders, editor for The Wild Rose Press, at a chocolate fountain.)
So, now that I've helped you not one bit...go forth and WRITE!