The Dreaded Query Letter

January 28, 2009 Posted by Cecelia Dowdy

As some of you may know, I will occasionally answer questions that I receive about writing and pursuing publication. I received the following question from Cynthia recently:
I would like to ask your opinion concerning the Dreaded Query Letter. For the life of me I can’t seem to write one that sounds interesting…..Please help, what does one have to do to make it jump off the page?

Cynthia, the best way to answer your question is to provide a query letter I sent to my current publisher, Barbour Publishing, for John’s Quest (formerly titled Healing Hearts), the novel that was released last May. I’m pasting the letter below, with my comments on what to do to develop your own query letter in brackets:

1810 Barbour Drive
PO Box 719
Urichsville, OH 44683


My name is Cecelia Dowdy, and I am a multi-published CBA author with books released by two major houses: Harlequin Enterprises (under the Steeple Hill Love Inspired imprint) and The Doubleday Book Club (under the Crossings Christian Book Club). I have enclosed copies of my published novels for you. [If you have publishing credentials, this is a great place to mention them. My sending the editor copies of my published novels is not necessarily standard. However, I’ve done this with other publishers so that they can see some of the work that I’ve had commercially published. If you are not published, you might want to begin with the summary of your novel after your introduction.]

I recently heard that Barbour is seeking longer, multi-faceted plotline romance novels. The following project, Healing Hearts, is completed, so contact me if you would like to see sample chapters or synopsis. [Be sure to tell the editor which line/imprint you are targeting with your submission. Also, if you’re familiar with the line/imprint, you can let the editor know this here, and maybe name some of your favorite authors of that line. I did not do this in my query letter because the line I was targeting was new, and no books had yet been released for this line.] Here is a brief summary of the story:

Monica Crawford is stunned when her irresponsible younger sister, Gina, abandons her blind seven-year-old son, Scotty, into her care. She discovers her nephew has behavioral and academic problems. When she acquires a handsome tutor to help Scotty, named John French, she finds herself attracted to the compassionate and caring man.

Even though John has deep feelings for Monica, he discovers she does not feel they should date since he is not a Christian. His agnostic views prevent them from having a fulfilling relationship, and Monica stresses that they cannot become emotionally involved unless he accepts Christ.

As John takes a religious class at Monica’s church, he does discover the joy of salvation. However, after his baptism, when he decides to leave to go into a long-distance specialized ministry, he has to decide which is more important: his relationship with Monica or his desire to proclaim his newfound salvation to others. [When you provide your summary, make it brief, but be sure the important elements of the story are highligted. Also, if your story deals with a certain issue, you might want to mention any knowledge you have about the subject. For example, if your novel deals with a social worker trying to help an abused child, and you are a social worker, then you might want to mention that shortly after your summary.]

As I’m sure you are aware the African-American Christian fiction market is growing steadily, and new and upcoming authors are being published by various houses. Also, my novel includes two secondary characters, who are Monica’s best friends. I plan on developing this story into a three-book series, based on the best friends. [It’s good to mention any unique knowledge about the industry that might help the editor see the merits of your project. Also, if you’re thinking of developing the story into a series, let the editor know.]

I am a member of Romance Writers of America (RWA) and American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW). Currently, I am the secretary of the Faith Hope and Love Inspirational Chapter of RWA. [If you are a member of any professional writers organizations, you can list them here. Being a member of writers groups shows how serious you are about developing your craft and networking with others within the industry.]

I enjoyed working on this project, and I look forward to hearing from you.


Cecelia Dowdy
Christian Fiction Author

Even though I sold this book to Barbour, they didn’t want it for the line/imprint that I referenced in my query letter. They wanted it for their Heartsong Presents line. This will happen sometimes. When I sold a book to Steeple Hill, I’d submitted it for their then-new women’s fiction line and they acquired it for their Love Inspired line. Usually, if an editor likes your writing, and they feel the story is better-suited for another imprint within their publishing house, they’ll usually let you know, and you can still make a sale.

Let me know if you have other questions about this blog entry or anything else about writing…

~Cecelia Dowdy~

3 Responses to The Dreaded Query Letter

  1. Kandy Kane says:

    Thanks for this information about query letters. It was helpful.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Do you have to place the paragraphs in the same order as you have them? Or can you switch them around a bit?

  3. Hi, Anonymous. Sorry it’s taken me awhile to respond to your question. You can shift the order of the paragraphs if you wish. You also might want to read the letter out loud before submitting, just to make sure the writing flows and sounds smooth.

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