Agents, especially successful ones, receive thousands of query letters on a daily basis. So it’s important that you write one that sparks their interest. Writing a professional, concise, intelligent, interesting query letter will get you noticed. Here are some tips on how to write the best query letter.
A query letter is a single page cover letter, introducing you and your book. That’s it. It’s not a resume, and it’s not the story of your life as an aspiring writer. It’s short, concise, and purposeful, and its purpose is to elicit an invitation to send sample chapters or even the whole manuscript to the agent.
A query letter should consist of three paragraphs: the hook, the mini-synopsis, and your biography (your writer’s biography, not everything you’ve ever accomplished.) If you stray from this format, you’ll ruin your chances of being seen as a serious writer. Keep it simple. Stick to three paragraphs.
Paragraph One: The Hook. A hook is a one-sentence tagline for your book. It’s meant to hook your reader’s interest, and lure them in. Try to capture the reader’s attention in a single sentence. (now that gets the creative juices flowing, now doesn’t it?)
Paragraph Two: Mini-Synopsis. This is where you get to dwindle down your 400 page novel into a single paragraph. (Feel free to grown here). I’d like to offer advice on how to do this, but it really just takes practice and patience. Write as short a description as you can describing what your book is about. Then read it. Then cut as much of it out as possible. Then read it again. Then cut more. And so on, and so on, and so on. This is where a friend or, better yet, a writers’ group comes in handy. Letting someone else read what you have is helpful. They’ll be a new set of eyes, easily able to tell you what information is necessary, and what could be left out. I know this process is beyond difficult. I’d personally rather drill screws into my toenails. But it’s necessary. And if you’re going to be a professional writer, you have to learn how to do this effectively. So think of it this way – you’ll have about 150 words in this paragraph to expand on your hook…give a little more information about your main characters, their problems/conflicts, how adversity changes their lives. Reading the backs of other books will give you some ideas on how to accomplish this. You can do it!
Paragraph Three: Your Bio. Writing about yourself can be a bit uncomfortable, especially if you’ve never been published, never won any awards, hold no degrees from writing schools, and possess no credentials whatsoever as a writer. Fortunately, the less you have to list in your bio, the more room you have for your mini-synopsis. Just keep it short, and related to your writing. Agents generally don’t care what your day job is unless it relates to your book somehow. Education is helpful because it’s just sounds good. If you’ve published a few stories in your local newspaper, or have a a short story published in a magazine or that won a writing contest, now’s the time to mention that. Don’t go crazy with your bio, but be confident – don’t be too modest!
Your Closing: Finishing Up. Do just two things – first, thank the agent for their time and consideration, a First, thank the agent for her time and consideration. Second, tell the agent that an outline, full synopsis, or entire manuscript is available upon request.
Don’t query agents until you have finished your full manuscript, have an outline written, and a full synopsis. There’s nothing worse than actually grabbing an agent’s attention, only to have to say “I’ll get back to you” when they want to see more of your book.
More Query Letter Tips
Address your query specifically to the agent – not “To Whom It May Concern.”
State the title of your book. You’d be surprised how many writers forget to include the title of their book in their query! The title should be mentioned at the beginning of the query letter.
Include the word count and genre of your book. Novels should be between 80,000 and 100,000 words. If your book’s word count exceeds this, my advice is to cut it down before you start sending out query letters. Agents will very likely hit “delete” on a proposed first-time novel over 110,000 – 120,000 words. And don’t
Mention exactly why you’re writing to this particular agent. Perhaps your book is similar to other books that agent has represented in the past. Or, maybe you’ve done some research, checked out her website, read her blog, found out what she’s looking for. Or maybe you met her at a writing conference or you’re responding to a specific call for submissions.
Adopt the right “tone” for your query letter. Your letter should present like a professional business letter, but at the same time, it’s important that it matches your book’s tone. For example, if your book is hilarious, your query letter shouldn’t be academic sounding and stuffy. If your book reads in an easy-going, comfortable, curl-up-with-coffee-and-a-blankie tone, your query letter should be just as enjoyable to read.
Keep your query to one-page only. This concept still applies in this age of email queries. Your limit is 250 words, 300 words maximum.
Make sure you have someone proof read your work. Typos and grammar mistakes will kill any chance you have of an agent taking you seriously.
Don’t start your query by saying, “I’m writing to you because I found your name in such-and-such guide..”
Don’t refer to your novel as a fictional novel. Novel means fiction. Otherwise it would be a textbook, a memoir, something else!
Do NOT include sample chapters of your novel with your query unless the agent’s submission guidelines say to include them.
I hope this article helps in in your attempts not only to write an incredibly effective query letter, but to get you published and on the best seller list. Go for it!!
You may purchase Writers’ Digest Guide to Writing Query Letters HERE.