Writing the Perfect Query Letter


Now that your story is ready to put out there, if you are still planning to get your book into a traditional publishing company, the only way you are going to get your book in front of one is through your query letter.

What is the Difference Between a Query Letter and a Book Proposal?

A query letter is a request for a publisher to read your proposal for reading your fiction book and a book proposal is a proposal for reading your nonfiction book. A query letter is usually written after a fiction book is written and a book proposal is often written before the book is written.

The Novel Query

According to the NY Book Editors Website, This one page document of about three hundred words is most important, and in some ways even more important to than the actual book This letter is sent to literary agents (and some publishers directly) to woo them into checking out your book.

Don’t put your query on pastel paper with stamped roses, it won’t get you further than the trash can. Instead, follow this tried and trusted formula.

Format with your address at the top of the page, right justified. Next, type the agent’s address, this time left justified.

Use a personalized greeting where you acknowledge the agent by name.

Keep the body of your query letter from three to five paragraphs.

In paragraph one, you hook the literary agent. Share any connection you have with the agent. Did you meet this person at a conference or know someone in common? At least be able to mention that you’re a fan of specific authors that this person represents. The job of this first paragraph is to get the agent reading.

After you hook the agent, share the title and genre of your book and your book’s word count.

Now that you’ve hooked the agent, summarize your story in paragraph two. Discuss your main characters, what happens, and what choice they must make now. But don’t give away the entire plot. Leave the agent wanting more by structuring this paragraph in a cliffhanger.

In the next paragraph, add your bio, but make sure it’s relevant to writing. Impress your agent with writing awards and credibility or related writing experience. Limit your bio to no more than two sentences.

Use short paragraphs and short sentences, when possible. Imagine this: your letter is one of hundreds that your potential agent must read through this week. (It probably is). Make it as easy as possible for them to skim through your letter.

Write in a tone similar to your novel’s narrative. Your query letter should evoke the same tone as your novel. If your book is funny, make your query letter funny. Is it ornate? Use elegant but not remember not to be wordy.

Always Follow Submission Guidelines

Before sending any letter, be sure to follow any submission guidelines. Not every agent wants the same information, so don’t think one form of query fits all. Some may only accept email submissions while others accept both.

Address each agent specifically. Never use “to whom it may concern” if you want anyone to actually request your novel.

If possible, let the agent know why you are pitching your book to him/her. Again, if you love a specific author that this agent represents in a related genre yours, let the agent know that you would love to have the same agent as THAT author.  

Give Credit Where Credit is Due 

Mention that your book has been edited by a professional editor. Agents love a polished manuscript. They notice writers who’ve taken the extra step of getting their manuscript edited by a professional. By doing this, you as the writer appear more professional and serious. This will add more weight to your query letter.

Remember that querying agents is a hit or miss proposition even when you have done your homework on the agent. To find the right agent at the right time, you often need to send out numerous query letters. If you follow these recommendations, you still may not be picked up by a specific agent. There are many reasons why an agent doesn’t pick you up and it probably doesn’t have anything to do with you personally so don’t take it personally. Just keep sending out either written or emailed queries and soon someone will ask to see your novel.

2 comments
  1. Billybuc said:

    Great information as always. I no longer do this, but my experience of the past tells me your advice is right on.

  2. 1authorcygnetbrown said:

    Thanks!

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