Writing that Query Letter

A query letter is a one-page cover letter used when querying literary agents. It introduces your novel and yourself. There’s a hook, a blurb (not a full synopsis), and a little bit about you.

The query letter is very important. If it grabs an agent’s attention, that agent will request pages, possibly even a full, which may lead to an offer of representation.

When writing a query letter:

  • Address the specific agent you’re interested in. Nowadays, most queries are sent via email. Good for the trees and response times (sometimes), but there is a downside. Agents are bombarded with query letters. If you don’t take the time to address a specific agent, they’re not going to look at it.
  • Include your novel’s title. Don’t forget to include the title of your novel in your query. After spending weeks or months working on your query, you don’t want to forget something as vital as the novel’s title. Also, put the title of your novel in all caps.
  • Mention word count and genre. This gives agents a clear idea of novel length and targeted readers.
  • Cut to the chase. Don’t start your query with introducing yourself. You need to hook the agent right away, so dive right in about your novel. Some agents read all the way through the query. Many with stop reading immediately if you don’t get their attention right away.
  • Explain why you chose that particular agent. Let the agent know you’ve done some research and she’s not simply a random person you queried. However, don’t get carried away. Some agents like you to mention why you queried them. Others only want to hear about your novel. But if you met the agent in person or have been in contact with her, mention it.
  • If you’ve got a successful platform, mention it. If you speak at writing conferences yearly, have a blog with thousands of page views a month, a large Twitter following, etc. put it in the query letter.
  • Include your contact information. For a snail mail query, you’ll include that information at the top of the letter, along with a SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope). For an email query, include your information at the end, beneath your signature.
  • Revise. As you did with your novel, revise your query letter and have other people critique it. Typos are a huge no-no. Even if an agent is interested in your premise, if you’ve got typos, many won’t request pages.
  • Study. Read query letters that snagged agents. AQ Connect has a ton of examples of successful queries. Learn from what they did.
  • Keep it professional. Send only what the agent says to on their website. Some agents only want the query letter. Some want the query plus sample pages or a few chapters or a synopsis.
  • Include only what’s relevant. When introducing yourself, only include what’s pertinent to your writing. Having been published before, have a degree in writing, are part of a critique group, or having a successful platform are some examples. Don’t talk about how many cats you have or that you love long walks on the beach. If you find that you and agent so and so are both obsessed with Doctor Who, go ahead and say that.

The query letter is your chance. You could have written the next bestseller (don’t mention that in your query), but if your query is subpar, then no one will ever know how wonderful your novel is.

What tips do you have for writing a query letter?

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One thought on “Writing that Query Letter

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