7 Tips for Writing a Great Query Letter—With an Example!
Get the right people excited about your novel by writing a great query letter.
You plotted. You drafted. You edited. You’ve spent days or months or years writing your novel. Now it is done. The hard part is over, right? Well . . . not exactly. Let me introduce you to your next writing challenge: the query letter.
What Is a Query Letter?
A query letter is a one-page pitch used to get literary agents excited about your book and about you as a writer. If you want to send your manuscript to a literary agent or a publisher, you need to know how to write a query letter. Many agents will only read your manuscript if your query letter can convince them it’s worth their time to do so. The query letter is your opportunity to sell your story and persuade the publisher to request a full manuscript.
Writing a query letter can be intimidating, but it’s an important step in getting your work noticed. Here are some tips on how to write a successful query letter:
How to Write a Query Letter:
1. Address the agent or managing editor by name.
Writers will typically send query letters to dozens of agents and publishing houses—and anyone looking through their slush pile knows this. So, writing the name of the agent or taking the time to find who the managing editor of a publishing house is can be a nice touch that demonstrates your interest.
2. Keep it short and sweet.
A query letter should be no more than one page, or 250–300 words. Give the reader a taste of your novel, not a full synopsis. Many writers find it difficult to condense their effort, passion, and love for their novel into just one page. An experienced editor can help you communicate the most valuable information in the most concise way.
3. Start with a hook.
Literary agents receive a lot of query letters. Make yours stand out. The first sentence of your query letter should grab the reader’s attention and make them want to keep reading. You could describe a unique plot twist, a dramatic setting, or an interesting character.
To press home how important your first few sentences are, take a look at the following tweets from Dr. Uwe Stander, founder of Triada US Literary Agency:
Ten seconds? Now that’s an intimidatingly short time to make an impression. A good introduction (and good formatting) can persuade an agent like Dr. Stender to spend the extra 30 seconds reading your full query. This is an important step in finding your agent or publisher.
4. Introduce your novel.
After the hook, provide your best novel elevator pitch. This should include specifics about your novel’s genre, target audience, if it’s a standalone novel or part of a series, and a summary of the plot. In your summary, make sure to focus on the main conflict and theme. This will likely make up the bulk of your letter.
5. Provide context and demonstrate knowledge.
How does your novel fit among other published titles? Reference other books that yours is similar—or dissimilar—to. Yes, you want to convince the agent that your book is unique and the best new thing that the world needs, but without showing how or where your book fits in the current market, you won’t be able to convey that there actually is a market for your book.
Identify trends that your book aligns with or a gap in the market that your book fills. This shows that you have done your homework. Remember that publishers need to feel confident that your book will sell. You want to show how your novel fulfills their goals too.
6. Talk about your credentials.
If you have any writing experience or relevant education, mention it in your query letter. This could include publications, awards, or writing workshops you’ve attended. If you’ve worked with an editor or coach, that would also be good to mention.
7. End with a strong close.
The last paragraph of your query letter should reiterate why your novel is worth reading. This is your chance to make a final pitch and persuade the agent or editor to request your work.
Dear [Agent's Name],
Imagine a world where memories can be harvested and traded like currency, with a society divided between those who can afford to keep their secrets safe and those who must sell their very past to survive. This is the world of [Title], my debut novel that explores the same goals that you have dedicated your publishing career to.
[Title] is a [Genre] [Audience] novel that delves into the unperceived value of the human experience. The story follows [Protagonist's Name], a memory trader who uncovers a dark conspiracy that threatens to destroy the delicate balance of his world. Driven by an [emotional driving point], [Protagonist] follows an uncharted path that ultimately leaves him stranded between two choices that have equally disturbing consequences. [Title] explores themes of identity, power, and the ethical battle between survival and personal integrity.
Fans of [Similar Books/Authors] will feel the same [Quality of the Genre] while reading [Title]. This book’s unique concept, strong world-building, and well-developed characters will leave you confident in its success as either a standalone novel or the first in a series.
As a dedicated writer, I have a passion for telling stories that embody [Aspect of This Agent’s Books]. I have honed my craft through [Writing Experience/Achievements] and sharing [Title] with [Followers/Beta Readers/Editors]. I am eager to work with an agent who shares my enthusiasm for this project.
Thank you for considering [Title]. I look forward to discussing it further with you.
Overall, a query letter should be concise, well-written, and compelling. It should provide enough information about your book to pique the agent’s or editor's interest while also demonstrating your writing skills and publishing goals.
Your novel won’t be the right fit for every agent or publisher, but the better your query letter, the better chance you have of getting your novel seen by the right people. With careful planning and attention to detail, you can craft a query letter that will help you get your book noticed by the right agent or publisher. Schedule an appointment with us, and we will help you develop a query letter that makes your book and you shine.