How to write a Query Letter
(that won't get thrown in the trash!)
The secret of a good query letter is that there is no magical formula. It is impossible to know with any precision the exact preferences of every single agent. That being said, there are some standards with in the industry that will help your query letter stand out and at the very least not piss off the very people you are trying to impress.
1. Keep it short
Don't go over a single page. Agents get hundreds of query letters every week, they want to know only want they need to know to determine if your manuscript is right for them. Most people feel a strong emotional attachment to their manuscript and scoff at the idea of keeping the hook and summary to a single paragraph, but most agents will see an overly lengthy synopsis as a fatal flaw.
The query letter has four basic parts; Introduction, synopsis, audience, and about the author.
Introduction-Your introduction should be brief and include a polite greeting, any personal connections you have to the agent, why you are sending it to them personally, your genre, title and book length.
Synopsis-This is where you get to tell the agent about your book. Keep it to a single paragraph that begins with a hook. The tone of your synopsis should reflect a similar tone to your book. In other words, if your book isn’t dry, then your synopsis shouldn’t be either. The point of the synopsis is two fold. First, to give the agent a sense of what the book is about, plot, characters, setting. The second, to give the agent a sense of your writing style and get the excited about your book. Remember this is not back cover copy. You can give away plot points and spoilers as needed to entice the agent to reading more.
Market- Paragraph two should focus on the market for your book. Discuss comparable titles, audience demographics, what you have already done to make a name for yourself, and what you intend to do moving forward.
About the author-This is where you get to brag about yourself! Spend a little bit of time going over your credentials. There is no need to list a lengthy resume here all the way back to that time in high school you worked at the local movie theater scooping popcorn. Focus on the relevant skills and experience that would help you as an author. This includes writing, leadership, and marketing.
Closing- Make sure you include a professional closing that includes ALL the ways the agent can get in touch with you. If the agent requires a sample with submission, it should follow after the closing of your query.
3. Politeness Counts
Believe it or not, I have read many query letters in which the author acts as if they are doing the agent a favor. This kind of hubris never comes of the way you think it does. Remember, this query letter is the only piece of evidence that the agent or publisher has to judge you by, and whats worse, it is in writing (a format all to easy to misinterpret!). Be polite, gracious and humble while still getting across how great your book is!
Start the way you mean to finish. If you want to convince this person that your book is worth taking a chance on, then your query letter better be air tight! Read through it for typos of spelling and grammar mistakes. Have someone else read it to make sure it captures the tone of your
4. Follow The Rules
Since agents are getting inundated with query letters and samples all day, every day, they set up guidelines to help stream line their own process. Don’t disregard these!
5. Do Your Research-Know Your Audience
The same agent for the Twilight series is unlikely to take on an author writing a historical biography of the life and times of Abraham Lincoln. Agents are transparent and up front about what kinds of manuscripts they are looking for. You just have to look. Make sure that your query letter reflects their interests while still accurately representing your book. It is always a good idea to include any personal or professional connection you might have with the agent. Mention why you are querying them specifically. It could be that you met at an event or conference. Or perhaps they have represented a book similar to yours. Regardless of the connection, make your query as personalized as possible-and send it to the agents who are looking for what you have written.
6. Keep Trying!
You will get a lot of “No’s” some agents will send polite form letters. Others will take the time to send some details as to why they didn’t choose your manuscript. Either way, keep going! It only takes one agent to see the potential of your manuscript. It is important that when you receive these rejections (and you will) that you don’t let it creep in and plant the seeds of doubt. Take the advice that you find relevant and helpful and let go of the advice that doesn’t serve you in anyway.
Don’t reach out demanding answers or trying to convince the agent to take you on. publishing, agents, and writing is a community (all be it a large one), people talk. You don’t want to do anything that might leave a bad taste in someone’s mouth.
In the meantime, keep writing! The more books you have written, the more visibility and connections you gain.