Basics of Writing a Query Letter
Your dream book is done. You spent many hours researching, writing, re-writing, and maybe even re-re-writing this book chapter by chapter to ensure its highest quality and readability as possible. You maybe even hired an editor or had some trusted folks help you proofread and edit the manuscript. You treasure your manuscript so much that you save it in different USB drives, cloud-based systems, and even your multiple emails to make sure that your hard work will not get lost and/or stolen.
Most likely, you decide you want your book to be traditionally published. But which publishing house do you submit to? Where do you start?
The first step is to write a query letter. A query letter is a formal letter used to submit to literary agents, magazines, and publishing houses. The mechanics of the query letter normally include the following:
- The topic of the manuscript you are submitting
- A short description of what the manuscript is about
- A short biography of you, the author
- The manuscript’s target audience
Crafting the perfect query letter is an art of its own, as it takes a great deal of skill to get yourself noticed in any literary agent’s and publication’s slush pile. The most important parts of the query letter that you will need to nail down are parts that grab the agent or publisher from the very start. A literary agent is a person who represents the business interests of authors and their written works and the publisher and its editor(s) help prepare books for sale. Below are a few pieces of advice when putting together the query letter:
Keep the Salutation and Final Lines Simple – Writing something like “Dear Dana” is fine if you happen to know the agent’s/editor’s name and have built a rapport. You can use something like “Dear Mr. Sanchez” but this type of formal greeting may be considered dated and you may be misgendering the recipient by accident. Research the agent/publishing house as much as possible, especially their name. At the end of the query letter, be sure to thank the agent/editor for reading and considering your work. If you are not sure, try “To the Editor” or “To the Agent.”
Mention Your Accomplishments/Connections – If you have been published before, don’t hesitate to mention it. Mention any awards you have received. If you have any referrals from another author or have any connections to the writing industry, be sure to definitely mention those connections as they may help get your foot in the door. If you have met the agent before, start with a short paragraph to form a personal connection. If you do not have any accomplishments or connections, don’t worry. Just jump straight into your manuscript’s pitch and why the agent/publishing house should consider it. Most importantly, pitch your author credentials and what makes you an experienced writer, or why the manuscript matches you as a writer with personal and professional credentials.
Write a Strong “Hook” For Your Manuscript – This is one of the most important parts of the letter as it aims to hook the reader with interest and not let go. Write how your book differs from other published books, why the concept for this book is so unique, and why the agent/editor should consider not passing the book up. The book should help set the book’s genre and tone and should be no longer than 150-200 words. Include a brief story synopsis that is no more than 100 words. Remember that the hook and synopsis should be as brief but also include important details on what sets the manuscript apart from others on the market.
Don’t Be Afraid To Personalize the Query Letter – Your manuscript is not the only selling point in the query letter; the other main selling point is you, the author, and why the agent/publishing house should see you as a worthy submission for readers to check out. Mention authors who were published by the agent/editor who you admire and whose books you enjoy reading. Mention any presentations a literary agent you are writing to has given previously and how it resonated with you as an audience member. Be sure not to overdo it; be brief and show the reader that you are a person whose passionate about the manuscript you are trying to publish. Be sure to include your contact information at the very beginning of your query letter.
Proofread, Proofread, And Proofread – Be sure to proofread your letter, or have another person help you with proofreading. If the other person is an author who has published before, then that is an added bonus because the author-especially one who was traditionally published-has experienced crafting an effective query letter before. Be sure to proofread and never be afraid to ask for help if you need someone to help you with proofreading your letter.
If you need a query letter point of reference/example, click on this link to look at this sample query letter on Reedsy.
The art of the query letter takes a lot of practice, especially if you submit to multiple agents/publishers. Keep practicing your hook, be yourself, and show why you and your manuscript are a worthy candidate to any agent’s and publisher’s resume!
Reedsy – How to Write a Query Letter in 7 Different Steps
Jane Friedman – The Complete Guide to Query Letters
Tiffany Hawk – How to Write a Query Letter That Wows Literary Agents + Template
NY Book Editors – How to Write a Darn Good Query Letters
Masterclass – How to Write a Query Letter: All the Do’s and Don’ts