How To Write A Query Letter

crumpled paper*The Definitive Guide*

Query letters are a recurring theme here since every writer needs one, and there are hundreds of posts online full of query advice. But I wanted to give you a simple, straightforward set of instructions.

Queries should include the following three elements:

  • Something about the book – enough to make the agent want more
  •  Something about you – tailored as appropriate for your book
  • The first 3 to 5 (or so) pages of the manuscript pasted into the email (IF the agent requests it in their guidelines, which I do)

Tips for a great query:

  • It starts with a few sentences designed to make me want to read your book. To figure out how to do this, read the back-cover-copy or flap copy of your favorite books. The goal is not to give a detailed synopsis, but instead to write something interesting and informative enough that I want to read more.
  • Author bio for non-fiction: Include some information about yourself, specifically why YOU are the correct person to write this book. What are your qualifications? Are you a published author? What’s the most important thing I need to know about your platform?
  • Author bio for fiction: Don’t worry about platform and don’t stress about your bio. If you have traditionally published fiction before, tell a bit about your publishing history. If not, don’t worry about this part of the letter, just say you’re a first-time novelist. If you like, you can indicate that you’re a blogger and you’are active on Twitter and Facebook (so the agent sees you’re aware of the importance of social networking for authors).
  • No longer than the equivalent of one typewritten page, about 3 to 6 paragraphs (not including the sample pages). For non-fiction books where platform is crucial, you may need to make it a little longer.
  • This is a LETTER, not a book synopsis dropping into my inbox out of the sky. You are writing to an actual person. So it’s best if the query is addressed to the recipient by name, and it should not only give your pitch and your personal information, it should be structured as a letter.
  • Include the genre and word count. Make sure you’re clear on whether it’s fiction or non-fiction to start with. Then within either of those two categories, list your genre. If you don’t know about genres, please do some research and learn prior to querying. Include your anticipated final word count, making sure it’s appropriate for your genre.
  • Check the submission guidelines of each agent and/or publisher you’re querying. Note that I require the first 3 to 5 pages of the manuscript pasted into the email. Some agents do, some don’t.
  • Let me know what’s available if I should request more. A full book proposal? A completed manuscript? Note that unpublished novelists must have a completed manuscript before querying.
  • No attachments, please, unless specifically requested. They will not be opened.
  • Please do NOT ask me to click on a link, such as a link to your website or blog. You should be able to tell me what I need to know in the 1-page query letter format. Your signature can include links to your blog or website, and if I find your query particularly interesting, I’ll click on it. But DON’T rely on me clicking over to get the information I need. Put the info in your query!


Happy Querying!

Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


  1. […] accounts on the internets, appeared monolithic in their formality. I studied advice on query letters, publisher requirements, and tried to wrap my head around how much work I would have to put into […]

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  3. […] won’t talk about how to draft a query letter today but I would like to throw some bright light on 5 main query letter mistakes that will cause […]

  4. […] won’t talk about how to draft a query letter today but I would like to throw some bright light on 4 main query letter mistakes that will cause […]

  5. DC Mahoney on May 5, 2013 at 6:34 PM

    I quite agree with SA Jacklin and, coincidentally, I have the same dilemma for which some guidance would be greatly appreciated.

  6. SA Jacklin on April 29, 2013 at 3:04 PM

    Rachelle, I can’t thank you enough for keeping this blog and especially this particular post. I’ve been trying to get my manuscript published for the past year and had been following a “how to” for query letters written by someone else and it was pretty much the exact opposite of what I found here. At least I now feel that I have an answer to all of the rubber stamped and crayoned “Nope” responses that I was receiving.

    I do have a question though, I have spent months researching the different genres and what classifications they hold for books and that right now is my biggest stumbling block. There are three that my manuscript could fall into. Are you supposed to have it narrowed down to just one or is it ok to have more than one?

    ~ Sabrina (@thewolfswriting)

  7. Q is for Query.. | R.K. Grow on April 19, 2013 at 11:03 AM

    […] How to Write a Query Letter by Rachelle Gardner […]

  8. […]  ~ Here’s a great article by Rachelle Gardner called, How to Write a Great Query Letter. […]

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  10. […] How To Write A Query Letter […]

  11. Tamara on November 14, 2012 at 8:01 PM

    What steps would you take for a cookbook proposal when writing a query letter? The same as above? Or would I take a different approach when writing a letter and/or trying to get a literary agent so I can possibly get published vs. self publishing?


  12. […] After you’ve narrowed down your list, Google them and see what they’ve published online. Many agents have blogs, and sometimes they’re pretty clear about how to approach them and how not to approach them. Rachelle Gardner’s page on queries, for instance, includes tips like not asking her to click a link. […]

  13. Ayesha Sadaf Kamal on August 2, 2012 at 6:49 AM

    Hi Rachelle,

    Thank you so much for this useful info! I am 70% into my novel, and now I am reading up on publishing. I came across your blog via a tweet, and am thanking my lucky stars! You really have explained the process well, and I now have a guideline to follow.

    I have one question: I am from Pakistan, my novel is romance fiction with the plot set in modern day Pakistan. I want to get it published in Pakistan as well as US and UK. How do I go about it? Are the rules different for novelists from another country, or is there anything else involved when pitching to an agent from another country?

  14. How I query «, the blog on June 27, 2012 at 4:49 PM

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  16. Madeline on April 27, 2012 at 5:51 PM

    For the manuscript would it be better to finish the book before you send the manuscript out to the agency? Just wondering.


  17. […] very well-known Christian agent named Rachelle Gardner wrote an article entitled, How To Write A Query Letter.  Rachelle writes about what the query should contain, how it should be submitted to agents, etc. […]

  18. […] how to write a great query letter might be 1 of the most essential issues to discover to tu…to write the write-up or not. It saves both you and the publication time and energy, because you won't have to write the whole write-up only to have it rejected from each and every marketplace you attempt. By writing a query, you've only lost an idea and your sales pitch. You can refine and revise your query letter and resend it later to the same or other publications. The only kinds of writing you won't need a query for are for essays. Generally, publications will want to see the whole essay. Query letters have three paragraphs, and are usually under 1 page in length. It requirements to be brief, sweet and to the point. Editors are busy, and you want to catch their eye with your query letter. It requirements to stand out from the other individuals. […]

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  30. Karen Chatelain on February 29, 2012 at 10:22 AM

    Rachelle, I am a fairly new reader of your blog and I’ve been reading some of your older posts. I’m not sure if you’ll even find these questions since its such an old post but I’ll try anyway.
    When an agent asks for the first 5 pages, should I include my prologue or just send from chapter one? My prologue is from 1948 but is relevant to what subsequently happens in my novel.
    And one more question. My novel is complete at 66,000 words but some agents, including you, specify higher word counts. How exact are agents on that? Should I send my query to someone who says 75,000 to 100,000 words?
    Thank you for any input you can give me.

  31. Danita Clark Able on February 22, 2012 at 7:19 PM


    Thank you for taking the time to put these query quidelines in writing for the rest of us.

    Have a nice day,

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  43. Sonny Lemmons on September 3, 2011 at 2:52 PM

    Even though I queried you and did not get an immediate phone call, offering to represent me and help the publishing world beat a path to my door*, I still come back and read..and re-read…all the information you provide. It is invaluable, and I sincerely thank you for it.

    * = this was written tongue-in-cheek and not in a mean spirit in the least. As your guidelines state, you guys aren’t for everyone.

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  45. […] How to write a query letter – Rachelle Gardner (literary agent) […]

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  47. […] How To Write A Query Letter […]

  48. Pen and Ink on August 2, 2011 at 9:30 PM

    That was succinct and to the point. I just sent you a query.

  49. Nikole Hahn on August 2, 2011 at 8:16 PM

    I’ll have to return here in a few months and reread to carefully write my query. It’s amazing how tongue twisted I can feel over a one page query. Blank pages shouldn’t scare a writer. LOL.

  50. Cover Letters on August 2, 2011 at 7:40 AM

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  51. Kathryn Roberts on August 1, 2011 at 11:35 PM

    Thanks. This was even more helpful than the other posts by other individuals on writing a query letter. The others lacked one thing for newbies like me, that of mentioning that we’re part of the online community and have a platform in progress.

  52. Kathryn Elliott on August 1, 2011 at 7:12 PM

    Great post – and a well needed balm for my stress-induced query hives!

  53. Beth MacKinney on August 1, 2011 at 2:12 PM

    Thanks for this post, Rachelle. I used to be terrified by query letters, but my fear has diminished over time. (Hopefully the queries are better, too.)

    What has helped me is writing book reviews of children’s books for Even these terrorized me at first, but little by little I became better and faster at identifying the hook and plot in books. It was an unexpected byproduct that it helped me do this with my own stories so I could more easily write queries and cover letters as well. Might be a helpful exercise for other writers.

  54. Lenore Buth on August 1, 2011 at 1:08 PM

    Thanks, Rachelle. As always, you were clear and concise.

  55. Loree Huebner on August 1, 2011 at 12:10 PM

    Thank you for this post.
    Very timely for me.

  56. Jaime Wright on August 1, 2011 at 11:42 AM

    *happy sigh* I love this blog. Seriously. So much info to get me started and so many resources available to take me deeper.

  57. James Hansen on August 1, 2011 at 11:42 AM

    Great post! Also, I really like the look of your site.

  58. Colin Smith on August 1, 2011 at 11:37 AM

    Rachelle: Unless I missed it, you don’t mention including a word count. I think most of us know to do that, but for a definitive guide–unless you don’t think it’s necessary–you might want to include that.

    • Rachelle Gardner on August 1, 2011 at 10:42 PM

      Good point, thanks.

  59. Colin Smith on August 1, 2011 at 11:31 AM

    Like many others posting (and lurking) here, I am in the midst of writing my query letter. It really is difficult, and I think the fact that the best agents are willing to offer advice on querying shows that they appreciate how tough it is. After reading a lot about querying by different agents, it seems to me the main thing to remember, as Rachelle points out, is that the point of the letter is to make the agent want to rep your work.

    One exercise I try when reading over my query letter is to put myself in the agent’s shoes under the worst possible scenario: first thing in the morning, coffee in one hand, iPhone in the other, in the back of a cab on the way to an important meeting with a publisher, checking queries on the way. Now, I am sure most agents would probably try to read queries under much less stressful circumstances, but I figure if my query can grab an agent’s attention under these circumstances, I must be onto something. 🙂

  60. Julie Jarnagin on August 1, 2011 at 11:01 AM

    I have a quick question. I’ve been published by Heartsong Presents. I’m currently working on a trade length Christian romance novel. Should I wait until I have the completed manuscript before I query agents?

    • Rachelle Gardner on August 1, 2011 at 10:41 PM

      Yes, because nobody knows if you can write a full-length novel. Including you!

  61. Amish Stories on August 1, 2011 at 10:39 AM

    Another good post to give me some insight on what you folks go through as writers. Richard

  62. Kate on August 1, 2011 at 9:45 AM

    If I understand correctly, after the manuscript is finished, this is step one. If so, this is extremely helpful! This is the most clear, concise explanation I have ever seen — and have therefore sent it to other writer friends.

    Thank you!

  63. Debbie Baskin on August 1, 2011 at 9:31 AM

    Is the beginning of a query is similar to an elevator pitch or I am totally missing it?

    • Rachelle Gardner on August 1, 2011 at 10:04 AM

      You’re not missing anything. Queries, elevator pitches – whatever. You’re trying to get someone to want to hear more about your book or even read it.

  64. Heather Sunseri on August 1, 2011 at 8:53 AM

    “It starts with a few sentences designed to make me want to read your book.” –I love how you describe this. I think I sometimes try so hard to fit in the entire plot in to a sentence or two, that I forget to actually make the plot sound interesting. In other words, writers can often try too hard to make their plot fit into a formula-pitch and leave out the most interesting aspect of the story, or forget to let their voice shine through in the query. I tend to struggle with this, which is why I’m glad most agents also like to see a few pages with the query.

  65. Anna Banks on August 1, 2011 at 8:38 AM

    Query letters are the Devil’s twice-removed cousin! It’s difficult to go from writing 90k words to writing a 250-300 word letter about it! But it can be done.

    A good way to practice is to try to write a query for your favorite books by other authors. Then go to the back flap of the book to compare the description to yours. Should give you an idea where to start tweaking. 🙂

    Stephanie, I’d just mention it is the first of a potential series, but could be a stand alone.

  66. Liz on August 1, 2011 at 8:22 AM

    When you (or any agent) says 3 to 5 pages, are you referring to literal pages in the word processor or are you considering each 250 words a page? This question keeps coming up for me, and I haven’t been able to find a definitive answer!

    • Rachelle Gardner on August 1, 2011 at 10:02 AM

      Liz, our intention is never for writers to get paralyzed by nitpicky details like this. If we’d wanted a precise length in that writing sample, we’d say, “Include the first 1000 words” or something like that. I think you can assume that if we’re giving you a ballpark, like “3 to 5 pages” or “5 to 10 pages,” it’s just that, a ballpark. I’m giving you a range because I want you to end your sample at a place that somewhat makes sense, I don’t want you trailing off in the middle of a sentence or even a paragraph.

      As I’ve said many times, focus on what’s important: Making sure your manuscript and your query are as strong as they can be. Don’t get bogged down in worrying about these kinds of questions – they just distract you from the real issue.

  67. otin on August 1, 2011 at 7:23 AM

    I wish that I could tell more about my plot in my query, but it would make the letter too drawn out. I struggle with keeping it brief.

  68. Jeanne on August 1, 2011 at 4:49 AM

    Rachelle, thank you for sharing the basics that a query needs. It seems tricky to capture the right “tone” for a query, but yoru break down of what’s needed makes it much simpler. Thanks!

  69. Nancy S. Thompson on August 1, 2011 at 3:56 AM

    Thanks for being so clear & concise. I’ve read & used all your other posts on how to write a query. I’ve taken the better part of the last year to hone mine. I finally feel it reads like a teaser from a back cover copy (and not a synopsis.)

    Alas, because you are so highly touted, you were the unfortunate recipient of my earliest query. Something I deeply regret. My loss, for sure!

  70. marion on August 1, 2011 at 3:28 AM

    Thanks, Rachelle.

  71. Carol J. Garvin on August 1, 2011 at 3:04 AM

    Some days I feel as if I’m buried under a mound of suffocating advice. Today you’ve provided a concise explanation that has me breathing easier. Thank you!

  72. Tracey on August 1, 2011 at 1:44 AM

    After reading each of the tips you included I fear my query to you may have been the inspiration for this post, it could have been included as a sample of ‘What NOT To Do’.

  73. Abby on August 1, 2011 at 12:55 AM

    I love this post. Being new at this I know how stressful the query process can be, especially while trying to research everything and make sure you are doing things right. I love that you have made this simple and direct. Wonderful. Thank you.

  74. Scooter Carlyle on August 1, 2011 at 12:50 AM

    I’m in the middle of preparing for the query process. I’ve lost count of the number of drafts I’ve done, but It’s got to be 20+.

    Thanks for the help.

  75. Stephanie McGee on August 1, 2011 at 12:37 AM

    I skimmed through the posts on queries you’ve got here on your site and I just want to clarify something that I’ve been having a question on in the last few days.

    Last April you posted an e-mail about series and pitching a series when you’re querying. You said to mention that it’s the first in a planned series, but sell the first book. I get this, but my question on that is what the best way to deal with it might be. I was critiquing a friend’s query the other day and she had the line in her query to the effect of “An outline for a sequel is available upon request.”

    The book I’m gearing up to query is a standalone, but I have ideas for follow-up books that have some character crossover but mainly are just other stories out of this same fantasy world I’ve crafted beneath the surface of our own.

    Would it be best to leave that out of the query all together, craft a rough outline or synopsis of those follow-ups but still leave it out, or mention that the outlines are available, so the agent can have that information in making their decision?

    Meanwhile, I’m working on a book entirely unrelated to the one that I’m looking to query here shortly. Thanks for this post, Rachelle. Very timely for me and will be read several times in the coming days as I revise my written query.

    • Mike Koch on August 1, 2011 at 3:02 AM

      In your situation only query the one book. Don’t worry about follow ups they will get queries of their on in due time.

    • Rachelle Gardner on August 1, 2011 at 9:57 AM

      Just query the one book. If an agent is interested they’ll request the manuscript; if they remain interested and a conversation develops, they’ll ask you about other books in the works.

      Just realize that if an agent is interested in repping you, they’re most likely assuming you have a lot more books in you. Doesn’t matter if they’re sequels or standalones, but it IS important that they be in the same genre (for the first few books anyway).

  76. joan Cimyotte on August 1, 2011 at 12:21 AM

    Thank you for the great advice. It is difficult to know what agents are looking for in a query. I try to know what a specific agent is looking for by. It is my job to convey to them what my story is about. I liked the elevator pitch. I have honed my basic query letter over and over again but to be put on the spot when asked by an agent would completely catch me off guard. I would stumble through the pitch. It would sound choppy at best. I only know this by having to tell people who ask me “What is your novel about?”

    • Patricia L. Brooks on October 5, 2012 at 9:58 AM

      Hello – thank you for the great information – I am preparing to do a talk on query letters for the Avondale Writers Conference here in the Valley of the Sun – Nov 3 – that is Phoenix! Your ideas will help me pull it together and confirm what I already know and give me a little more to work with that day – appreciate your generosity – and I will be plugging your website – thanks again.