How To Write A Query Letter
*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!