A query letter is a short pitch letter writers send to agents to try and interest them in their book. Query letters are also sometimes sent to publishers. Query letters are not long (one page maximum) but they do take time to write because it is important to get them perfect. Think about how important the opening paragraph of your novel is. Your query letter carries this level of importance. The query letter is the one shot you have to interest a particular agent. A good query letter can land you a book deal. Even if you write excellent query letters you should still expect rejections. This is common in the industry. Some of today's top authors were rejected many times before finally landing an agent and getting published.
You need to have a completed manuscript in order to publish a book, but agents and some publishers will take queries and book proposals about a book that is currently being written. Many major publishing houses do not accept unsolicited queries or manuscripts so you will need an agent to represent you and your manuscript. A great query letter can help you land an agent and ultimately a book deal. A query letter that is short and sweet with a great hook is the best approach for many agents and editors that are deluged constantly with queries.
Target Specific Agents
In a helpful article, author Ronlyn Domingue explains how to find an agent. Her advice includes finding out exactly what agents what and personalizing your queries. Many agents will give you great details about what they are looking for and often what they expect in a query online. It would be foolish to ignore this advice. You can browse a list of some literary agencies open to queries here.
For more advice on queries and finding an agent be sure to read our interview with literary agent and author Jeff Herman. Herman talks about the biggest mistakes he sees aspiring writers make, advances for first-time authors, fair agent commissions, what excites him in a manuscript and more.
How to Send Queries
You need to carefully read how the agent prefers receiving queries before sending one. Many agents now accept queries by email. They may not even accept queries sent by postal mail. For example, the Donald Maass Literary Agency says in its submissions guidelines that they only accept queries by email. They are not alone. If you are sending a query by mail you need include a SASE. In an article, "Insider Tricks to Getting Published," Jeff Herman also explains how to submit queries.
Query Letter Writing Tips
Author Alex Keegan explains in Writing a Query Letter That Sells why a short query letter works. He says a good professional letter is an example of your ability at a writer. He says if you can't write a query letter then "give up writing, go away and become a potter."
Keith Rommel explains how to create and use a "hook" in his killer query writing article. Rommel says he sets everything up by using the powerful question "Why."
NY Book Editors has a great article about writing a query letter. They recommend using a hook in your first paragraph. The article suggests about 300 words for a query letter length. They have a good list of what to include and what not to include in your query letter.
Jane Friedman has a detailed article about query letters that explains the basic elements of a query letter, crating the hook, checking for red flags and more.
- Query Shark: Query Shark is a blog by literary agent Janet Reid that contains great advice and tips for writing and revising query letters.
- Query Letter Examples: An article on AdWeek has direct links to 23 agent query letters that worked for books in different genres. You can also find more examples in Writer's Digest's successful queries section.
- The Complete Nobody’s Guide to Query Letters - Author Lynn Flewelling describes how her query letter helped her get an agent for her first fantasy novel, Luck in the Shadows, in an article on the SFWA's website.