The query letter is exceptionally significant — it’s your introduction, your virtual handshake and pitch, to a prospective agent. And yes, agents do read your query letter. Now, to be clear, it might not be the agent himself/herself but an assistant or an intern, but either way, your letter is in fact being read.
And while the slush pile is daunting, and ever-growing, agents do respond to a letter that has sparked some interest. Thus, you want to write a professional, intelligent, concise letter that does exactly that.
A query letter is a single page cover letter, introducing you and your book. That’s it. Nothing more, nothing less. It’s not a resume. It’s not a rambling saga of your life as an aspiring writer. Blah blah blah. No, it’s not a dating profile either. It’s not, “I am 60 years old, 5’-11” tall and I weigh just over 300 pounds. I am divorced, I have a bald head and a big belly, but otherwise my body is normally shaped.” Not even kidding. Seriously, it’s about you and your book, period.
Generally, a query letter structure is the hook, the mini-synopsis, and your writer’s biography/background. Don’t create your own format or try to be creative with the recognized structure. In doing so, you are alienating yourself and your book. Keep it simple and straightforward. Some people do play with the order of these, but ultimately, make sure each component is present.
The Hook: A hook is a concise, one-sentence tagline for your book. It’s meant to hook your reader’s interest, and reel them in.
Mini-synopsis: This is where you boil down your novel into one paragraph. Yes, I just said that. And I promise you, you’re going to do this again and again and again.
Biography: Keep this short and related to writing.
Be sure to thank the agent for his/her time and consideration. If it’s fiction, alert the agent that the full manuscript is available upon request. DO NOT QUERY AGENTS UNTIL YOU’VE FINISHED YOUR FULL FICTION MANUSCRIPT. DO NOT SEND YOUR ENTIRE MS UNTIL ASKED FOR IT. If it’s nonfiction, indicate that an outline, table of contents, and sample chapters are available for review.
- Do address your query to a specific agent — otherwise you will likely be DELETED
- Do make sure you’re spelling that agent’s name correctly
- Do state the title of the book in the beginning of your query — also in the subject line if you’re sending an email query
- Do mention the genre and word count of the book — your 300,000 word novel will likely be DELETED
- Do mention exactly why you’re approaching that specific agent — know his/her list and show that you’ve done your research
- Do use a professional but appropriate tone (possibly matching that of your book)
- Do keep your query to one-page ONLY
- Do try sending your email query to yourself first to make sure that formatting is correct
- Do format your snail mail query using traditional, standard business alignment and spacing
- Do send by regular postage if doing snail mail
- Do include a self-addressed stamped envelope (SASE) if doing snail mail — otherwise you are not getting a response
- Do not start your query with “I’m querying you because I found your name in such and such writing guide or agent database”
- Do not refer to your novel as a fictional novel
- Do not compare your book to a best-seller
- Do not compare yourself to extremely famous writers like Hemingway, Joyce, etc.
- Do not shrink your font to an exceptionally smaller size so as to fit on one page
- Do not mail your query with expedited shipping or signature-required
- Do not include sample chapters unless submission guidelines specifically indicate to do so
- Do not send gifts or bribes with your query
Write Your Query Letter
TAKE A STAB AT YOUR BEST QUERY LETTER. Be aware that you will be revising these throughout the course. Please view sample “successful” query letters provided below:
Danielle Lanzet reads for a “living” at Chris Calhoun Agency. She attended Colgate University, where she studied poetry with Peter Balakian and later attended Columbia University, the Columbia Publishing Course. She can be found reading, writing, and editing where the martinis are cold and the espresso is hot.