How to Write a Query Letter

Hello to whoever is reading this! First of all I hope that you have enjoyed the holidays however which way you spent it during this crazy time! Also, Happy New Year and here’s to the first post of 2021! If you’re reading this, it’s probably because you were like me when I first started querying, went on google and searched “How to Write a Query Letter.” Or, if you’re really like me you initially searched, “How the #### do I write a query letter?!”

Well, I’m here to give you those answers as well as provide you with several links to other amazing websites for some helpful resources/examples! Let’s get started.

What Is A Query Letter?

Let’s start off with a basic question first – what in the hell is a query letter? Well, a query letter explanation is far more simple than how it is portrayed online. It is basically your initial contact to a literary agent or publisher that is introducing your book, a brief description of your book, and a brief look into who you are as a writer.

Query Letter Formula

I am going to teach you the best way that I have found to write a query letter. I have personally used this method as well as used it to help other writers in the querying trenches. It is follow the HOOK, BOOK, COOK method. So, let’s dive in!

Hook

The hook is exactly what it sounds like. This is how you will draw in your agent. This is where you introduce your book, the elevator pitch, the genre, the age group, the word count, and your comp titles (comparable titles). Your “hook” should read something like this:

“Dear xxxx,

My name is ____________ and I  am submitting to you today my query for my manuscript titled (NAME OF MANUSCRIPT) which centers around X (here would be where you enter your elevator pitch – you could say something like which centers around a young woman/man/etc who blah blah blah). (NAME OF MANUSCRIPT) is a (YA/NA/A/MG ETC) (thriller/horror/fantasy etc) novel which is complete at (xx,xxx) words. (NAME OF MANUSCRIPT) will appeal to fans of X and X. (Here you can use movies, tv shows, books, etc.)

Now, if your dream agent/publisher asks for you to make your query letter a little personal i.e. they want to know why them or how you found them then you can of course tweak/adjust the intro to mention:

Dear xxxx,

I recently saw on (MSWL/Publishers Marketplace/Your Website – etc) that you were interested in xxxx and after doing some research on you and your agency I knew I had to query you! (Of course, adjust to whatever you need, this is just a random example of personalization) My name is ____________ and  am submitting to you today my query for my manuscript titled (NAME OF MANUSCRIPT) which centers around X (here would be where you enter your elevator pitch where you could say which centers around a young woman/man/etc who blah blah blah). (NAME OF MANUSCRIPT) is a (YA/NA/A/MG ETC) (thriller/horror/fantasy etc) novel which is complete at (xx,xxx) words. (NAME OF MANUSCRIPT) will appeal to fans of X and X. (Here you can use movies, tv shows, books, etc.)

Book

The book is where you start to dive into the details of what your book is about. Think of this as the blurb that would go on the back of your book. Give the agent/publisher the condensed background of the story, expand on that elevator pitch from earlier – what is the story, who is the main character, what are the stakes/risks?! Think of this while you’re writing your blurb – why should the agent keep reading? What about this is of interest? The ‘book’ part takes time and finesse! This part of the query letter is typically 1-2 paragraphs.

Cook

Time for you to tell the agent/publisher more information about you as a writer and a person – but don’t get too personal. If you have any previous published works (not necessarily a book, but of course if it is mention it, anything you have written/published) mention it, if you have a following/fanbase mention it, and finally you can touch on your personal interests/what you do in your free time apart from writing.

Closer

Now, after you follow the HOOK, BOOK, COOK, dive into your closing sentence:

“I have pasted down below my contact information as well as attached (or pasted, depending on agent requirements) the first __pages/chapters of my manuscript. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

xxxx”

A Few Things To Remember For Your Query Letter

  • Be Concise – this is what most writers struggle with. We all write these amazing stories and then when it comes down to querying, the thought of condensing all of that work into a short blurb feels also impossible so we word vomit it out, not really focusing on the hook or nitty gritty. In this aspect I would advise writing multiple query letters for yourself and reading through all of them, carefully. Pick from this batch which best represents your novel. Other tips – pass your query letter along to a friend and ask them, do you get it? Does this sounds interesting? Does this make sense? Etc. Another option could be to either ask a member of the writing community or hire an outside source to give you feedback.
  • Be Detailed – Totally negates being concise right? I know! That’s what makes querying so difficult. Though you don’t want to word vomit everything, you still need to be sure you have included everything that is plot driving and important that will make your agent/publisher crave more.
  • Be Kind – This is more for after the fact for if you receive a rejection. Rejection sucks, I know. There’s nothing worse than someone reading your work and deciding eh, it’s not for me after you poured your heart and soul into your story but guess what? That’s life. S### happens and you move on to the next one. Don’t ever sit back and yell at an agent, write a snarky remark back to an agent, call an agents office asking them to reconsider, show up at agents office – NO, NO, NO, and did I mention, no? I know this all may sound like a DUH to most of you but there is that small percent of writers who do actually do this. First of all, it’s unnerving to agents/publishers and scary. Second, it shows that you would not be a great match to work with and your publishing expectations may be unrealistic. Finally, agents/publishers talk…don’t put yourself in that situation.
  • READ YOUR AGENTS/PUBLISHERS SUBMISSION GUIDELINES! – This is a BIGGIE! Most agents/publishers have on their agency/publishing website a few keys things: what genres they are looking for, the age group they are looking for, the types of materials they want from you i.e. your query letter, a synopsis, first fifteen pages, first 5 pages, first three chapters, the list goes on. They are include HOW they you want you to submit your materials. A solid amount of agents use query manager while some have a company email they want you to submit too. Read their guidelines CAREFULLY! They should be explained on agent pages of the agent/publisher websites or on the submission guidelines pages.

What Not To Do

  • Do not start any pitch out with, “I have created the most amazing YA paranormal romance story of this decade,” nor “This series is definitely TV ready/has TV potential,” nor, “I’m only contacting you because I need agent representation before I can sub to a big publisher.” Please for the love of Poe, do NOT do any of this! You come off as pretentious and already put a poor taste in your agents mouth, you also set a crazy high bar for your work and if it’s lacking, they may be quicker to reject you because you came in a little too hot. You gave it a little too much mustard there, chief. Let the agents determine whether or not they love your piece, whether or not they see film/tv series potential, let them help in sending your book out there to major publishers.
  • For the BOOK part of your query letter, don’t write the description of the book in your main characters perspective. This part of the query is written in third person – otherwise it’s a little weird you to say, “I started my day like any other normal, I showered, got dressed, and drank a pint of blood.” That’s cause for concern. But no, seriously, be careful doing this. If executed poorly, it truly throws the whole query letter off and then you’ve really lost your potential agent/publisher.
  • Do not get too personal in the COOK part of your query letter. You do not have to disclose your age, where your last vacation was, nor really any full details about your life. Truly agents/publishers mostly care about your writing credentials and small facts about you. Once you get that agent call, that’s when you dive into your details.
  • DO NOT MESSAGE/DM/COMMENT TO ANYBODY YOUR BOOK IDEA/QUERY LETTER/PROPOSAL! – I don’t care if this seems like a good idea to you, it’s not, trust me. No, no, definitely not *Olivander voice*. Please for all that is good in the world, just follow their submission guidelines! They have them set up for a reason, not for their health – though I’m sure it’s for their sanity as well but you know what I mean. Please don’t do this, it will only hurt you in the end, I’ve heard of far too many people doing this. Unless an agent during a pitch competition explicitly asks you to comment your pitch, don’t do it.
  • Do not take it personal. You will hear a billion times over, this business is very subjective, and guess what? It truly is. When you’re in the querying trenches, you don’t realize it, until your book gets picked up by that one person who sees your vision, that spark, that fire. Once you find your yes, everything else starts making sense.

Resources And Other Sites

As promised I am linking down below a few websites for more examples/insight into what agents are looking for. I will also add a few twitter pages to follow of agents that give you a deeper insight to their though processes while reading query letters. Finally, I will add some agent resource sites of where you can find their wish lists and I will also throw in my Fiverr page for if you need/want me to look over your query letter and other materials (so not obligated to, just want to throw it in just in case!)

Query Letter Resources:

Eric Smith

Jane Friedman

Writer’s Digest

Jericho Writers

Twitter Pages/Hashtags to Follow:

Eva Scalzo – This amazing agent typically does a #tenqueries every Sunday where she reads through ten or more queries and explains her thought process as to why she either requests or passes on manuscripts. I saw from her latest tweet that she was all caught up on queries and will not be doing #tenqueries again until she opens up once for submissions BUT you can still click her hashtag and see all of her previously ten queries.

#QUERYTIP – I have mentioned hashtags in a previous post Twitter Hashtags to Follow for Writers but, this hashtag is exactly what it sounds like – tips for querying writers from agents and fellow writers.

#tenqueries – literary agent thought processes/reactions while reading queries/why they either reject or request manuscripts.

#amquerying – this is for all querying writers, sometimes this hashtag has helpful/friendly advice, some have questions, some have agents/publishers addressing querying writers for query critique giveaways, advice, a virtual pitch, etc.

Beth Phelan – Beth is a literary agent who is constantly putting the writing/publishing world into perspective for all writers/non-writers alike. She gives out great advice as well in her tweets and during her interaction with other writers when able in her comments section. This does not mean go message and she’ll answer.

Analieze Cervantes & Jennifer Herrington – You should follow them because they’re just amazing, first of all. Second, Analieze shares updates on you query inbox, query tips, MSWL, etc! Jennifer updates all writers for any Twitter Pitches she will be participating and provides her guidelines! For more information about Twitter pitches you can check out a previous post Query Tips: Twitter.

While we’re here, you may as well follow me, Amanda Badillo, I give out query tips, advice, encouragement, updates, etc!

Where To Find Agent Wishlists

MSWL

Writer’s Digest – Typically, you can search any topic on this site in regards to agents.

Finally, good ol’ google, just by typing in literary agents looking for X, usually, writer’s digest will automatically pop up with a list or you find links to potential dreams agents.

My Fiverr – DO NOT FEEL FORCED

Query Letter Critique

Opening Pages Critique


Querying in general is a grueling, painful process that feels so incredibly amazing when you come out of it victorious. Keep writing, keep persevering, your yes is coming sooner than you know it. If you have any questions at ALL please feel free to either leave a comment, send me a message through the contact me page, or send me a message on Twitter, my DM’s are always open for advice/questions. I will try to help you in anyway possible!

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