When it comes to writing, some writers dread the querying process. Unlike a manuscript, query letters are business. Similar to writing a cover letter for a job interview, this is your first impression to an agent or editor, so you need to make it count.
This article will talk about drafting a query letter and some helpful tips. Take these pointers with a grain of salt—they’re guidelines only, but I’ve found them useful.
Include any contact information before your first paragraph near the top of the page, right justified. This helps the recipient contact you if they need further information. It also breaks the ice—so to speak—and shows that you offer a professional medium of trust.
Personal websites are a big plus; these give the recipient an idea of what you’re capable of. Below your personal info include the agent’s information, left justified.
Give a proper business greeting to the recipient. Use his or her last name with the suffix Mr. or Ms. respectively. If you don’t know the name, use sir or madam instead—not recommended as it creates a less formal feel.
Your beginning, like any book, should catch the reader’s interest. Show the recipient why they should continue reading when they have a hundred others letters to peruse. Use a hook to grab their attention. Stand out from the crowd. Mention the recipient’s credentials, information posted on their websites, or anything that shows you’ve done your homework and are serious about working with them.
Use your first paragraph creatively. Begin with some background that connects yourself to the agent. Illustrate your talents, achievements, and ordeals. Even flaws or setbacks can be spun positively. Usually, the first paragraph sets the tone for the rest of the query letter. This can make or break your letter’s review.
If you don’t have a tangible connection to the recipient, skip into the action of your book.
Early on should be a brief summary of your book. Say a few things that help it stand out from ‘oh another fantasy fiction with swords, elves, and horses.’ Explain general plot ideas and the main characters, their conflicts, and so forth. Mention the premise, genre, audience, and word count.
“The main objective of a query is simple: Make the agent care enough about your protagonist and your plot that she wants to read more.” —source
Include any bio or additional credentials that help argue your cause. Keep it short and detailed.
Here’s an earlier article I wrote on novel length to help.
Conclude the letter by thanking the recipient for their time. Describe a few more positive features about your book to wrap up. Mention that you can send the first chapter if they’re interested. Sign off short and sweet.
A Good Fit
Before you query, make sure the recipient is appropriate for your querying needs. Explain why you are querying an agent, what makes you and the agent a good fit.
Use short sentences and paragraphs if able. This helps with readability, allowing the recipient a quick look at what you have to offer out of the hundreds of other query letters. Use simple vocabulary, don’t try to be impressive with complicated wording.
Follow whatever requirements or recommendations the agent has on their webpage. Every agent prefers different criteria for submission.
Some writers can fit everything in three paragraphs, but it’s not recommended to do it in less than three. The bulk of the letter should be about your story. Anything more than a page may be daunting to a recipient. Aim for three to five paragraphs.
This is debatable. I use a standard 12 pt. New Roman. Some recipients may prefer New Courier or some other font. If you can’t find the recipient’s preference online, go with a font that is readable and distinct. Don’t use any color text. Keep it simple.
This goes without saying if you’re a writer. However, I’ve seen many writers flub the rules when it comes to a query letter.
Look for mistakes like dangling participles or run on sentences. Even a small typo can turn an agent away. I use Word and Grammarly to double check my work. A proofreader wouldn’t be a bad idea either.
A query letter is a business letter. Don’t get carried away with your personal background or your story’s description. Keep the formality. Avoid contractions for a more formal feel.
Mention anything you have published, any degrees or significant achievements. Avoid details that fluff you up or make you seem unrealistic. Compare your story to another more notable example if it will help.
Writing a query letter can be daunting. While there is no set formula for a query letter, the guidelines above should aid in the process. Here’s a brief overview for those who want a synopsis.
- Include contact information and the recipient’s info
- Keep it formal with Mr. or Ms. and avoid contractions
- Use a hook in the beginning
- Describe why your story matters and offer to send in the first chapter
- Keep the length to one page, 12 font is ideal
- Check grammar and tone suited for business letters
- Adhere to submission guidelines
- Connect with the recipient
There’s a good chance the recipient will reject or even fail to reply to your submission. Don’t lose heart! Remember that tens of thousands of others are in the same situation.
Even if you never query an agent or publisher, understanding the business is helpful. You may be called to do a contract or business deal in the future as an epublisher. Remember formality and clarity are king.
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