How to write a query letter – ten tips and a template

Finding the right literary agent for your manuscript requires a lot of homework. And then, once you've found someone with aligned interests, convincing them that your project is polished and marketable is another battle altogether. Therefore, if you want to work with the agent of your dreams, you must put in the time, effort, and research required to make your dream a reality. Remember, you only get one shot.

Check out our basic tips and template in this post, but also read a few of our Book Broker interviews with top literary agents.

How to write an effective query letter to obtain literary representation

How to Write a Query Letter: Ten Tips and a Template

1) A query letter shouldn't exceed one page. This is a teaser for your project, so short and sweet is best. (That being said, since a query letter takes the form of an email these days, aim for fewer than 500 words.)

2) Follow submission guidelines. They differ from one place to the next. Also, make sure your work is going to an agent that accepts the genre you write in.

3) The most important part of your query letter is the pitch.

4) If you’re going to add comparable titles, don’t compare yourself to the big guys. Choose two or three recent mid-list titles instead. By recent we mean published in the last two or three years. That's because comp titles aren't meant to give a plot comparison so much as a demonstration that your book has a place in the current market.

5) Make sure the query letter is well written—no grammatical or spelling errors, no unnecessary hype. Don't tell the agent how much they are going to love your hard-hitting or hilarious manuscript. They will come to those conclusions on their own.

6) Don’t submit to more than one agent in the same agency.

7) Don’t send the same query to a list of agents at the same time. Even a small amount of personalization can go a long way.

8) Swap query-letter feedback with other writers in online forums. (Query Tracker is a good place to start). Anonymous strangers don’t always give the kindest feedback, and opinions vary, but workshopping your query can be very helpful. (Or, you might also consider a query critique service.)

9) Don’t send the first query letter you write to hundreds of agents. Send it to five, wait a couple weeks, then rewrite your query and try five more. Rejections and silence are a good indicator that your query or opening pages could be further sharpened. Here's an article about querying strategically.

10) Most importantly, make sure your manuscript is the best it can be. Arrange feedback swaps with other writers, not friends and family. You should go through a few rounds of development and revision (at least) before you decide to start querying.

PS. These are tips, not rules. If you've done much research into the "art" of the query letter, you may have noticed many (often conflicting) recommendations about paragraph order, personalization, comp titles, etc. However, if you look at some successful query samples, for example from Eric Smith’s blog, you’ll find many of them break a “rule” or two.
 
Ideally, your query letter sparks hope in the agent that they’ve found a diamond in the rough. And that is more or less what you need to be if you consider agents receive, on average, more than a thousand queries per year, and of those, only a handful will be offered representation.

For more querying tips, check out our Book Broker agent interview series as well as these essential blog posts:


Click on the PDF icon to download our query letter template:

Click here to view our query letter template


Query letter and synopsis editing service




Want some assistance with your query letter and synopsis? Check out our query-critique service.

 

 


About the Darling Axe

Our editors are industry professionals and award-winning writers. We offer narrative development, editing, and coaching for every stage of your manuscript's journey to publication.



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