So you're at that point in your writing journey where you're ready to query agents and editors with your work. You've done your research, you've worked on your craft, and you think you've got a pretty good handle on what it is you're trying to say.
The query letter is one more thing standing between you and that book deal.
It's a dreaded task for many writers, but with a little know-how, you can learn how to write a query letter that will yield results. In this article, we'll give you a step-by-step guide to writing a query letter that will catch an agent's eye and get them excited about your work.
A query letter is a one-page letter sent to literary agents and editors to propose your writing project. It's designed to give the recipient a quick overview of your book, why it's marketable, and why they should be interested in representing or publishing it.
Ideally, your query letter should make the recipient feel that they need to read your book. Even better, it should also make them want to work with you. After all, if an agent is going to put time and energy into helping you get your book published, they need to be confident that you're a good investment.
Some writers think they can just send their book manuscript off to agents and editors with a brief cover letter and hope for the best. But the reality is that most publishing professionals simply don't have the time to read unsolicited manuscripts.
In fact, many will explicitly state in their submission guidelines that they don't accept unsolicited material.
For that reason, it's absolutely essential that you learn how to write a query letter if you want to have any chance of getting your work published.
A good query letter will not only help you get your foot in the door, but it'll also make the recipient want to read your book. And that's the first step in getting a publishing deal.
Think of a query letter as your first interview with a potential agent or editor. It's your chance to sell them on your book and you as an author. The first impression you make with your query letter will go a long way in determining whether or not you get a response or a meeting.
To make sure your query letter is as strong as it can be and presents you as both a professional writer and an appealing investment, follow these steps:
The first step in writing a query letter is to address the recipient by name. If you don't have a personal connection with the agent or editor, you can simply say "Dear Agent" or "Dear Editor."
Then, greet them with a polite opener such as "I hope this email finds you well" or "I hope you're having a great week."
Keep it short and sweet, and move on to the meat of the letter.
The next step is to write a strong "hook" for your book. In other words, you need to grab the reader's attention with a compelling description of what your book is about.
Think of this as the elevator pitch for your book. You want to give the recipient just enough information to pique their interest and make them want to know more. Your hook shouldn't be the same as the synopsis, which we'll get to later.
Instead, think of it as an attention-grabbing headline that will make the recipient want to keep reading.
Here are some tips for writing a strong hook:
Here's an example of a strong hook:
"When seventeen-year-old Scout Finch is wrongly accused of murder, she must fight for her life in a corrupt legal system."
In just one sentence, this hook manages to be both specific and intriguing. It also raises questions that the recipient will want answered.
Tip: Copy.ai’s free Hook Generator can help you come up with irresistible hooks in a matter of seconds.
Following the hook, you'll want to include a brief synopsis of your story. This should be one or two paragraphs at most, and it should give the reader a clear idea of what the book is about. Resist the urge to include too many details here. After all, you don't want to give away the entire plot.
To write your synopsis, start by giving a brief overview of the book's plot. Then, focus on the book's main characters and what makes them unique or interesting. Finally, touch on the book's theme or central question.
This way, the reader will have a good sense of what the book is about and what they can expect if they choose to read it.
Tip: If your synopsis gets too long, you'll give the impression that your book is too complex or you're struggling to condense it into a single paragraph. Either way, it'll reflect poorly on your writing. So, if you find yourself getting carried away, cut it down to the essentials.
If you were in the recipient's shoes, you'd want to know why you should invest your time in reading this book, right? That's where your author credentials come in.
You'll want to highlight any relevant experience or expertise that makes you the perfect person to write this book.
This might include things like:
The key here is to focus on quality over quantity. It's better to mention a few well-chosen credentials than to list everything you've ever done. And, of course, if you don't have any relevant credentials, that's okay, too. You can still focus on why you're passionate about this book and why you're the best person to write it.
For instance, you might say something like:
"As a long-time fan of mystery novels, I bring a fresh perspective to the genre. My debut novel, The Murder at the Manor, was a finalist for the Agatha Award for Best First Novel."
In this example, the author highlights their experience with and love of mystery novels. They also mention a relevant award that their debut novel was a finalist for. This is enough to demonstrate that they're a qualified author who is passionate about the genre.
A common mistake that authors make is to send out generic query letters to multiple agents or publishers. Every agent and publisher is different, so it's important to personalize your letter to each one. Otherwise, it's not hard to spot a boilerplate letter, and it'll make your query less likely to be successful.
To personalize your letter, start by doing your research. Find out what kinds of books each agent or publisher typically represents. That way, you can focus on why your book would be a good fit for them in particular.
You should also take the time to read their submission guidelines to make sure you're following their specific instructions and formatting your letter correctly.
And finally, if you have any personal connections with the agent or publisher, be sure to mention them in your letter. Those connections could give you a significant advantage over other authors who are querying them.
Once you've finished your letter, it's time to sign off. A formal sign-off like "Sincerely" or "Best Regards" is usually a safe bet, but if you're querying someone you know personally or worked with before, feel free to use a more informal sign-off, like "Cheers" or "Thanks."
After sign-off, add your contact information, including your email address and phone number. That way, the agent will be able to get in touch with you if they're interested in learning more about your book.
Before clicking "Send" on your query letter, it's important to proofread your work. Even the best writers make mistakes, and those mistakes can be costly. After all, you only get one chance to make a first impression.
Take the time to read over your letter carefully. If possible, ask someone else to read it as well. A fresh set of eyes can be helpful for catching mistakes that you might have missed.
And if you're not confident in your proofreading skills, there's no shame in hiring a professional editor or proofreader to look over your letter for you. It's a small investment that could make a big difference in the success of your query.
Tip: A tool like Grammarly can also be helpful for catching errors in your writing.
Now that you know the basics of writing a query letter, let's go over some dos and don’ts to ensure you're giving yourself the best chance of success.
The dos of writing a query letter are as follows:
Before you even start writing your query, be sure to read the submission guidelines for the agent or press you're querying. You don't want to find yourself halfway through your letter only to realize that you're not following their guidelines.
Take the time to read them carefully before you start writing.
Humans love personalization, and agents are no different. Be sure to address every recipient by name in your query letter.
If you're querying multiple agents at the same agency, you can use a generic "Dear Agent" salutation, but if you're querying an agent individually, it's always best to find out their name and use that instead.
One of the best ways to personalize your letter is to explain why you've chosen to query this specific agent.
Maybe you read an interview with them that made you think they would be a good fit for your book. Or maybe you know they're looking for a book like yours. Whatever the reason, be sure to mention it in your letter.
When you're writing a query letter, it's important to get to the point quickly. Remember that you have a few short paragraphs to sell your book, so you don't want to waste time with lengthy introductions or tangents.
The first paragraph of your letter should be used to introduce yourself and your book. After that, you can go into more detail about why your book would be a good fit for the agent or press you're querying.
One of the most important things to remember when you're writing a query letter is that you need to market your story with confidence. This isn't the time to be modest or self-deprecating. You need to sell your book, which means having clear faith in its merits.
Avoid phrases like "I think my book is good" or "I'm not sure if this is what you're looking for." Instead, use phrases like "My book is perfect for fans of X" or "I know you're looking for Y, and my book has that in spades."
By displaying confidence in your letter, you'll give the agent or editor reading it the impression that you're also confident in your book. And that's exactly the kind of author they're looking to sign.
As we mentioned before, you only have a few paragraphs to sell your book in a query letter. This means you need to make every word count.
Keep your letter as brief as possible, but try to convey all the important information about your book.
The goal is to give the agent or editor a clear and concise overview of your book and why they should be interested in it (and in you). Anything beyond that is just fluff.
If you have a platform—meaning, a preexisting audience for your book—be sure to mention it in your letter. This could be anything from a large social media following to a blog with a significant readership.
Agents and editors are always looking for authors with a platform because it makes it easier to sell their book to a publisher. It also somewhat guarantees that the author will be able to help market their book once it's published, which translates into more sales.
Of course, having a platform isn't a requirement for getting an agent or book deal. But if you do have one, it's definitely worth mentioning in your query letter.
If you have any past publications or awards, be sure to mention them in your query letter. This will help show the agent or editor that you're a serious writer with a track record of success.
Even if your only publication is a short story in a small literary journal, it's worth mentioning in your letter. Any type of publication or award will help give you an edge over other authors who are querying similar books.
Keep in mind that you're not limited to just one query letter. In fact, it's often helpful to create a few different versions of your letter so you can try out different angles.
For example, you might have one version of your letter geared more toward your book's plot and another focusing on your characters. Or you might have one that's more formal and another that's more casual.
The important thing is to find the angle you think will be most effective in getting the agent or editor to request your book. And the only way to do that is to experiment with different versions of your letter until you find the right one.
Finally, don't forget to query a wide variety of people and companies. This includes agents, editors, and even publishers.
The more people you query, the better your chances of finding someone who’s interested in your book. Don't limit yourself to just a few agents or editors—query as many as you can. You never know who might bite!
What about the things you shouldn't do in a query letter? Here are a few things that will instantly turn off an agent or editor. It's important to avoid them if you want to have any chance of getting your foot in the door.
Self-deprecation is a huge no-no in query letters. This includes making self-deprecating jokes or putting yourself down in any way. Agents and editors are looking for confident, competent authors—not ones who are going to second-guess themselves at every turn.
Therefore, it's important to project confidence in your letter. Even if your queries are getting rejected left and right, don't let that show in your letter. Keep your chin up and keep trying.
Another thing to avoid is using strange fonts or other gimmicks in your letter. This includes things like writing your letter in all capital letters or using a funky font that's hard to read.
Remember, the goal of your query letter is to sell your book—not show off your creative skills. Therefore, it's important to use a simple, straightforward font that's easy to read. No fanciness is required.
Next, don't include any unnecessary credits or information in your letter. There's a fine line between including relevant information and going overboard, so it's important to be selective about what you include.
For example, you don't need to list every single writing credit you have—just the most relevant ones. And you definitely don't need to include information about your day job or other unrelated hobbies.
Keep your letter focused on your book and why it's a great fit for the agent or editor you're querying. Anything else is just clutter.
When you're introducing your book, it's important to focus on just a few key characters. Mentioning too many characters in your hook will only serve to confuse the agent or editor and make your book seem much more complicated than it actually is.
So, pick one or two main characters and focus on them in your letter. This will give the agent or editor a better sense of who your characters are and what your book is all about.
Lastly, avoid mentioning any minor plot points in your query letter. This includes things like subplots, secondary characters, or even the ending of your book.
Remember, you're only trying to sell your book with your query letter—you're not trying to give away the entire story. Therefore, it's important to focus on the big picture and avoid getting bogged down in the details. You won't be able to include everything anyway!
Before you start writing your query letter, it can be helpful to look at some examples. This will give you a better idea of what a successful query letter looks like and how to format your own letter. While query letters are typically longer than the ones listed below, these examples will give you a good starting point.
Dear Agent or Editor,
I am seeking representation for my science fiction novel, tentatively titled The Andromeda Strain. I understand you represent science fiction authors, so I'm contacting you.
The novel is about a team of scientists who are recruited by the government to investigate a deadly virus that has wiped out an entire town. As they race to find a cure, they must battle against the clock—and their own fears—to find a way to stop the virus before it destroys them all.
The Andromeda Strain is a fast-paced thriller that will keep readers on the edge of their seats from beginning to end. It is approximately 90,000 words and would appeal to fans of authors like Michael Crichton and Dan Brown.
I am a graduate of the University of XYZ and have been writing for over ten years. My work has been published in The XYZ Review, and I have won several awards for my writing, including the XYZ Award for Fiction.
I am a member of the Science Fiction Writers of America and am currently working on a second novel.
Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.
Dear Agent or Editor,
I am writing to you today to query my nonfiction book, tentatively titled The History of the American Revolution. I came across your name on the XYZ website and saw that you represent nonfiction authors, which is why I decided to query you.
The book is a detailed account of the American Revolution, from the Boston Tea Party to the Battle of Yorktown. Drawing on primary sources and personal accounts, it brings to life the people and events that shaped this country.
The History of the American Revolution is approximately 80,000 words and would appeal to anyone interested in American history.
I am a graduate of the University of XYZ and have been writing for over ten years. I have published several articles on American history, and my work has been featured in The XYZ Review.
Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.
Dear Agent or Editor,
I hope this letter finds you well. I'm a fan of your work and was very excited to see that you represent memoirs. That's why I'm querying you today about my memoir, tentatively titled A Life in Pieces.
The book is about my experience growing up with undiagnosed ADHD and the challenges I've faced as a result. It chronicles my journey from struggling student to successful professional and the lessons I've learned along the way.
I've been building a social media following and have been featured on several popular news outlets, including The Huffington Post, ADDitude, and ABC News. My story has resonated with readers around the country, and I believe it will continue to do so.
A Life in Pieces is approximately 80,000 words and would appeal to anyone who is interested in stories of overcoming adversity.
I hope this book will help others struggling with ADHD and show them that it is still possible to lead a successful and fulfilling life.
Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you soon.
Dear Agent or Editor,
I hope you're in the mood for a thriller, because that's what I'm querying you about today. My novel, tentatively titled The Devil You Know, is a fast-paced story about a woman who is on the run from her abusive ex-husband.
The book follows protagonist Sarah as she tries to outwit and outrun her ex while attempting to piece together the clues to a dark secret from her past.
The Devil You Know is approximately 80,000 words and would appeal to fans of authors like Gillian Flynn and Paula Hawkins.
I know you've already represented several thrillers, and I believe my book has a fast-paced plot and relatable characters that will make it a success.
To give you a brief overview of my writing experience, I have been published in The XYZ Review and have won several awards for my fiction, including the XYZ Award for Fiction.
I hope this could make for an exciting addition to your list.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
Dear Agent or Editor,
I am writing to you today to query my romance novel, tentatively titled A Heart's Desire. This book is a steamy, contemporary romance about a woman who falls in love with her boss.
The story follows Hannah as she starts a new job and quickly realizes that she's attracted to her boss, Jake. Despite the fact that he's off limits, she can't resist the chemistry between them, and they soon embark on a passionate affair.
This isn't just a story of forbidden love, but also a journey of self-discovery for Hannah. She has to decide what she wants in life and whether or not she's willing to take a risk for love.
Knowing that you're a fan of romance novels, I believe A Heart's Desire would be a perfect fit for your list. The book is approximately 80,000 words and would appeal to fans of authors like Nora Roberts and Christina Lauren.
I've studied creative writing at XYZ University, and my work has been published in The XYZ Review. I am a member of the Romance Writers of America and have won several awards for my fiction, including the XYZ Award for Romance.
I'm positive that A Heart's Desire has the potential to be a bestseller, and I would be honored if you represented it. Thank you for your time and consideration.
Query letters are the golden ticket to getting your foot in the door with literary agents and editors. But before you can get excited about the possibility of being published, you need to make sure your query letter is up to snuff.
We hope this guide has given you the information and confidence you need to write a query letter that will catch the eye of agents and publishers alike. And if you need a little extra help, Copy.ai is always there to lend a (virtual) hand. Writing a query letter is hard enough—you shouldn't have to do it alone.
How to write a query letter is part of an ongoing project to create user guides on how to write properly, no matter the format or goal. They include, but are not limited to:
How to Write a Recommendation Letter for a Student
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