Writers, do you want your hard work to pay off? Would you like to find your novel at the local bookstore? Isn’t that every writer’s dream? A query letter serves as your introduction to agents and editors. For novelists, it is your first and probably only opportunity to attract an agent. So it’s time for you to learn how to write a successful query letter if you don’t already know how.
If you fail at writing one that grabs an agent, your book will never leave your desktop. Or you’ll have to self-publish and pay for it yourself.
A successful query letter’s purpose
You want an agent to care about your main character and what happens to her so she’ll ask to see your novel. Agents will judge a book by the quality of your query letter. If it’s mediocre, she won’t ask to see your book.
You may be a great fiction or nonfiction writer, but that doesn’t mean you can craft a great query letter. It’s basically a sales letter, and you may not know much about writing sales copy. You have only about eight seconds to grab an agent’s attention. This requires looking at your book in a different way—as a product and not your baby. Now you must think about its salable qualities.
Before you write a query letter, do your homework and research what literary agents want. For example, does the targeted agent accept your genre? Do they want submissions from unpublished writers? If they don’t, you are wasting your time.
Query letter tips
1. Your novel must be ready to send to an agent.
2. Develop a strong internet platform, such as a blog. You’ll be responsible for much of the book’s promotion.
3. Hire an editor to check your letter for errors.
4. Write to only one agent in each agency. Check with each literary agency’s submission requirements and follow them.
5. You may send simultaneous queries three to five at a time. You don’t have to mention you’re doing this.
6. The word count should be around 250.
7. A query letter should be a single-spaced, one-page document.
8. Select black text and font size 12 on white paper. Choose Times New Roman font unless agent tells you otherwise.
9. Hit one space between sentences—not two.
Avoid query letter mistakes.
1. Don’t overuse adjectives and adverbs.
2. Don’t send a hand-written letter.
3. Don’t use strange type fonts.
4. Don’t talk about how many years of effort you’ve spent to write your novel.
5. Don’t say how much your friends and relatives enjoyed reading your book
6. Don’t misspell the agent’s name.
7. Don’t send anything else until the agent requests it.
8. Don’t brag.
9. Don’t send over one page unless requested to do so.
10. Don’t forget to include an SASE or email address.
Successful query letter layout
On top left of paper
Type your name and address in the upper left corner.
Address your letter to each agent by name. Make sure she is still at the agency. If this is an email submission, include your title in the subject line. Type QUERY: TITLE
Write a strong lead sentence. Share how you met or had contact with the agent. If one of her existing clients referred you, say so. Share if a famous person vouches for you. In case you’ve met at a writer’s conference, tell her. Say why you’ve approached the agent. Perhaps she has other clients who’ve written novels in your genre, and that’s what drew you to her.
Mention a professional editor edited your book—if one did. Agents appreciate the extra care you’ve put into your book.
Now share the title, genre, word count, and target market.
In the first paragraph, your hook is what will compel an agent to ask for your manuscript. Boil down your story. What does the protagonist want? Why does he want it? What keeps him from getting it? Make the agent care about your main character.
Your hook should be between 100 and 200 words. Don’t mention over four characters. Three are better. Leave out minor points in the story.
Now in one sentence mention you have a series in mind if you do.
Summarize your story. Tell about your main characters and what happens. And what choices they must make. But end with a cliffhanger. What does the main character what above all else, and what is standing in the way of her desire?
Reveal all this in five sentences or less. Show. Don’t tell.
How does your manuscript differ from those with similar titles? Tell why your book is unique. Compared it to four to five similar novels. List the title, author, release year, and describe the book. Show how yours and their books are similar and would appeal to the same people.
This is where are you add your biographical information, but make sure it’s relevant.
Show what qualifies you to write a novel. Why did you write it?
If you have many credentials, put them on another page. If you are an unpublished novelist, you need not include a bio. But if you’ve done intriguing research, mention it. If you have no meaningful accomplishments to put in a bio, don’t include it. Many agents accept novels from unpublished writers.
Show how you’ll market your book.
Ask if the agent would be interested in discussing representation of your novel
You can close with “warmly” or similar words.
Type your name. Under it put your telephone number and email address.
What to do after submitting your query letter
Wait about a month. If you sent your query letter through the mail, send another copy. Do not visit the agent or call her. It’s probably a rejection.
An agent may ask for an exclusive read on your book. While they’re doing it, no one else can read your manuscript. If you grant an exclusive reading, do it for a short period—maybe two weeks.
Most situations are non-exclusive. In that case, if someone requests the manuscript before the first agent responds, tell him your book is being considered elsewhere. But you don’t have to say with whom. Let the first agent knows the second agent offered representation. And give her the opportunity to respond.
I’ve offered several suggestions to help you learn how to write a successful query letter. Now write or rewrite one, and wow an agent.