What is a Query Letter?
A query letter is a ONE PAGE professional letter describing your book and yourself to a literary agent. If the literary agent is interested in your book, the agent will typically write back and request that you send a portion of your manuscript, or the entire manuscript for evaluation. If the agent likes the manuscript and thinks it has potential to sell, you may receive an offer from the agent to represent your book. Some literary agents may request that you include the first few pages of your manuscript or a separate synopsis with your query, but that is strictly up to the individual agents.
Query Letter Length
A query letter should be one page or less, which is about 300 to 400 words.
Of course it's impossible to describe your entire book in 400 words, but that's not what a query letter is. It's a quick introduction to give the agent a general idea about you and your writing.
What goes into a query letter?
- Your manuscript's title.
- Word count of the completed book. This does not need to be an exact number. Round to the nearest 100s, or even 1000s. Do NOT include a page count, since the number of pages are meaningless because they depend on the font size used, margins, spacing, etc.
- Genre. It's important to list your book's genre as accurately as possible.
- A short pitch. Similar to what you might find on the back of a book. It should tell a little about the book to get the agent interested, but doesn't need to give everything away.
- (Optional) Any writing related credits you may have such as previous publications or contest awards, or why you are the best person to write this book. Though previous credits are helpful, they are not vital. It's okay to leave these off if you're just starting out. But don't say you're just starting out, the agent will infer that.
- (Optional) The reason why you have chosen to query this particular agent. You may not always have a precise reason, but it helps if you can include something. For example, the agent may already represent an author or book with a similar premise or style to yours. Or the agent stated somewhere that they are specifically looking for a subject or premise that matches your book.
- (Optional) Provide comparison titles. List other books or authors that are similar to yours, so the agent can get a feel for the tone or style of your writing.
What does NOT go into a query letter?
- How much your mother, spouse, or neighbor liked the book. Agents see statements like this all the time, and have become numb to them. It's best to let your book speak for itself.
- How often you have queried. If you are new to querying, there is no need to mention it. Same goes if this is your 500th query. Stating so won't help, and may hurt your chances.
- Don't say you have never been published (they probably know that already.)
- Never mention this is your first book (they know that, too.)
- Don't tell them how much money your book is sure to make, or how it is destined to be the next blockbuster movie. Everyone says that. Again, let your book speak for itself. Agents are masters at spotting potential. That's what they do.
The Perfect Query Letter
There's no such thing as the perfect query letter. Every literary agent has their own idea of what makes a perfect query letter. Some like quirky and clever, some like professional and reserved (most lean towards professional and reserved, so use quirky sparingly.) But even the literary agents who have very specific ideas of what they do or do not like will often highlight and praise a query that breaks the rules they themselves set down. So, what does this mean for you? It means there is no easy answer. Your best bet is to read as many sample query letters as you can find, pick the style you like best and give it a try.
The most important part of your query letter is the opening. You want to hook the reader right away. The hook is the one unique aspect of you or your book that stands out the most. It might be the concept of the book itself, or a unique character or character trait. It might be a particular writing award you received. What's the one thing that makes your book or writing unique? Start with that.
Query by Example
The best way to learn how to write a successful query letter is to read other successful query letters.
QueryTracker maintains a list of successful query letters that you can study.
More Query Help
There are plenty of resources online that teach about writing query letters, so it would be redundant to repeat it all here. Instead, here are a few links to some helpful resources.