How do you write a query letter- those few short paragraphs that have to sum up your entire novel and seemingly hold the key to getting a literary agent? First, you have to start with a finished novel. Once you’ve got a novel that been revised and edited multiple times, then you’re ready to sit down and write your query letter. But make sure you’ve researched agents and know who would be a good fit for you.
- Start with either a hook or the more formal opening. The hook is my personal favorite way to start. It’s a line designed to capture attention and draw the agent in right from the start.
Cinderella: Don’t think a pair of shoes can change your life? Think again.
Peter Pan: All children grow up, except one. (This is a reworking of the opening line of Peter Pan. So if you’re looking for inspiration, see if your first line can help.)
The second way is to start a little more personally/formally by either saying that you’re seeking representation for your novel and that you think this particular agent would be a good fit. This can also be a place to include if you’ve ever met that agent at a conference or if you saw a Tweet they sent that made you think they’d like this novel. This shows that you’ve done your research on them.
- Include no more than 3 paragraphs summarizing your plot. You don’t have to give away every element, but try to get the overall plot communicated. Make sure you’ve got enough tension laced throughout. And it’s okay to leave the agent hanging by hinting at the decision your character will have to make or that the balance of good vs. evil hangs in their hands.
- Along with the plot, make sure there’s urgency in your query. Agents want to know that your novel is going to keep moving, so mentioning a timeline can go a long way.
- Try not to name more than 3 characters in a query. Usually, this is regulated to the main character, the love interest or sidekick, and the villain. Too many names makes it easy to get lost.
- Include the word count and genre of your novel in either the more formal opening paragraph or the last paragraph.
- Mention toward the end (usually in the final paragraph) that the novel is complete. An easy way to do this is to say “My novel XYZ is complete at 79,000 words, and I would be happy to send it to you if you’re interested,” or “I’d be happy to send you the completed manuscript if you’re interested.”
- Include a short biography at the end of the query letter with any relevant information. Are you a librarian? Include that. Have you had a short story published? Include that. Have an MFA degree? Include that, too. Don’t be afraid to sell yourself.
- Follow submission guidelines. This is so important. This goes back to researching agents. Only include what they’re looking for- whether that’s a query letter, a short bio, and the first 10 pages or if they want a query letter and the first 50 pages. Not sending what they ask for shows you didn’t do your research. And agents won’t waste time reading the submission of someone who didn’t bother to read their guidelines.
- Don’t send attachments when you send your query letter. If an agent comes back and asks for your manuscript, you can attach it then. But never attach anything to an original query. Paste all materials into the email.
- Test out sending your query letter to people with a variety of email address (Hotmail, gmail, outlook, yahoo, etc.). It’s easy for formatting to get messed up, so by testing it out, you’ll know what you need to adjust before you send your wonky formatting to an agent.
It’s also a good idea to have someone who hasn’t read the book read your query letter. That way, they can point out what doesn’t make sense to them.
Then, after it’s all ready to go, send that query letter off, sit back, and relax. Okay, who am I kidding? Sending out queries is super stressful. Throw yourself into your next project so you don’t go insane checking you Inbox for responses.
Have a finished query letter? You’re in luck! Since my birthday is this Saturday, I’ve decided to give you, my readers, a present! Enter my giveaway for a QUERY LETTER CRITIQUE from literary agent Christa Heschke of McIntosh & Otis. Click on the Rafflecopter link to enter!