Writing a Query Letter That Hooks an Agent

Getting your book published is the ultimate goal for most writers. Whether you have written a fiction or non-fiction book, you still have to learn to write a query letter. It’s definitely one of the most intimidating aspects of the entire book publishing process. A query letter is your first contact with potential agents and publishers, so it must make a good impression. I’m going to walk you through this intimidating process. Hopefully, it will boost your confidence and make this process as painless as possible.

What Exactly is a Query Letter?

A query letter is a letter that is written to agents and publishers in an effort to pitch your book. It’s one page long, never longer. In most cases, the query letter is written to pitch a book that has already been written. There are certain instances where writers pitch an idea before writing it, but this should be reserved for more experienced writers.

Basically, a query letter is a way to introduce yourself and your manuscript to a literary agent. Its main purpose is to show agents that you have a project that has the potential to make money for them. If they are hooked by your letter, then they will ask you to submit your work to them. Be prepared to send a full manuscript or the first two chapters to the agent.

Why is a Query Letter so Important?

The only way that you’re going to get an agent to even consider your manuscript is if you write an outstanding query letter. You have a lot of competition when contacting an agent so a query letter is the only way you have to stand out. It’s essentially a sales pitch. You’re trying to sell your writing to an agent before they even read your manuscript.

Do Your Homework

First of all, you have to do your homework before you even start writing the letter. You have to define who you’re writing the letter to and why you’re writing it. Targeting the correct agent is the most important aspect of sending out query letters. By doing your homework, you can avoid the most common mistake that many beginners make. That mistake is pitching to the wrong agent.

For example, you wouldn’t pitch a nonfiction book to an agent who specializes in fiction novels.

There are several methods that you can use to find agents but the best way is to invest in a directory of literary agents. Then you can find the perfect agent to query.

Formatting a Query Letter

A query letter has a specific format that must be followed. You cannot change this format at all; otherwise, your letter will be instantly thrown in the trash. Here are some of the rules depending on the media you are using to send a query letter:

  • Your email address must be professional if sending a query letter via email.
  • When you query by snail mail (still the most common practice), you need to send a postcard and self-addressed stamped envelope along with the query letter. That gives the agent a way to easily inform you whether your work has been accepted or rejected.
  • A query letter is never longer than one page.
  • A query letter should be printed on white paper using black ink. The font should be 12pt. Times New Roman.
  • Always address a query letter to the correct person. “To whom it may concern” should never be used.

Breakdown of a Query Letter

The query letter starts by addressing the agent by name. Make the effort to research the name of the person you’re querying. In fact, you should research more than their name. Find out if you both have anything in common. For example, if you both attended a writing conference then mention that in your query letter.

Paragraph 1: The first paragraph of the letter is a quick introduction of who you are. It shouldn’t be longer than two sentences.

Paragraph 2: The next paragraph will include the basic information about the proposed manuscript. If it’s fiction, then include the title, genre and a tagline. End this paragraph with a short one to two sentence summary of the manuscript.

Paragraph 3: Next, you have to hook the reader. This is going to be the longest paragraph. It should talk about the subject matter of the book and make the reader want to read more.

Paragraph 4: Now you will get into more of a bio about who you are. Tell the agent what expertise you have and mention your academic background.

Paragraph 5: Close your letter with a brief thanks and then a call to action. Tell him/her that you are ready to send the manuscript. All you need is approval. Then sign the query letter.