The query letter is a single page cover letter introducing you and your novel to an agent. It should not be completed until your novel is ready as it is meant to elicit an invitation to send sample chapters or possibly even your entire manuscript to an agent. It is NOT a resume.
The query letter should give a taste of the plot and demonstrate your own voice with no passivity. It should be only action and forward motion from the very start.
The query letter is composed of three distinct paragraphs – the hook, the mini-synopsis, and the author’s bio, along with an opening and closing. It is important you do not stray from this format.
Address your query to a specific agent. Research them online and include something specific about them if at all possible. Check out their websites, tweets and blog posts along with such sites as AgentQuery and QueryTracker .Customize each query letter. We want the agents to feel like people, not robots.
Paragraph One – The Hook
The hook is a concise one sentence tagline for your book. It is meant to hook the reader’s interest and wind them in. There are several great ways to create your hook. The most common is the “When” Formula. When such and such happens, your main character –with a descriptive adjective, age, or profession – must confront further conflicts before finally triumphing in his or her own special way.
Other great ways to start a hook include: 1) giving era and location or 2) setting up your main character first.
Paragraph Two – The Mini-Synopsis
This paragraph takes your entire novel and condenses it into a single paragraph. Here you can expand on your hook. It is where you give a little more information about your main character, his problems and conflicts and the way in which adversity changes his life.
Paragraph Three – Writer’s Bio
Keep it short and related to your writing. Don’t mention your day job unless it directly relates to your story. Be sure to note if you’ve published a few short stories or won any writing contests or awards. If you have no previous published pieces, it is ok to remain silent in this area.
The closing should accomplish two things. First, it should thank the agent for their time and consideration. Second, it should inform the agent a full manuscript is available upon request.
Here are some query letter DO’s:
– DO address query to a specific agent. Try to note something personal about them in opening.
– DO state the title of your book at the beginning of your query in the hook.
– DO mention wordcount and genre of book. Novels should be about 80,000 – 100,000 words. YA novels should be 40,000 – 60,000 words. I have seen the wordcount and genre information included at the end of the hook paragraph and also as part of the closing. The main thing is – include it somewhere in the query. If your novel is over these wordcounts you may want to trim it down before you start querying.
– DO adopt the same tone for your query letter as your book while remaining professional. Show your voice through your query’s tone.
– DO keep your query to one page only.
If sending a snail mail query, stick to standard business letter formatting. Single-spaced, 12 point font, left aligned. There will be no paragraph indentions but there will be a space between each paragraph. List phone number, mailing address, and email address at top of page. Be sure to include a self-addressed stamped envelope (SASE) with each query.
If sending an email query, it should be about 250 – 300 words long. It is best to copy and paste your query into Notepad to strip it of all formatting and then paste it into your email and edit it further there. Include the title of your book in the subject line.
– DO have a fresh pair of eyes proofread your query for typos and grammar mistakes.
These are some query letter DON’Ts:
– DON’T refer to your novel as a fiction novel. That is redundant. Just call it a novel.
– DON’T sing your book’s praises or compare it to other best selling novels.
– DON’T send bribes or gifts with your query.
– DON’T print your query on colored paper. Use standard business stationary.
– DON’T shrink your font. 12 point is standard. 11 point if you’re desperate.
– DON’T apologize for your lack of writing credentials. Let your writing speak for itself and just keep quiet if you’re worried.
– DON’T pitch more than one manuscript at a time.
– DON’T include sample chapters unless an agent’s submission guidelines specifically say to include them. ALWAYS follow submission guidelines to the letter.