How to Write a Query Letter

A one page query letter — just one little page — how hard can it be, right?

They say you should consider your query letter as the one thing standing between you and getting published — because it is. That sounds pretty scary, but is basically true, especially if you are trying to find an agent. Take your time writing the query letter.

The thing about a query letter is that, unlike your manuscript, it is a marketing tool. Small presses tend to let the work speak for itself, but agents and large publishing houses (accessible only through agents) are too busy to read entire manuscripts, and the query is often all they see. Don’t forget, ultimately it is a business, the business of selling books, so if you want to break into that world, you have to word your query letter in such a way that shows you understand this. What is the agent thinking when he/she reads your query? Will this book sell? Why?

Another way of looking at it is to answer the now famous question, Does the world need this book? If you can answer this question honestly, then the query letter will be a snap. OK, not a snap. It is still hard, but it will be easier. Think about writing your query as an opportunity to really look closely at your work in a completely new light. For example, if you can come up with a really good pitch (described below) then you can use that same pitch in all your queries, as well as when you meet that agent or editor at a conference or run into them in an elevator. That one sentence will serve you well when your relatives ask (again) what your book is about and you have to describe it over a crowded and loud dinner table.

If you are approaching an agent, please first read the “How to Find an Agent” page on this site. You can start your letter once you have done your research and feel confident that:

  • This particular agent would be interested in your work
  • You are following the submission guidelines perfectly

The typical query letter takes the form below. You do not need to adhere to this model exactly, but most of the following elements should be somewhere in your letter:

The Pitch. One sentence. That’s it. One sentence to hook that agent or editor (and later, the reader) into reading your work. Think of what would be written on the back cover of your book, the part most people look at before deciding whether to buy a book or not. You can also think of it as the tagline for a movie. If your book were a movie, how would they describe it in a one minute commercial?

The Genre. Include the title of your book, its genre and a brief overview (if indicated by guidelines) and wordcount. Mention here whether or not the work is complete.

A brief bio. Include your address, phone number(s), email address(s), and any information that tells how you can be reached. If you have publication credits they should also go here. The biographical information you choose to include should correspond to the manuscript you are submitting. For example, if you are writing a nonfiction book about nature trails, any poetry publishing credits you may have will not be helpful, instead include any information that will explain why you specifically are qualified to write a book about nature trails.

A Thank You & SASE for a response. This courtesy should not be overlooked.

Helpful Links

Sample query letter

Articles and FAQ query letters

Writing World – advice on the query

Blog – on query letter

The Writers’ Site – the query letter, publishing advice & more