How to Write a Query Letter

I’ve written several times about query letters, and no doubt it’ll be a recurring theme here, since I receive queries everyday and a surprising percentage of them fail to give me any sense of the book being pitched, or fail to tell me anything about the author’s qualifications to write and sell that particular book. I feel the need for a simple, straightforward set of instructions for queries, so here goes:

Queries should include the following three elements:
4 something about the book
4 something about you
4 the first 3 to 5 (or so) pages of the manuscript pasted into the email

a A great query starts with a few sentences designed to make me want to read your book. To figure out how to do this, read the back-cover-copy or flap copy of your favorite books. The goal is not to give a detailed synopsis, but instead to write something interesting and informative enough that I want to read more.

a Non-fiction: Include some information about yourself, specifically why YOU are the correct person to write this book. What are your qualifications? Are you a published author? What’s the most important thing I need to know about your platform? Fiction: Don’t worry about platform. If you have commercially published fiction before, tell a bit about your publishing history. If not, don’t worry about this part of the letter, just say you’re a first-time novelist.

a The letter should be no longer than the equivalent of one typewritten page, about 3 to 6 paragraphs (not including the sample pages).

a This is a LETTER, not a book synopsis dropping into my inbox as if out of the sky. You are writing to an actual person. Therefore the query should be addressed to the recipient by name, and it should not only give your pitch and your personal information, it should ask for what you want (e.g. “I am seeking agency representation and would appreciate your consideration”).

a Include the genre. Make sure you’re clear on whether it’s fiction or non-fiction to start with. Then within either of those two categories, list your genre. If you don’t know about genres, please do some research and learn prior to querying.

a Check the submission guidelines of each agent and/or publisher you’re querying. Note that I require the first 3 to 5 pages of the manuscript pasted into the email.

a Let me know what’s available if I should request more. A full book proposal? A completed manuscript?

a No attachments, please, unless specifically requested. They will not be opened.

a Please do NOT ask me to click on a link, such as a link to your website or blog. You should be able to tell me what I need to know in the 1-page query letter format. Your signature can include links to your blog or website, and if I find your query particularly interesting, I’ll click on it. But DON’T rely on me clicking over to get the information I need. Put the info in your query!

These are the basics. Please also read our Submission Guidelines.

I have LOTS more posts on queries! Go to the tab above (in the brown bar) and click on “Find Posts by Subject.”)

Happy Querying!

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