How To Write A Query Letter

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Lately, I've been tossing up the idea of whether I should attempt to traditionally publish at some point in my writing career. This has led me down a rabbit hole of research into traditional publishing and so far one thing is clear - I'm going to have to query literary agents. Which means, I'm going to have to write a query letter. 

So, after a couple of weeks of researching how to write a good, polished, and successful query letter, I've compiled a mountain of research to share. However, before we break down the four basic steps to writing a good query letter, let's get some important info out of the way.

Important Things to Note:

-An author can't promote their books to publishing houses without enlisting the help of a literary agent. A literary agent is a person who attempts to sell your book to publishing houses and get you traditionally published. You entice, or woo, a literary agent by sending them, either electronically or through the postal service, a one-page query letter. 

-Every literary agent is different and has different submission guidelines. It is important to do your research! First, compile a list of agents who represent books in your chosen genre. Then, check each agent's submission guidelines so you can tweak your query letters as needed. Some agents require sample pages of your manuscript while others want you to send only the query letter. Some agents require that you email them your query letter while others would rather receive a typed letter in the mail. Most importantly, something that all agents agree upon is that you must have a completed manuscript before you begin querying. If you query without a completed manuscript you may close doors, or burn bridges, that otherwise could have been helpful.

-Be careful! If an agent asks for money to try and sell your manuscript to publishing houses then they are scamming you. Use the links below to research and compile a list of reputable literary agents. 

What to Include in a Query Letter:

A query letter is typically a one-page letter composed of three to four paragraphs. It's purpose is to give agents info about you and your book. My favorite example of a well-written query letter can be found here and is the query letter that Marissa Meyer wrote when she was trying to find an agent for Cinder. Another great site to use is Query Shark which uses real queries to show you what and what not to do when writing your own. However, if you want a quick rundown of what to include in each paragraph of your query I've written a rough outline below.

Tip: Refer back to the query letter that Marissa Meyer wrote, and that I referenced above, to get a visual representation of everything I'm outlining below.

-Paragraph One: These are your opening lines and you have only one goal here: to hook the agent and keep him or her reading. Address the agent respectfully by saying Dear Mr or Ms (insert last name here). Also, try to establish a common ground. Did you meet the agent at a writing conference or event? Did the agent previously represent a book that resembles your own? Mention this. Most importantly, you want to share the title, word count, and genre of your book. 

-Paragraph Two: This paragraph is important. This is where you use 200-250 words to give the agent a brief synopsis of your plot. Outline your setting and one to three main characters. Show the agent what's at stake for your main character. It's also a great idea to finish this paragraph with a cliffhanger. Don't tell the agent how the story ends, but leave them wanting to read more.

Tip: This is ultimately the goal of a query letter. If you can get an agent hooked, then they are more likely to request the full manuscript of your novel. If they request the full manuscript of your novel, then you have a greater chance of them making an offer of representation. For help with this look at the examples from Query Shark as well as ask for other writers to look over this paragraph and offer critiques. 

-Paragraph Three: Using only two to three sentences, list a short author bio. Be sure to list any writing conferences, retreats, and/or workshops you've attended, any submissions you've previously had published, any writing associations you are currently a member of, any writing-related degrees you hold, and/or a brief snippet describing the audience you currently reach. (Agents want to know you already have potential readers ready and willing to buy your book!)

-Paragraph Four: End your letter on a respectful note. Thank the agent and offer to send them sample chapters or a full manuscript. Also, if your novel is part of a planned series, mention that as well. 

That's it! Now you wait patiently for agents to get back to you. Use this time to work on the sequel to your book, or a new project altogether.  It's common to get rejection letters in the beginning stages of this process so don't fret if you do. Instead, re-examine your query and see if you can tweak it or explain ideas further. Above all, be professional. Just because your book isn't right for one agent, doesn't mean it won't be the perfect fit for another.

Do you plan to traditionally publish or be a hybrid author who is both traditionally and self-published? If so, please let me know if this article was helpful. Also, If you have any additional questions, tips, or tricks be sure to leave them down below. 

Happy Writing!