05 October 2012

Write a Query Letter in 8 Simple Steps

Two weeks ago I posted an example of a fiction query letter and was asked to provide more details on how to write one. I’m happy to oblige! The following eight tips are the product of my research while preparing to query agents for my Young Adult novel. These same principles can be applied to most genres, although queries for nonfiction pieces are formatted slightly differently.  

  1.  Address the agent by name. Not “To Whom It May Concern” or “Sir/Madam”. You hand-picked this agent because you feel they’ll be interested in your work, so addressing them by name is crucial.
  2. Keep it to one page. When querying, it’s important to keep it concise. If a longer synopsis is desired you will be asked for it or it will be stated in the agent’s guidelines.
  3. Get right to the point. The agent knows why you wrote to them, no need for long introductions. Simply state the name of your book, the word count, the genre and your hook within your first two sentences. If you’re not sure how to write a good hook, research that before writing your query letter. The goal is to grab their attention and make them want to keep reading.
  4. If possible, reference another book like yours. It’s not required, but its recommended that you point out similarities between your book and another one the agent might recognize.
  5. Give a super short synopsis. Be sure to pique the agent’s interest without giving away too much or getting too bogged down in details. This is tricky. No writer enjoys figuring out how to sum up their work in such a small amount of space, but it can be done. Try reading the backs of your favorite books for inspiration on how to condense the gist of your characters and their conflicts into four or five sentences.
  6. Do your homework. Become familiar with what your chosen agent likes. Point out that while your work is unique, it will still fit in well with the other books they’ve represented. Mention at least one of their books by name.
  7. Your bio. Include just a small bit of relevant information about yourself such as whether you’ve been published before. If you haven’t, don’t worry. Just tell the agent that this is your first novel and briefly mention any experience you have that’s relevant to the topic in your book.
  8. The Closing. Wrap up the letter by thanking the agent for their time and offering to provide them with more information upon request.  
I hope you find these tips helpful. If you have any tips to add or any interesting/valuable/funny query experiences please share!

(image from FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

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