How to Write an Excellent Query Letter
By Sherry Ellis
Writers put a lot of effort into their manuscripts. They agonize over plot and character development, rewriting countless times until they get it right. Yet, when it comes to writing query letters, that same diligence doesn’t always carry through. They write something shoddy that doesn’t pique the interest of a potential agent or publisher. Their manuscript doesn’t stand a chance of being read.
A query letter is a single page cover letter, introducing the author and his book. It contains three paragraphs: the hook, a mini-synopsis, and the writer’s biography. Under no circumstances should a query be more than a page in length. Agents are inundated with query letters, so lengthy ones are a big turn-off. Word economy should be used when crafting the letter. If something can be said in one word, do not use three.
The first paragraph is a one sentence hook – something that will get an agent to pay attention. A good rule of thumb is to use the “When” formula: When something happens, the main character must confront a conflict and triumph over it. Things to include are the era and location of the story and a brief description of the main character.
The second paragraph is a short description of the plot. This is where a 300 page novel gets condensed into one paragraph. More information about the main characters and their conflicts should be provided. Subplots and lists of additional characters in the book should be avoided. Reading back flaps of novels can help with generating ideas for a single, compelling paragraph.
Paragraph three is the author’s bio. It should be kept short and related to writing. Minor credits, irrelevant information, or overly personal information should not be listed. Things to include are previously published books, awards, writer-related education, and potential endorsements.
In closing the query letter, the agent should be thanked for his time and consideration. If the manuscript is non-fiction, it should be mentioned that an outline, table of contents, and sample chapters are available for review. If it’s fiction, it should be mentioned that the manuscript is available upon request.
Other tips: The query should be addressed to a specific agent. Capital letters should be used for the book’s title. This alone signals that the writer is a pro.
An excellent query letter will give writers a chance to have their work read by a top professional. Following these techniques will increase the odds of achieving success in a very competitive industry.
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