Guest Blog by Sherry Ellis – “How to Write an Excellent Query Letter”

How to Write an Excellent Query Letter

By Sherry Ellis

 Scan_Pic0001   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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  1. Thank you for having me as a guest, Brian. I hope readers find this information useful!

  2. Thanks for the tips, Sherry. I’ve always thought the whole process seemed overwhelming, but the way you’ve broken it down makes it seem a lot more manageable. 🙂

  3. Lots of great tips indeed, basically avoided them at my feed.

    • You really don’t have to worry about writing query letters if you choose to self-publish. I wanted a traditional publisher, so these are the steps I used to write mine.

  4. I like the one page query letter, too, Sherry. Excellent suggestions.

    Thanks Brian, for having Sherry at your blog.

  5. Great tips, short and sweet…. just as I needed to understand a query letter.

  6. Excellent tips! Query letters are always so hard for me to write. I think maybe because I feel so anxious about them.

  7. Great advice! I agree, query letters are important and deserve as much care as the novels they’re about. I never seem to be able to write a good query, though!

    • My critique group was instrumental in helping me craft a letter that hooked an agent. Perhaps you can find a group that can help you.

  8. Fantastic tips. I used to think it was so complicated. It still is because you have to perfect the letter, but following a simple format really helps.

  9. Hi Brian,
    Thank you for having the amazing Sherry over to your blog.
    Sherry, thanks for the tips. The only thing is that my editor told me to use Italics for the book title.
    It sounds like I’m following all of your other tips.
    And congratulations again on getting your very own agent. 🙂

    • Thanks, Tracy! Capital letters should be used for your queried manuscript. Any other books you have written should be italicized.

  10. This is a beautifully written post with lot of helpful tips.

  11. These are great tips and they make sense. Thank you for sharing~

  12. Excellent tips! Funny, most sample query letters I see are much longer, with three to four paragraphs devoted to the synopsis of the book.

    • Thanks for visiting, Alex! The important thing is to keep the query a page in length. Synopses, on the other hand, are much longer. Those are different from query letters.

  13. Excellent post, Sherry! Super informative.

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