The Anatomy of a Query Letter

A well-written query letter follows a particular format and aims to hook the agent by the end of the first paragraph. Learn what it takes to write an effective query letter so you can approach publishers with confidence and land a publishing deal.

The Anatomy of a Query Letter

Text version

Tell the agent what you've included with the query letter. Typically, this will be a short synopsis of the manuscript (one or two pages), an outline that gives a brief summary of what happens or what information is conveyed in each chapter, and however many sample chapters the agent requests.

 

The first paragraph should give an extremely brief (one sentence) description of the plot or purpose of your book. Essentially, you want to hook the agent with the introduction.

Query letters generally follow a certain format, similar to business letters. You can use this example query letter as a template when writing your own.

Make sure to research the agency you're submitting to! First, you want to make sure they accept the type of manuscript you're pitching. Second, you need to ensure you address the agent correctly by name.

Nour Badri

[Author's address]

[Author's phone number]

[Author's email address]

[Date]

[Agent's name]

[Agent's address]

[Agent's phone number]

[Agent's email address]

 

Dear [Agent's name],

 

Included with this letter are a synopsis, an outline, and three sample chapters of my completed novel, Yasmine. The title character is a Tunisian woman who spends her formative years sojourning between Paris and her hometown of Sfax, during which time she confronts challenging questions about her identity while discovering and deepening her passion for poetry. Like the protagonist, I studied translation for many years and have faced unique questions posed by the immigrant experience. My own background has thus influenced this story.

 

Yasmine is targeted toward an adult and older adolescent audience. Those who have struggled to find their paths in life will identify with the central themes of the novel, as will those who have experienced racism, alienation, and the effects of colonialism. Likewise, as poetry underlies Yasmine's experiences and her development as a writer, avid readers may recognize and appreciate the many references to renowned poets throughout the story.

 

I appreciate your time and consideration in reviewing this letter and the enclosed material. I have included a self-addressed, stamped envelope for your convenience, and I look forward to hearing from you.

 

Sincerely,

Nour Badri

Thank the agent and establish how they can contact you. For paper submissions, many agents will request that you include a self-addressed, stamped envelope (often called a SASE) so they can return your materials to you.

Many agents specialize in books on certain topics. While an agent's broad interest may be in fiction, for example, they may be especially interested in a specific subgenre. If your book aligns with this specialty, make sure to mention so, as the author does here when describing the central themes of her book.

In the second paragraph, establish how your book will benefit the agent. You want to convince them that publishers will be able to market your book to readers, so establish who your target audience is and why they will want to read your book over any others. (Sometimes, comparing your book to recognizable titles that are doing well can be an effective strategy.)