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How to Write a Query Letter in 5 Steps

So, you’ve finished writing your manuscript. Congratulations! But the writing doesn’t stop there.

That’s right: If you want to publish your masterpiece, the next step is writing a query letter. This is an extremely important step in the publishing process. But how do you write a query letter that convinces publishers your manuscript is the next bestseller?

Publishers receive a flood of query letters every day, so you really need to make yours stand out. Let’s go through the process of how to write a query letter in five easy steps so you can present your story to the world.

So, what exactly is a query letter?

A query letter is a short formal letter that pitches a manuscript to a publisher. The aim is to earn a publication deal. You have to sell your story (without overselling it) and pique the publisher’s attention to prompt a request for the full manuscript.

Query letters are brief, so try not to exceed 300 words or so. It’s no easy task to summarize your entire novel in a few succinct paragraphs, we know, but writing a query letter is all about cutting the fluff and getting right into the main details. The aim is to intrigue—think of it as a trailer for your book. Don’t give away any spoilers.

When you write your query letter, you should also follow a basic formula. Don’t worry; we’ll outline it all for you below. Or, if you want to ensure a first-rate pitch, we can write your query letter for you.

The 5 steps of writing a query letter

Step 1: The basics

Let’s start with the very basics of how to write a query letter. Before even diving into content, you need to make sure the materials and format are acceptable.

Some people handwrite their query letters. Don’t do that. Whether you’re sending your query letter by email or snail mail, a professionally typed letter is best.

Choose an appropriate font, as well. There is no place in the professional world, ever, for Comic Sans. Stick with a standard font, such as Times New Roman. Use white paper and black 12 pt. text. Anything else may come off as unprofessional.

Next, place your name and address at the top left of the page, followed by the publisher’s address.

Then address the agent or publisher by name. Writing “To whom it may concern” is impersonal and a major turnoff, so do a little research and tailor your letter to the recipient—it can go a long way. At this stage, you should also look into the publisher or agent’s submission requirements, because not all of them are looking for the same thing.

Researching this information will let you know how to write a query letter that addresses the recipient’s needs directly.

Step 2: First paragraph

With the basics out of the way, now we can finally dive into the content! An ideal length is three to five paragraphs. It’s crucial to keep the letter short and sweet. Making a query letter too long is unprofessional, and publishers may simply throw out letters exceeding one page.

If you have any sort of connection to the agent or publisher (e.g., you previously met him or her, you know an author he or she works with), mention it here to establish a rapport. Otherwise, jump right into the details of your manuscript. Throw out an attention-grabbing line to hook the reader. You can be creative.

Don’t oversell your book when introducing it. If you sound braggy and obnoxious, the agent or publisher likely won’t want to work with you. Similarly, don’t sell yourself short. If you’re not confident in your own manuscript, others don’t have any reason to be, either.

And don’t forget to include the word count. That’s essential information.

Step 3: Second paragraph

Dedicate this paragraph entirely to your story. Represent it accurately. Introduce the main characters and the basic plot. Keep it short (no more than five sentences) and give enough details to intrigue—but no spoilers! Make it into a cliffhanger so the agent or publisher will want to know more.

This is also your chance to give the reader a taste of your writing. Emulate the style used in your book. For example, if your book is funny, throw in a couple jokes.

Step 4: Third paragraph

Include your bio here. Don’t tell the agent or publisher your life story (unless, of course, it’s relevant to your manuscript). A brief couple sentences about your writing experience, including any awards you’ve received or conferences you’ve attended, is sufficient.

Step 5: Closing remarks

This is a formal letter, so be sure to end it courteously. Thank the agent or publisher for his or her time and consideration, and indicate that you look forward to his or her reply. If you’re expecting to receive a response by mail, make sure to include a self-addressed, stamped envelope.

If you’ve had your manuscript looked over by a professional editor, mention that somewhere, too. That shows the agent or publisher that you’re serious and reassures him or her that your manuscript will be polished and easy to read.

Next steps

Now it’s finally time to send out your query letter! Or query letters, plural, as you’ll have to send a lot of them.

Don’t be discouraged by rejection—it’s inevitable. High-profile writers such as Agatha Christie and J. K. Rowling faced countless rejections before wowing the entire world with their literary masterpieces, so the key is just to be persistent. Now that you know how to write a query letter, just make sure to keep tweaking the text to fit the needs of each individual publisher and agent you submit to.

Final thoughts

As you can see, a lot goes into writing a query letter. It’s an important document, so it’s important that you write it properly. As the first step in the door to the world of publishing, a well-written query letter is crucial.

These tips will help you compose an impactful query letter, but if you need a little help and are wondering how to write a query letter that expertly pitches your unique manuscript and increases your chances of being noticed and accepted by an agent, why not let a professional handle it? Our team knows the ins and outs of how to write a query letter from years of experience in the industry. We’ll read your manuscript from cover to cover and draft a punchy, engaging query letter to help usher you into the publishing world!



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