If you currently spend your time writing blog articles or fan fiction, publishing may eventually play a role in your career as a writer. When you do decide that publishing is the way to go, a query letter is the first step in attracting the attention of an agent or publisher. Your goal is simple: Provide just enough information to entice the reader to read your work. Your query letter should explain who you (the writer) are and what your manuscript is about and should include a request for the agent or editor to consider your work.
To give you an idea of what a successful query letter looks like, we’ve provided a query letter sample PDF below, which you can use as a guide for writing your own. As well, here are a few simple tips:
Keep it short. Like the query letter sample, yours should be no longer than one page.
Stick to the point. You have three main areas of focus in your query letter: getting the reader’s attention, summarizing your work, and telling your reader a little about you. Don’t get off on tangents or start talking about unrelated topics.
Give enough information. You’ll want to make sure you include some basic information about your book: the title, the word count (actual or estimated), the genre, and the intended audience.
Cater to your reader. Make sure you have addressed your letter to a specific agent or editor, not simply “To whom it may concern.” While we’ve blanked out these details for privacy in the query letter sample, addressing the letter personally is essential.
Edit, edit, edit! Remember that your query letter is the first impression of your manuscript. If your letter is replete with typos and grammatical errors, it’s not going to be received well. It’s always best to have a second set of eyes look over your work.
Interested in ordering a professional query letter written by the same experienced team who wrote the query letter sample on this page? Get your query letter now.
Q. What’s the difference between an agent and an editor?
A. If you’re interested in publishing through a smaller publishing company, you will likely send your manuscript directly to the company’s acquisitions editor. If, however, you’d prefer to go with a bigger company such as Simon & Schuster or HarperCollins, you will want to address your letter to a literary agent, who will market your book for you. Your agent will be your companion along the publication journey, and a good agent will help you be successful and protect you from being taken advantage of by publishing companies. (Our query letter sample was directed to an agent.)
Q. How important is it to personalize your query letter?
A. It’s always important to personalize the letter. Make sure you address it directly to the agent or editor you’re reaching out to. How much personalization you do beyond that depends on the time you have available. For instance, the author of our query letter sample requested that we customize the letter to appeal to a specific agent based on the types of novels she generally represented, which was a great strategy. If you’re sending out 50 query letters, however, chances are that the time it would take to fully rewrite each one to give it that personal touch isn’t worth it.
The basic query letter format
Like our query letter sample, your query letter should be approximately three paragraphs long and include some basic elements, although the order of those elements can vary.
Paragraph 1: After your greeting, where you address your recipient by name, you should start off with a “hook” paragraph. Your goal here is to create a tagline that immediately draws the reader into your work. This hook might start with “when” and lead into an intriguing summary of your plot, or the main challenge your protagonist faces. You should also detail your purpose in writing and list any enclosures (synopsis, outline, etc.). A brief author bio can be included here as well. What is it about your experience and/or background that makes you qualified to write this book? Don’t be afraid to brag about your past relevant awards and publications here.
For example, see the first paragraph of our query letter sample: “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.”
Paragraph 2: Your second paragraph should include some basic information about your book—genre, intended audience, and actual or estimated word count.* You can also delve into the appealing aspects of your book. When you know your work as intimately as you do, you may struggle with trying to condense your entire story into a few sentences, so you may need to rewrite this a few times until you get something that accurately conveys the heart of your work. Think main character, conflict, internal and external struggles, and threats to resolving the conflict—anything you have not already included in your first paragraph. This is basically an expansion of your hook, but be careful not to give too much information, and never, ever reveal the ending of your book.
To get an idea of the type of information you should include, read a few book jackets, or use our query letter sample PDF as a template. You want to motivate your reader to open your book and delve into the story and sell your book at the same time by focusing on the target audience.
See the second paragraph of our query letter sample: “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.”
Paragraph 3: Your third and final paragraph should include anything you may have left out in the other two as well as a brief expression of appreciation and a mention that you’ve included a self-addressed stamped envelope for your reader’s convenience.
*A note on word count: In general, novels should not exceed 100,000 words. With few exceptions, agents will ignore novels longer than this.