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Tips for Writing a Successful Query Letter

If you’re eager to release your lovingly crafted manuscript to the world, the first step you’ll have to take is writing a query letter. Query letters are sort of like resumes: They need to be short, sweet, and to the point, selling but not overselling. In the publishing world, where rejection rates run high, writing a successful query letter is a daunting task.

But it is certainly possible. Below, we’ve listed some tips to help you compose a successful query letter and land a publication deal. (Alternatively, if you want to ensure a top-notch query letter, get a professional to write it.)

The first key to success is to follow the publisher’s submission requirements.

Read them carefully, and follow them to a T. From synopses to subject lines, just do what they say. This alone will make you stand out from many of the queries publishers receive.

And make sure to do your research on the individual agent or publisher you’re addressing, as well. It’s a nice personal touch to add why you’ve decided to query him or her in particular, but this gesture loses its effect if your information is incorrect.

Keep it simple.

You’re a professional, and you should be aiming for professionalism in your query letter. Stick with standard fonts, white paper, and simple, comprehensible sentences.

A successful query letter opens with some basic information about the manuscript: tentative title, genre, length, and target audience. You can fit it all into one succinct sentence.

In terms of length, just round to the nearest 1,000, and consider trimming your manuscript a bit if it’s too long. Ideal length depends on the genre and individual manuscript, of course, but under 100,000 is a general guideline.

Consider including a particularly noteworthy quote from your manuscript, an especially profound question the book raises, or an endorsement as a way to hook the agent or publisher.

Comparing your manuscript to other books in the genre can also be a good move. Sentences like “My book is like X but different in this way” or “My book is X meets Y” are tried and true approaches.

Pitch your story—but keep it short.

If you’ve still got the agent or publisher’s attention, you’re doing well! Now it’s time to sell him or her on the story. You have to fit your whole novel into approximately 200 words, so chop it down to the essentials.

Introduce your characters, describe their situation, and explain what they want. Then explain the most important parts of the plot. Make it interesting. Make the agent or publisher want to read it. But don’t give away the ending. Think of a successful query letter as a trailer for your book: The goal is to pique the recipient’s interest and prompt him or her to request the full manuscript.

Shine the spotlight on yourself.

Finally, include a brief bio. The key word is “brief”—the agent doesn’t care about your life story. The most important information to include in a successful query letter relates to your writing experience: previously published books, literary awards, conferences, etc. Make yourself more than just someone who wrote a book.

If this is your first manuscript, you won’t be able to do that, of course. In that case, a short sentence about yourself (where you’re from, what you studied, how many dogs you have—whatever), along with a note that this is your first manuscript, is fine.

It’s also worth mentioning the marketing efforts you’ve made or plan to make to promote your book. Have a website? Include a link. Built up a social media following? Mention it, and maybe include a link as well. This is a fantastic way to establish an advantage over the competition, of which there is a lot.

Then just end your query letter by courteously thanking the agent or publisher for his or her time and consideration and signing off.

Send it—and hope for the best.

That’s it. That’s the basic formula for a successful query letter. But nonetheless, prepare for rejection. Even the most famous literary masterminds, such as Agatha Christie and J. K. Rowling, faced numerous rejections before finally being published.

That means you’ll have to send out a lot of letters. You can use the same basic letter each time, but make sure to tweak it for each agent or publisher. Have confidence in the brilliance of your manuscript and be persistent! Sooner or later, it’ll pay off.

Of course, the easiest approach is to hire a professional who knows exactly how to compose a successful query letter. This still doesn’t guarantee acceptance, of course, but it’ll elevate your chances that much further.

Good luck in the competitive publishing world!



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