THE QUERY LETTER
So you finished your novel. Congratulations! That was the easy part. Now comes the hard part.
WHAT IS A QUERY LETTER?
A query letter is your sales pitch. It tells literary agents about your book—the title, word count, genre, and summary. It also tells about you! The general formula goes as follows.
Paragraph 1 should include your novel’s title (in italics or all capital letters—whichever you choose, be consistent!), your novel’s word count and genre, and any comparable titles (known as “comps”). You can also personalize this paragraph to tailor it to a certain agent’s taste or preference. Your first paragraph should also include your hook or “logline.”
Paragraph 2 should get the agent’s attention. Introduce your main character and explain the stakes. Leave the agent wanting more. Your writing here should include some of the voice in which you wrote your novel. (Important: The query letter does not spoil the ending!)
Paragraph 3 should be your author bio. This will tell a little about you. It’s important to only include relevant information. Any small (or large) publications will be here. This includes newspaper publications, publications for literary magazines (whether in print or online), or otherwise. If you have a large following online it is worth mentioning in your author bio. (A large following to agents and editors is considered upwards of ten thousand followers.) If your job has some sort of relevance to your book—such as you write about a character who is a nurse and you are also a nurse—this could be included. Avoid including any information that is irrelevant and try to keep your bio between 50-100 words. In short, tell your agent what gives you the authority to write this novel.
COMMON QUERY LETTER MISTAKES
Since your query letter is considered a sales pitch, some people think that they are selling themselves, all their ideas, and all the work they have created. While in a way, you are trying to sell yourself, your query letter must only represent one book. It’s fine to mention to an agent that you have more ideas for stories in a different genre (or the same genre!)—but do not go into detail. That is a later conversation!
It is also important to note that you should generally not pitch a series as a whole. While this topic is up for debate, many times a contract a writer signs will depend on the sales of their first book. In recent years, series have become vastly more popular, so agents and editors have been more receptive to getting a series pitched to them. That said, your query letter should still just refer to book one. Simply mention in your first paragraph that your book is the first of a planned series.
Not addressing your query letter to the correct agent is a big mistake. It takes a few moments to address the agent by name (either “dear first name,” or “dear prefix last name”).
Do not spoil the end! Your query letter is meant to grab the attention of an agent. Some agents only ask for a query letter and your first pages—so they will not want the ending. Spoiling the ending should only be done in your synopsis.
Additional information about query letters can be found at the links below.
Traditional Publishing Blogs
PART 2: The Query Letter