You have written a fantastic novel and compiled a list of relevant potential book publishers and literary agents. Now you have to get them interested in taking on your manuscript. It’s time to learn how to write a query letter.
A query letter is a one page cover letter that introduces you and your book. By following some basic points when writing your query letter, you give yourself the best chance of being noticed by a publisher or agent. If you have not compiled your list of publishers and agents yet, read my blogs Finding a Publisher and Finding an Agent for useful tips. Use this list for all the details you need (submission guidelines, contact person and name, etc.).
How to write a query letter:
The basic structure of query letter includes a hook, a mini-synopsis and a writer’s biography. To begin with, write your letter to include these as three paragraphs – but as you become more confident, you might veer from this somewhat – as long as you still include these three elements.
The purpose of a hood is to pique the publisher/agent’s interest. It should be one sentence that gives an overview of your book. Consider such things as: situation, character, problem or conflict. What is it that your character wants? What happens to get in the way of their goal? How do they deal with this? The basic hook sentence will read something like this: When character faces situation they must do something in order to triumph.
You are aiming to inform the publisher/agent of the premise of your book, not to dramatise the story – so stick to the facts
If you have not written a full synopsis yet, it is useful to do this before writing your query letter. Read How to Write a Synopsis for some useful tips.
Once your full synopsis is written, use this to help you further distil your novel down to a few points. Be sure to show character motivations and indicate conflict, and action and consequence.
The writer biography:
Keep it simple, stick to facts. This can be a simple one sentence statement of who you are.
It’s that simple! No pressure – right?
Okay, so it is a big deal and you want to get this right or your manuscript could get nowhere quickly.
I suggest you write a letter using only the above structure – once you have this in a state you are happy with, you can consider some additional information.
- Hopefully by this point, you have done some market research. What makes your book different from current books in your genre?
- You should also have researched publishers and literary agents so by now you are aware of what books they have on their list. Mention one or two of their books, comparable to yours, and explain what makes your book a good fit with these.
- If there are other books on the market that are comparable to yours, you might indicate this – explaining similarities.
- You can also show that you know your audience – you know what they like, what they think about, how they spend their time and how that shows that they will relate to your book.
- You can mention your achievements if they are worth mentioning, and certainly tell the publisher agent about your platform (if you have one): blog, Twitter, Pinterest, etc. to show that you can already reach out to an audience.
- Include the genre, target audience, main themes and word count of your novel. If your manuscript is not complete, be sure to also mention this.
- Attach your full synopsis.
- Include your contact details and how you can best be contacted. Include a self-addressed stamped envelope (large enough for your manuscript if you want this returned.
- Follow the submission guidelines – they are all different and you must provide exactly what is asked for.
End with a direct, unambiguous appeal that requests a specific follow-up action.
Your query letter should be only one page long, in 12 point font. It should not look cramped or dense. If it does, do another, shorter, draft. In fact, once you’ve written your first attempt, leave it for a week or so, then revisit it with the aim of reducing the word count and making your hook punchier. Then leave it another week or so and do this again. When you have three versions of your query letter, select the best one and have other people read it – see how they respond and take in any valid suggestions they may have. After all this, you should have a decent query letter ready to send to agents and/or publishers.
Never send you query letter with errors included. At the very least have your friends and family read it – a fresh set of eyes can make all the difference.
Image courtesy of Hideous! Dreadful! Stinky!