A query letter’s main function is conveying the pitch for a book. But it has more moving parts than that. Here’s a step-by-step breakdown, with links to more detailed how-to posts on that section.
Salutation: “Dear Firstname,” or “Dear Ms. Lastname,”
Optional intro: A sentence about how you found them: “I read your interview…” or “I saw your MSWL tweet for books like…” Or, a sentence about why you think they’ll like the book: “Since you love quirky bad guys…” Some agents like an intro, some don’t. Keep it to one sentence.
*Definitely write an intro if you met in person and/or if they requested the query. For example, if they favorited your Twitter pitch during #Pitmad, say so.
Next sentence: the book’s vitals. (1) Title. (2) Word count. (3) Genre. (4) Comps: comparison authors or books — published recently and not iconic bestsellers. All book titles should be in all caps. (5) The one-line pitch if you have one and if it’s separate from your comps. If not, read this post.
Example: THIEF OF TIME is a 94,000-word comedic fantasy. It will appeal to fans of Neil Gaiman and Diana Wynne Jones.
Your pitch: No more than 250 words. This is not a synopsis. The pitch should hook us. Introduce the protagonist, give us the problem or tension, and communicate the stakes. Why must she do XYZ and why doesn’t she want to? What will happen if she fails to do it? A pitch generally covers the first 50 pages of the novel.
Some queries put Paragraph 1 after the pitch, right here. Or, Paragraph 6 contains the vitals and Paragraph 1 is just the introduction. Different agents teach different methods.
A brief bio. Stress on the word brief.
Valediction: Some version of “Thank you for reading” or “I look forward to hearing from you.” Please do not add “soon.” We don’t need more pressure than our 251 unread emails already provide.
Use the name you want your agent to use. So shorten Nathanael to Nate if you like, or write all four of your surnames if you want us to use them. If you have a pseudonym, write, “Penname: …” beneath your name. Then include your contact info: email, phone number, and address.
How do you know your query is ready? There are a few things to do first: Read this blog. Then read Amy Boggs’ #QueryLunch, the Query Shark archives, etc. There’s nothing like real-life examples. Lastly, check out this helpful infographic.
You’re ready to query!
Image by Mariya Chorna.