How to Write A Query Letter
Here is the low-down on how to write a query letter. A query letter is the introduction of yourself and your book idea to a prospective book publisher or agent. Whether you are pitching an adult novel or a children’s picture book a query letter has the same general template. You have one page to sell your idea, so make it the best it can be with this straightforward query template.
Opening sentence: salutation (research the reader’s name)
First paragraph: intent and book hook (get their attention)
Second paragraph: synopsis (keep it short)
Third paragraph: biography (why you're the one to write this book)
Ending sentence: thank the reader for reading (courtesy is key)
Let’s break the query letter down…
Opening Sentence: Salutation
Do your research and find out who to address your query letter to. You can check publisher and agency websites for contact information. Be professional in your writing. Don’t use first names unless you actually know the person or the person has indicated that they prefer to be addressed that way (read submission guidelines). If you don’t know the actual recipient name, then the generally accepted, “Dear Editor” or “Dear Agent,” can work.
First Paragraph: Intent and Book Hook.
In this paragraph, start off immediately by telling the reader exactly why you are contacting them. Do your research and include it in your intent: “I am writing to submit my book, ABC BOOK, because I feel it fits with XYB PUBLISHER’S mandate to publish educational books for kids.” Or “I am writing because our mutual colleague *name-drop* thought my manuscript, ABS BOOK, might be of interest because you published her XYZ BOOK.”
Please note, it is good to use a reference with a potential publisher/agent; however, ensure that reference is real. Don’t pull references/recommendations out of thin air! Further, ensure the person who gave the recommendation approves of you name-dropping them to a publisher/agent before you query.
Your book hook is a one sentence summary of your manuscript. Think of a movie poster tagline. For example, the tagline from the movie Divergent (book by Veronica Roth) was “One choice can transform you. What makes you different, makes you dangerous.”
Second Paragraph: Synopsis
Use this space in your query letter for a three to four sentence summary of your book. Again, keep it simple (easier said than done!). Think, if you were in an elevator and you only had five floors to explain the plot of your book to someone, what would you tell them?
Third Paragraph: Biography
Why are you the person they want to work with to bring this book to bookshelves? This is the space where you toot your own horn. Include your publishing credits (print and online), education, and any experience relevant to this project. If you are a PHD in criminal psychology and you have written a murder-mystery, then your education and experience will be of benefit, as they set you as an “expert” on the murder mindset.
Also, use the biography space to highlight any promotion platforms you might have that could be of benefit to the project. Social media followers, volunteer positions, speaking engagements, media experience and contacts—all are of great value to launching a book.
Ending Sentence: Thank the Reader
End your query with a professional salutation thanking them for their time and consideration.
Final Query Letter Tips
Proofread. Your letter is a reflection of your work.
Keep it professional. No slang, swear words, or emojis.
Be concise. Your reader doesn’t have time to read pages and pages.
Do your research on submission guidelines. Check websites!
Only query editors or agents who are open to submissions. If submissions are closed, they won’t read you.
Ensure your query is written in your own words.
Be patient. Publishers and agents get a lot of queries, and it takes time to read them all. Don’t email, call, visit in person to follow-up unless you’ve had an explicit invitation to do so.
Accept you may not hear back from all your queries. Most publishers and agents note they are unable to respond to follow-ups. If they are interested in your query, they will contact you.
Related: Query Tips From a Publisher
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