The query letter is usually your first step to seeking a literary agent or publisher. It can be the scariest step you will take because after you hit the ‘send’ button or as soon as you drop the envelope in the mail, you are putting yourself out there for rejection and criticism. But, the query letter doesn’t have to be scary; it doesn’t have to be something that you to lose sleep over. You can’t think of a query letter as your complete life story, but rather a mini billboard sign highlighting what you have to offer. If an agent or publisher isn’t looking for a story like the one you have wrote, then no amount of information is going to convince them take you on as a client or to offer you publishing deal. Query letters should be a short and sweet summary of your manuscript, aim for 300 words or less. Keep in mind that your audience is most like a very busy individual, receiving an influx of other letters from plenty of other decent writers. Stay humble and don’t come off too ambitious. Don’t attach or include a sample of a chapter right away in the first letter; leave a cliffhanger to have the reader of your query letter yearn for more. The more you leave them wanting, the higher chance you have for your work to be reviewed.
There are a few key points to keep in mind when writing your query letter:
- If there is one, add a personal connection with your audience. With a link to the individual, they may be inclined to read your letter with more care than the last one.
- Going off the previous point, even without the personal connection, DO NOT copy and paste 80 of the same letters to different agents or publishers. It makes the letter incredibly impersonal, seemingly desperate for a form of recognition. Think about that particular agent or publisher and why you would be a good fit for them based on their current client and book list. Do you compliment their current author and books well or do you fill in a missing gap they might not have?
- When a cliffhanger is added to the quick summary of your story, you shouldn’t give away the entire plot.
- The biography in your letter should include (if possible) your own credibility in writing.
- Keep the tone consistent in your letter. A good letter will keep consistent language; if it’s a lighthearted story, keep a gentle tone – if it’s a comedy novel, include some humor.
- A common mistake is assuming the guidelines to agents, editors, and/or publishers are all the same. Read the guidelines with care…since they do determine your fate with possible representation or a possible book deal!
A query letter is vital to your publishing journey, so take your time to write it. Don’t forget to reread copies of your letters before you send them to your prospective representatives checking for grammar errors, misspellings, and to make sure you are getting the message you want across to the reader. This careful attention could change your fate.