Monday, July 18, 2011

Query Letters 101 – Overview

Sure, you’ve just completed the book of your life, your life’s work, your Great [Insert Country of Residence Here] Novel. Now it’s time to write your query letter, the first step towards getting your wonderful piece of writing published. So you can just dash it off and cross your fingers, right? WRONG.

Your query letter is the single most important document you will ever produce in your writing career. Read that sentence again. The. Single. Most. Important.

Get it right. You can’t afford not to.

Components of a query letter

A proper query letter is made up of 5 (or 6) basic parts: the salutation, a hook sentence, a brief summary of your book, your biography, a closing sign off and, in some cases, attachments of your work and/or a synopsis.

For our purposes, I will be focusing on crafting a solid fiction query letter. A non-fiction query is somewhat different.

The hook

Pay attention! This will be the most important post you read in your life.

The opening paragraph of your query letter is meant to grab your target reader’s attention. The agent or publisher you are querying after an exhaustive search likely reads hundreds, if not thousands, of these letters every year. Make yours stand out and, most importantly, keep them reading.

The latter part of the first paragraph, after the hook, is informative: what are you offering for sale – think genre, length, title. Facts only.

The line

The second paragraph is about your novel. Summarize the concept of your novel into an attention-grabbing blurb.

It is difficult to boil down an entire novel into a paragraph but it must be done. Space is at a premium in your query letter. The entire letter should be no more than a single page.

The sinkers

The third paragraph in your query is all about YOU. Unlike your novel, your life doesn’t have to be summarized in a few sentences. Stay focused. Tell your reader (briefly) who you are and what you’ve done. Make sure you mention your writing credits. If you have none, you want to tell them why you’re best situated to write the book you wrote.

Reeling them in

Some agents and publishers want a taste of your writing along with the query. You need to know the rules of what parts of your manuscript to send and how these pages should look.

Your hook and summary may get your manuscript a nibble but your writing is what really reels your target in.

Okay, I done with the fishing analogy

Remember, your query letter is your first and best sales tool for your book. It should be so highly polished that it glows softly in the dark. So get out the Sham Wow.

Photo courtesy of Arvind Balaraman at

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