How to Write a Query Letter Part 1: Research

Finally! You’ve finished your book and now the publishing process can begin. If you’re going the traditional route, you’ll want to seek representation from an agent, but there’s still one piece of writing left to do: the query letter. A query letter is a one-page pitch to a literary agent about your book, enticing them to request your manuscript.

If you’re reading this article, you’re already on the right route. Here’s how to prepare before you write your query letter.

Preparing to write

Research is paramount before you tackle the first draft of your query letter. There’s a lot you could include, but space is limited. By having all the right information and knowing what to prioritize, you’ll be oriented as you enter the writing process. That bird’s eye vision for your letter will serve as a compass, saving you a lot of time in the editing department.

1. Make sure your manuscript is in absolute tip-top shape

As much as you’d like to get the ball rolling on the publishing process, don’t send out a query until you’re truly satisfied with your manuscript. It may be weeks or months before an agent requests your book, but there’s also the chance they could respond in a matter of days. Be ready to send off your work the moment a request comes through.

2. Study the query guidelines on the agent’s site

Agents receive so many query letters that veering from the requirements even slightly could result in a missed opportunity. It’s better to know upfront what you need to include in your submission so you can make the most of the small real estate. Some may request the first 50 pages of your manuscript, require a synopsis, or be particular about formatting. One size will not fit all here, so mentally prepare yourself for the varying requirements and know you’ll be altering your query letter for each agent.

3. Review examples of successful query letters

There are plenty of examples of query letters online, as well as breakdowns from experts, so scour the depths of Google and YouTube until you feel comfortable with the style and formatting. Most query letters tend to include the same information, but the order in which it is presented or emphasized may vary. Some believe you should lead with your plot summary, while others find it better to set up the letter with overview information on the book.

Every agent will have their own personal preferences and there may not be a way to find out what will be successful for you on your first try. As you study examples, note which ones hook you the most and base your structure off what feels compelling.

4. Research the agents who will be receiving your query

There are differing views on whether or not to personalize your letter but knowing more about the agent could help you highlight aspects of your book that fit their criteria. Go beyond what you see on their website; try to find interviews or articles about them or investigate their social media.

Is your book reminiscent of their childhood favorite? Perhaps they’ve called out for historical queer horror and your book fits the bill? Look for anything that reveals what you can emphasize about your manuscript to show thought behind your query and spark the agent’s interest.

Ready to start drafting? For more detail on the writing process itself, keep an eye out for part two of this article.

  • Posted by Julia McAlpine
  • June 22, 2020 11:33 AM PDT
Research is paramount before you tackle the first draft of your query letter.




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