7 Steps to Write a Query Letter: A Comprehensive Guide
Writing a query letter is an essential step for writers who want to get their books published. However, crafting a query letter that stands out from thousands of other letters can be a daunting task. The good news is that there are some steps writers can follow to write a query letter that catches the attention of literary agents and publishers.
In this article, we will explore seven essential steps to write a query letter that works. We will cover what a query letter is, why it is important, and how writers can use it to pitch their book to literary agents and publishers. We will also provide examples and tips to help writers craft a compelling query letter that showcases their book’s unique selling points. Whether you are a seasoned writer or a newbie, these steps will help you write a query letter that gets noticed.
Step 1: Researching the Market and Agents
Before you start writing your query letter, it’s essential to research the market and agents. This step is crucial because it helps you understand the current market trends, identify the agents who represent your genre, and tailor your query letter to their preferences.
To begin, focus on your genre and research the current market trends. Look for books that are similar to your project and identify the publishers who have published them. This information will help you understand the market and give you an idea of where your book fits in.
Next, research agents who represent your genre. Look for agents who have represented books similar to yours and have a good track record of selling them to publishers. You can search for literary agents on websites like Reedsy Marketplace or use online databases like QueryTracker to find agents who are actively seeking new projects.
When researching agents, pay attention to their submission guidelines and credentials. Some agents only accept queries from authors who have been previously published, while others are open to new authors. Make sure you read their guidelines carefully and follow them to the letter.
Once you’ve identified potential agents, focus on tailoring your query letter to their preferences. Look for clues in their bios, interviews, or social media posts to understand what they’re looking for in a project. Also, make sure to mention any comp titles that are similar to your project, as this will help the agent understand your book’s marketability.
In summary, researching the market and agents is an essential step when writing a query letter. It helps you understand the current market trends, identify the agents who represent your genre, and tailor your query letter to their preferences. Make sure to focus on your genre, question, and credentials, and follow the submission guidelines carefully.
Step 2: Crafting a Compelling Hook and Synopsis
The hook is the most important part of your query letter. It is the first thing that an agent will read, and it should grab their attention immediately. Your hook should be a concise and compelling description of your book that makes the agent want to read more.
When crafting your hook, consider the following:
Format: Your hook should be one or two sentences long and should be the first thing the agent reads. It should be written in present tense and should be written in a way that is easy to understand.
Synopsis: Your hook should be followed by a brief synopsis of your book. This should be around 100-200 words and should give the agent a clear idea of what your book is about.
Title: Make sure to include the title of your book in your hook and synopsis. This will help the agent remember your book.
Word count: Mention the word count of your book in your synopsis. Agents have specific word count requirements for different genres, and this will help them determine if your book is a good fit.
Stakes: Make sure to include the stakes of your book in your synopsis. This will give the agent an idea of what is at risk and why the reader should care.
Compelling: Make sure that your hook and synopsis are compelling. You want to make the agent excited about your book and eager to read more.
Structure: Your synopsis should follow a clear and logical structure. Make sure that it is easy to follow and that the agent can understand the plot and characters.
Proofread: Make sure to proofread your hook and synopsis carefully. Spelling and grammar errors can be a turn-off for agents.
Platform: If you have a platform or a following, make sure to mention it in your query letter. This can help show the agent that you have a built-in audience for your book.
Feedback: Get feedback on your hook and synopsis from other writers or writing groups. This can help you refine your pitch and make it even stronger.
As Reedsy states, “Your book’s hook is the most important part of your query letter. It’s the first thing agents see, and it’s the one thing that will determine whether they keep reading or not.” Make sure that your hook and synopsis are strong, concise, and compelling to increase your chances of getting noticed by agents.
Step 3: Personalizing Your Query Letter
Personalizing your query letter is a crucial step in catching the attention of literary agents. It shows that you have done your research and are genuinely interested in working with that agent. Here are a few tips to help you personalize your query letter effectively:
Address the Agent by Name
Start your query letter by addressing the agent by name. Avoid using generic salutations like “To Whom It May Concern” or “Dear Sir/Madam.” Instead, take the time to find out the agent’s name and address them directly. This shows that you have done your research and are serious about working with that particular agent.
Mention Why You Chose That Agent
In the body of your query letter, mention why you chose that particular agent. Did they represent a book that you loved? Do they specialize in your genre? Whatever the reason, make sure to mention it in your query letter. This shows that you have done your research and are genuinely interested in working with that agent.
Avoid Generic Advice
When personalizing your query letter, avoid using generic advice that could apply to any agent. For example, don’t say something like “I know you are looking for investment in debut authors.” Instead, focus on specific details about the agent’s preferences and interests.
Consider Hiring a Professional Editor
If you’re struggling to personalize your query letter, consider hiring a professional editor. They can help you identify specific details about the agent that you can use to personalize your query letter effectively. Reedsy Marketplace is a great place to find professional editors who can help you with your query letter.
Look for Funding Opportunities
If you’re a writer who needs financial support, consider looking for funding opportunities like the National Endowment for the Arts. This can help you focus on your writing and give you the time and resources you need to perfect your query letter.
Personalizing your query letter is an essential step in catching the attention of literary agents. By addressing the agent by name, mentioning why you chose that agent, avoiding generic advice, considering hiring a professional editor, and looking for funding opportunities, you can personalize your query letter effectively and increase your chances of getting published.
Step 4: Showcasing Your Credentials and Writing Experience
When writing a query letter, it’s important to showcase your credentials and writing experience to demonstrate your ability to write the book you’re pitching. This section should be brief but highlight any relevant experience or achievements that demonstrate your writing skills and qualifications.
If you have an MFA in creative writing, be sure to mention it. This degree shows that you have received formal training in writing and have honed your craft. However, if you don’t have an MFA, don’t worry. Many successful writers don’t have this degree.
If you have been published before, mention it in your query letter. This can include anything from short stories in literary magazines to self-published books. Being published shows that you have experience with the publishing process and have had success in the past.
If you have received any awards or grants for your writing, be sure to mention them. This can include anything from a local writing contest to a prestigious award like the National Endowment for the Arts. These awards demonstrate that your writing has been recognized by others and can help make your query stand out.
In addition to these specific achievements, it’s also important to mention any relevant writing experience you have. This can include anything from working as a journalist to writing copy for a marketing agency. Any experience that demonstrates your ability to write well and communicate effectively can be relevant.
Overall, when showcasing your credentials and writing experience, it’s important to be confident and clear. Don’t exaggerate or make false claims, but do highlight any relevant achievements that demonstrate your ability to write the book you’re pitching.
Step 5: Highlighting Your Manuscript’s Unique Concept and Conflict
At this point in the query letter, it’s important to grab the agent’s attention by highlighting the unique concept and conflict of your manuscript. This is where you can showcase the heart of your story and what sets it apart from others in its genre.
Start by identifying the main concept of your manuscript. This could be a unique premise, an interesting setting, or a new take on a familiar trope. Whatever it is, make sure to convey it clearly and concisely.
Next, focus on the conflict. What is the main obstacle your protagonist must overcome? What are the stakes if they fail? This is where you can really hook the agent and make them want to read more.
It’s also important to briefly touch on your characters and their goals. Who is your main character and what do they want? How do they change throughout the story? These are all important elements that contribute to the conflict and make your manuscript stand out.
Finally, provide a brief summary of your manuscript that ties everything together. This should be a clear, concise statement that encapsulates the unique concept, conflict, and characters of your story.
Remember, the goal of this section is to make your manuscript stand out from the crowd. By highlighting its unique concept and conflict, you’ll grab the agent’s attention and make them want to read more.
Step 6: Formatting Your Query Letter
When it comes to formatting your query letter, there are a few key things to keep in mind. First and foremost, you want to make sure that your letter is easy to read and professional-looking. This means using a standard font (such as Times New Roman or Arial) in a 12-point size, and using black ink on white paper.
Your letter should also be well-organized, with a clear structure that makes it easy for the agent to follow. This means including a clear heading that identifies your name and the title of your book, as well as a brief introduction that explains who you are and why you are writing.
In terms of length, your query letter should be no longer than one page. This means that you will need to be concise and to the point, focusing on the most important information about your book and your writing credentials.
Another important aspect of formatting your query letter is proofreading. You want to make sure that your letter is free of typos, grammatical errors, and other mistakes that could make you look unprofessional. Take the time to read your letter carefully, and consider having someone else review it as well.
Finally, you should also consider the layout of your query letter. This means using standard margins (1 inch on all sides) and single-spacing your text. You may also want to consider using bullet points or other formatting techniques to help break up your text and make it more visually appealing.
Overall, formatting your query letter is an important part of the process, and can make a big difference in how your letter is received by agents. By following these tips and guidelines, you can ensure that your letter looks professional, is easy to read, and effectively communicates your message.
Step 7: Following Up and Receiving Feedback
Once you’ve sent your query letter, it’s important to follow up with literary agents or editors, especially if you haven’t heard back from them in a timely manner. However, it’s equally important to be patient and not come across as pushy or desperate.
One way to follow up is to send a polite email after a few weeks, reminding the agent or editor of your submission and asking if they’ve had a chance to review it. Keep the email short and professional, and avoid making any demands or ultimatums. Remember, literary agents and editors receive a large volume of submissions, so it may take some time for them to get back to you.
When you do receive feedback, whether it’s positive or negative, it’s important to take it in stride and use it to improve your query letter or manuscript. Keep an open mind and don’t take criticism personally. Instead, focus on the constructive feedback and use it to make your query letter or manuscript even better.
If you receive feedback that points out errors or weaknesses in your manuscript or query letter, don’t be discouraged. Instead, take it as an opportunity to learn and grow as a writer. Use the feedback to identify areas where you can improve your writing, whether it’s in terms of plot, character development, or writing style.
Finally, remember that your audience is key. Whether you’re writing a science fiction novel, a memoir, or a non-fiction book proposal, it’s important to keep your target audience in mind at all times. Make sure your query letter is tailored to the specific needs and interests of your audience, and that it effectively communicates the unique qualities of your book.
Reedsy Marketplace is a great resource for writers who are looking for professional feedback on their query letters or manuscripts. Whether you’re writing a YA novel, an adult fiction book, or a nonfiction memoir, Reedsy’s team of experienced editors can help you polish your writing and make it shine.