Query letters are the resume of your book. There are so many right ways to write one (and so many wrong), it can be difficult to know where to start or how to proceed. I’ve included the best information I’ve learned and all the articles around the web that I can possibly find to help you gather more information.
a query breakdown
What is a query? It’s a resume and cover letter for your novel. Consider how you write a resume for yourself – you include your contact information, the pertinent skills you have and very specific listings of your experience. How does that translate into a query letter?
The basic breakdown by paragraph:
|Introduction:||Why are you contacting the agent/editor. Be sure to mention if you were referred, met them somewhere or have spoken to them.|
|Manuscript Pitch:||What is your novel about?|
|Author Credentials||What is your background? Are you published? Awards, mentors, groups, etc. Anything relevant to your specific type of work.|
|Conclusion||Thank the agent, let them know what you have available to send on request.|
While my query letter for Something About Her certainly isn’t the best out there, it’s done it’s job: I got four agent requests and one editor request (who ultimately bought the book). We’ll break down the letter and show the basics to any query.
Address[Target your query, either to agent or editor, carefully. Do your homework! Be sure that agent represents your type of work, or that editor acquires your genre.]Dear Ms. Agent, [Be sure you have the name correct. Check and double check. Very important!Something About Her is about a discarded widow and a duke who learn that loving someone often means forgiving their worst betrayals. My novel is a completed 103,000 word, Regency-set historical romance. The first two chapters were critiqued by author Gaelen Foley, who called it “a charming and emotional read.” [The first paragraph clearly tells the agent where the book would fit into the market. The first line is a 'tagline' of sorts - it is the one sentence pitch I would say in an elevator if someone asked about my book. Here I used this as the hook to set a mood.]Michael Ashton, the Duke of Ravensdale, is caught in two scandals, neither of which is his own doing. The first involves a woman (don’t they always), and the second…well, it also involves a woman and a large sum of stolen money. To save the reputation Michael has spent his life rebuilding, he must track down the widow of his presumed-dead cousin in order to charm…or seduce her missing husband’s whereabouts from her.
After being abandoned a mere hour after her wedding, Blythe Merewood Ashton wonders how she could have been fooled by such a cad and still feels humiliated and betrayed a year later. Her husband wooed her, married her, took her money and left. When she learns of his death, she decides unceremoniously to go on with her life—without a man. So when Thomas’s cousin—a Duke, no less—shows up uninvited on her doorstep, looking more handsome and irresistible than any man should, Blythe instinctively doesn’t trust him nor does she want to like him. But her traitorous heart doesn’t seem to care. At the same time, Michael’s clear agenda gets quite blurry when the woman he believes an accomplice to his cousin’s schemes turns out to be the woman he can give his heart to…and the only one he can’t have.
[Paragraphs 2 and 3 are the teaser of the story. You DO NOT have to give all the details. In fact, the best advice I've seen was offered by agent Kristin Nelson, who said a pitch can successfully be made by focusing on the first 30 to 50 pages of your novel. The pitch (or query blurb) is setting the story, setting the questions to make the agent want to know more. It isn't telling them everything from beginning to end in two paragaphs. What place does your hero and heroine start? What brings them together? What obstacles do they face immediately to keep them apart? Focus more specifically on the beginning for your pitch.]
Something About Her is the first in an intended series of five single-title novels following the lives of Blythe and her siblings. I have been a marketing and communications writer for ten years. I am a current member of RWA and my local chapter, as well as online critique groups.
[Paragraph 4 is a little about me. It tells the agent that I'm looking for a career, as this book is the first in a series. It tells them (by what I do not say) that I am unpublished. You do NOT need to advertise this. They will assume if you list no publishing credits. It lets them know any history I have that might be relevant to my career as a writer as well as how seriously I take it.]
A partial or full manuscript can be sent upon your request. Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you.
[Paragraph 5 is letting them know it's finished, ready to send and to thank them for their time.]
My query letter is not the best out there and it’s not the worst. But it proved successful enough to get me in the door, which is all a query is required to do. Be professional, courteous, to the point and simple.
My Pitch Critiqued
In fact, below in the Pitch Query Critiques by Jessica Faust of BookEnds Literary Agency, one paragraph of my query was critiqued. Here are her comments for those who would find it helpful:
My Submitted Historical Romance Tagline:
A discarded widow and a Duke discover if love can survive scandal and betrayal.
My Submitted Pitch Paragraph:
Michael Ashton, the Duke of Ravensdale, is caught in two scandals, neither of which is his own doing. The first involves a woman (don’t they always), and the second…well, it also involves a woman and a large sum of stolen money. In order to save the reputation Michael has spent his life rebuilding, he must track down the widow of his presumed-dead cousin in order to charm…or seduce her missing husband’s whereabouts from her.
I like this. I think your tagline, while not all that different from others, has that certain something. To be honest, it’s the word “discarded”—what an interesting choice—and it says a lot about what we can expect from your heroine. And the paragraph is great. I love the tone of this and anticipate fun reading in the book. This is a case where the plot isn’t necessarily all that unique from other historical romances (they usually aren’t), but the author has put some fun twists in her tone, voice, and word choice that make this interesting to the reader. I would definitely request this. (Yay for me!)
Basic Do’s & Don’ts
- Do be professional. You are writing a business letter. KISS it - Keep It Simple, Silly.
- Do be sure you did your homework. Know the right editor or agent. Be specific.
- Do include your contact information, including phone, email, address and website if you have one.
- Do follow the basic format. It’s listed on a dozen pages for a reason. It works.
- Do Proofread. Spellcheck. Then do it again.
- Do keep it to one page if at all possible.
- Do thank the agent/editor for their time.
- Don’t Oversell yourself. You wouldn’t tell a potential employer that you were brilliant, wonderful, the best thing since sliced bread. Don’t tell the agent or editor.
- Don’t address your letter to “Whom It May Concern.” Agents and Editors want to know you’ve put in effort.
- Don’t use cutesty fonts, odd paper or backgrounds.
- Don’t query multiple works to the same agent/editor at once.
Articles & Websites
I’ve included as many useful sources as I can find. Hope they help!
sample query letters
Here are samples I’ve found posted on various sites, including ones with critiques.
- A Good Example Letter (Nelson Literary Agency) (includes a breakdown as to why)
Query & Pitch Critiques
Here are a list of agents and others that have given extensive critiques or commentary on queries and pitches. I tend to find this even more helpful than the “How to write a Query” articles. These are actual examples of queries and pitches submitted, chosen, sold, and rejected. You can’t get better advice.
Kristin Nelson of Nelson Literary Agency Gives an Inside Scoop to Query Letters
This is a great collection from Kristin’s blog showing query letters and what she thought as she read them.
Becky Motew’s Query for Coupon Girl (hilarious, makes me want to buy the book!)
Pitch Workshop on Kristin Nelson’s Blog (She’s so helpful!)
BookEnds Agency Blog Pitch Critiques
Jessica Faust of Bookends Agency is currently in the midst of Pitch Critiques posted by commenters. She opened the floor to commenters to submit their pitches (relates to the paragraphs about your story in your query letters). Her insights are terrific!
BookEnds Agency Blog Query Critiques
Jessica also provided critiques for query letters submitted. Also fantastic help in learning how to write your query. (Also note that Jessica comments she doesn’t like being thanked. Every agent is different, so follow your own instincts… but I believe that thanking the agent can never be wrong….well, unless you query Jessica. )
Nathan Bransford, Agent, Query Critique
Query Critique: The Importance of Recognizing Your Selling Points