How to Write a Query Letter


Pen & Journal

Your novel is finished. Yay! You’ve polished it so much you can see your reflection. Your critique group nods in approval-it’s ready. Double yay! Now, you are eager to get an agent, get published and let the world read your work-which means, unless you have “connections” in the industry, you must send out a query.

What is a query letter, you ask? A letter describing your book, which will hopefully make an agent want to read more. (definition taken from Nathan Bransford Blog: see below too.)

Before you start randomly selecting literary agencies to query, I highly recommend that you take some serious time to research agents and agencies that are right for you and your project. After you do this, study the unique and unspoken art form of the ‘query’, then follow the agent or agency’s guidelines for submitting queries and writing samples. Each agency will have slightly different requirements. They will appreciate, (and most likely not delete your email) if you write your query according to their guidelines.

Basic do’s: (find examples below)

Be professional. The publishing world is a painstakingly competitive industry. Agents look for clients who can face this environment with professionalism and poise.

Address your email to a specific agent. Use their name. (And check spelling.) No “dear agent” emails. Those are major faux pas.

Know something about the agent and their agency; briefly tell them why you have chosen them.

Provide what they ask for: the name of your title, word count, and genre. A brief hook/synopsis in a few paragraphs, a very short bio. (Most agents ask for everything in a page or less.)

Study how to summarize your book in several paragraphs in a gripping, but brief way, still allowing your voice to come through.

Present your best work. If they request sample chapters (usually the first 5-10 pages of your book) make sure it is polished and without all manner of typos. Remember, this is their first impression of you and your book. If you haven’t read my post about how to make your project stand out, read it here.

Basic Do NOT’s:

DO NOT mass query agents.

DO NOT tell them all the reasons you have written this book. Just provide what they ask.

DO NOT use funky or unusual fonts. Stick to the standards.

DO NOT tell them why you are an amazing writer or who likes your book. Let them see that for themselves.

DO NOT forget to include your contact information

Here is a very basic outline:

1: Dear NAME (of agent),

2: Thanks for considering my novel, (insert TITLE) which is a (insert WORD COUNT) (insert GENRE). I selected you because…

3: Insert gripping 1-3 short paragraph summarizing the main accounts of your book.

4: 1-2 sentences about yourself and contact information.

5: Salutations

Find real example of good queries on the links below and why agents like them. These links are only a few (of the many) query resources that I found helpful:

Ya Highway Query Series *one of my favorite is THE 57 Lives of Alex Wayfare. Her query made me want to read the book! (which is what you want agents to feel.)

Nathan Bransford * I’d recommend reading all of his posts on publishing, querying, and well, everything else.

PubRants Kristin Nelson *She is just good at what she does. Listen to her advice.

Janet Reid * Very straight forward advice. Her frank simplicity made me sigh with relief.

Fiction University * Janice Hardy has many great example and tips.

As you jump into learning more about querying, my advice is this: read beyond the basics, get a handle on the industry. Study the query letter, the pitch, the hook; practice writing your query, get it critiqued by others, even get your greeting and bio down. Read as many queries as you can. Jump on different agents blogs or agency websites and read. Agents and their literary homes provide much helpful information to help you succeed. If you do these things, you will have a much better chance at a successful response, and hopefully requests for your manuscript.


If you want more helpful hints or agents blogs with great resources, please let me know. I will gladly post more. My next post will be about selecting the right agent.

Happy querying!


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