How to write a query letter

In a recent Ask Me Anything, I was asked by a first-time author how to write a query letter. Here’s my response.

Disclaimer: This is not a comprehensive guide to query letters, but it’s a place to start. To fine-tune your letter, I recommend researching what your target publishers and/or literary agents are looking for, they’ll have detailed instructions on their websites.

What is a query letter?

It’s what you send to a literary agent and/or publisher when you want them to consider publishing your book. Technically speaking, “query letter” refers to the covering letter/email, but also typically includes things like:

  • a synopsis of your book
  • the first 5 pages or 1-2 chapters (this differs between publishers/agents)
  • an author CV

Query letter advice is below, but first…

Even if you’re deadset on snagging yourself a traditional publisher, have you investigated self-publishing?

Traditional publishing is a hard road, particularly if you want to make money from your work. Most publishers will expect you to do the same work (marketing-wise) as a self-publisher and will take most of your profits to boot. The unscrupulous ones will also hit you with contracts that’s are, quite frankly, scary.

If you want some more info/opinions on the subject, check out these links.

  • Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s blog is a treasure trove publishing advice from someone who’s been in the industry for a very long time. Rusch is a very successful indie and traditional author who has been there and done that.
  • This post on the Author Support Network (an FB group, which you’ll have to join before you can see the post) is a fabulous discussion where numerous authors, both traditional and self-publisher talk about their experiences.
  • The 20BooksTo50k Facebook group is a community of self-published and wannabe authors who’s goal is to make a living from their work. The vast majority of members have accomplished this goal, whether it’s just enough to pay the bills or earning 6 figures a year (I kid you not), and they’re all happy to share their experiences, both good and bad.

Ok, on to what you actually asked about! Query letters.

They’re almost as much fun (not) to write as blurbs, but the good news is you can pretty much write it once and use it as a template for future queries.

Couple of pointers:

  1. BEFORE sending a query letter ALWAYS check the publisher/agent’s website for what they want to see in said letter. It will be different from company to company, and almost no one will have the same requirements.
  2. Use a spreadsheet to keep track of who you send queries to and what their requirements are. This is the spreadsheet I used, when I was submitting Hero to publishers and agents.
  3. Double check the query requirements before sending your email, even if you researched them yesterday. Things change quickly.
  4. Sending queries is a lot of work, expect to spend 5-10 mins on each one and that’s if you’ve done your research about who to send them to.
    • When I was querying, my goal was to send 10 queries a week.
  5. Have a backup plan. Very few books are picked up by traditional publishing, not because they’re bad, but because publishers don’t think they can sell enough copies to make back their money (and it’s a lot of money; wages, rent, electricity, etc).
    • My backup plan was, if after a year I didn’t have a publishing contract, I would self-publish, and I worked towards that goal even as I was sending out queries.

Now that that’s done… 

How to write a query letter.

There are a hundred different ways to write a query letter, so instead of telling how to write a query letter, I’m just going to share the template I used to write mine. It’s straightforward and includes all of the basic information a publisher and/or agent requires.

I’m going to reiterate point 1 from above because it’s that important; before submitting a query always check the publisher/agent’s submission requirements. It may mean you have to adjust the letter and assorted attachments.

Dear Ms/Mr XXX

[Title] is a XXX-word [your genre] novel aimed at [target audience]. [The first book in a planned X-book series], [your elevator pitch].

[Your blurb or short (1-2 paragraphs) synopsis]

[Title] is a story about [themes of your book] that would appeal to fans of [similar book to yours. Choose a traditionally published or charting title].

[About me/author bio. 3-4 sentences. Include relevant awards and achievements, training, etc.]

I have included [whatever the publisher/agency's requirements for a submission are] below.

I would greatly appreciate your feedback, should you decided that [Title] is unsuitable for [name of publisher/agency].

Thank you for your time.

Your name

Your email,
Blog URL
Social media URL

Have another question?

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