Congratulations, writer—you’ve finished your book manuscript! You’ve had it professionally proofed and edited, and your beta readers gave you great reviews. Now it’s time to write your query letter. Sometimes, even the most gifted writers may feel the query letter is more challenging to write than the novel. But in order to score a literary agent for your book and get published, you will need to write a persuasive query letter. Luckily, Writer’s Relief has been creating effective query letters for over 26 years, so we have some great tips to help you grab an agent’s attention and boost your odds of getting a book deal.
7 Tips For Writing The Best Query Letter For Your Book
Ace the salutation. Getting the agent’s name right is very important. At one time, it was customary to address literary agents with the title Mr., Mrs., or Ms. However, current publishing industry etiquette is to use only the agent’s first and last name. You can check the agent’s blog or website to be sure you have the proper spelling.
Include the title, genre, and word count. You’d be surprised how often authors leave out one or more of these important details! Also, make sure the agent you are querying represents the genre you are pitching. Pinpointing your book’s genre can sometimes be as tough as writing a great query, so be sure to check out this article and confirm the genre you’ve selected is correct.
Craft an engaging (and brief!) book blurb. Some literary agents request that you first send only the query letter (rather than a query letter, synopsis, and pages all at once), so make sure your letter does the job! The book blurb in your query letter shouldn’t be longer than 200 to 250 words. You want the reader of your query letter to be attentive, intrigued, and eager to see more. This can be the most difficult part for most writers—it’s hard to encapsulate your novel into a small, tasty bite.
Provide the overall story arc in your query letter summary, but don’t include less essential points. Ending on a cliffhanger is fine—and never give away the ending in your query letter! Save secondary characters and plot points for the two-page synopsis.
Have a hook. Be sure your book blurb offers a tempting hook for the reader. It doesn’t have to be just one sentence, but you want to keep it short, tight, and engaging. The hook highlights what makes your book unique and sells your book to the reader.
Mention your writing credentials and/or your educational history. Mention your publication credits, especially any relevant to the book manuscript. Attended a master class with Joyce Carol Oates? Yay! Are you a member of a writing group, and you’ve attended a few writing conferences? Bravo! Make the agent aware. Did you study organic chemistry in college and now write about carbon bombs in your dystopic spy thriller? Were you a detective with the LAPD when you came up with the idea for your story? Don’t leave this info out—it shows you can write with expertise on your topic.
However, if you won a writing contest in second grade—well done, but no need to mention this or any other irrelevant history to the agent. Nothing screams “amateur” more than including extraneous details in your query letter.
The key to a great query letter is selling your book and yourself without overselling yourself. Confidence and bravado are two totally different things. Don’t put in your query letter that you are the next [insert famous author name here].
This is also where you could include a sentence or two about yourself. What’s that? You don’t have any idea how to write an author bio? You should read this.
Show gratitude. Literary agents receive hundreds of queries per day. Let them know you appreciate their valuable time. Something simple like Thank you for your time and consideration is enough to make them feel appreciated.
Proofread. Proofread. Proofread. A query letter filled with grammar mistakes will not impress an agent—more likely it will be deleted as the agent moves on to more promising submissions. Check the spelling, punctuation, and grammar, and then have another proofreader take a look. Leave out unnecessary exclamation points, underlining, colors, or odd fonts. And don’t even think about adding emojis.
To see what elements of query letters make agents cringe, check out this list of literary agent pet peeves.
Question: Which part of writing a query letter is hardest for you?