When approaching a query letter, you need to keep in mind its motive. It has one purpose and one purpose only: to share selling points and seduce the editor or agent into reading and requesting work from you.
You don’t get many chances with a query letter, so it’s crucial to know the most effective format, the basic elements to include, the do’s and don’ts, and every detail in between.
So, here’s what you need to know.
What is a Query Letter?
To understand what a query letter is and why you need to write one if you have hopes of ever being traditionally published, you must first know about querying.
The primary purpose of querying is to interest an agent in your book proposal. These agents, or literary agents as most people call them, are the equivalent of acting or modeling agents.
They hold the key that allows you to get in contact with an editor, most of which aren’t open to accepting pitches from the general public. They also deal with contracts and handle the royalties. But to get an agent in the first place, you need to query your book, which is where a query letter comes in.
A query letter is part of the querying package; it’s a way to introduce yourself to a literary agent or an editor. While not every agent will request a synopsis or pages from your manuscript, most of them will require some form of a query letter.
The Essentials of an Any Query Letter
There’s absolutely no shortage of ways to write a query letter on the internet if you’re searching for it. Many publishers, literary agents, and successful authors have shared their secrets and two cents on what they believe a perfect query letter should look like.
The general idea of the perfect query letter doesn’t vary much, even from multiple perspectives. There are countless examples of query letters on the internet. The real struggle is aligning it with your personal preference and adding your own touch to make it unique.
But regardless, it’s a necessary step all must take if they want to embark on the journey of becoming a publisher, so it’s valuable to learn how to write a query letter. Here’s what you need to know.
1. Metadata/General Info
In the context of a query letter, this refers to information like your book’s genre, audience category, word count, title, and two comparable titles. You can also add additional descriptive info. For instance, if you’re hoping to turn it into a series, you could write, “it’s a standalone piece with series potential”.
When writing the comps or comparable titles, there are a few guidelines to remember:
- The comps should not be too overused or popular; you must stand out.
- At least one of the comps should be a recent title in the genre you want to target. Aim for less than five years ago.
- Using a comp that hasn’t been adapted into a TV show, movie, or video game is okay.
2. The Pitch
The pitch is supposed to be a description of your story, and it’s the most critical query element. It’s like the main dish of your query. It needs to present a flavor that sets your story apart and makes it interesting and different.
A query letter is typically a page long in total, so with such little space to work with, every word counts. Try to keep it around 150 to 300 words. Some crucial things to avoid on a pitch:
- Don’t overwhelm it with the intricacies or complexities of the plot.
- Don’t summarize the entire story.
- Don’t spoil major twists or reveal the ending. Leave some parts upto the imagination of the reader.
3. Bio Note
Your bio is something they should learn about you and something to remember you by. Your bio can include details like your previous experiences, projects, published works, and writing-related education or employment if relevant.
They certainly don’t have enough time to hear your entire life story, so keep it simple and short, preferably 50 to 100 words. A bio isn’t as important and won’t make or break your query, so don’t worry about it too much.
Query Letter Writing Do’s
Do Research on the Agent
It’s necessary to find a literary agent that is the right fit for you. You can do this by looking at the writing genre of the published authors they represent, checking their experience in traditional publishing and the reach of their network in the relevant industry.
Do Personalize the Letter
Even though it’s called a “letter”, a query letter isn’t supposed to be a dry and lifeless corporate letter addressed to whoever is in charge. Writing a query letter isn’t easy, and in most cases, you’ll be sending letters to multiple different agents.
While it’s okay to copy and paste the details that matter in the story you’re trying to tell, do remember to personalize your letter for each agent you send it to.
Query Letter Writing Don’ts
Don’t Make it Too Long
Most literary agents receive around ten or more query letters daily, meaning they certainly don’t have the time or patience to swift through anything more than a single-page letter. Keep it simple, short, concise, and to the point.
Don’t Act Arrogant
Try not to sound like someone whose time is more valuable than the agent is actually busy. Although it may be common sense for most people not to add something like, “this is a best-seller in the making, and you’re lucky I contacted you first, ” manypeople still do this.
Avoid being too friendly with the agent if you haven’t met them before. Even though personalisation is great, being overly personal might backfire.
Don’t Include Irrelevant Credits
It is a good idea to add credentials that are valuable and make you an authority on the topic, whether they’re related to writing or not. Don’t diminish your profile by writing a long list of lesser credits that don’t really prove much.
Whether you’re writing an essay about the letter from Birmingham jail or another work of literature, it’s important to find a topic that’s both interesting and relevant to your reader. This will help to ensure that your essay is not just a series of facts, but is a compelling piece of work.