How to write a Query Letter
Query letters are essential tools for writers seeking literary representation, pitching articles to editors, or proposing non-fiction book ideas to publishers. Fiction authors, more than any other writer, needs a well-crafted query to serve as a key to opening doors in the publishing industry. In this guide, we will walk you through the process of writing and sending an effective query letter, providing valuable tips to help you make a compelling impression on agents, editors, or publishers.
What is an official query letter?
A query letter is an inquiry sent to multiple literary agents to gauge their interest in representing your book for publication. The best agents receive dozens of queries a day, but only sign a few authors per year, so crafting a successful query letter is a crucial step to literary success.
Research and Personalization
Before writing a query letter, thoroughly research the agent, editor, or publisher you are addressing. Tailor your letter to their specific preferences, genres, or areas of interest. Personalization demonstrates your professionalism and attention to detail, increasing the chances of a favorable response.
Format and Structure
A standard query letter consists of the following elements:
- Salutation: Address the recipient by name and use a formal greeting (e.g., “Dear Ms. Smith”).
- First Keep the salutation simple. “Dear Carrie” is perfectly fine, assuming that is the agent’s name. Addressing agents by their surname (“Dear Ms. Greaves”) is also fine, though the formality may feel outdated, and you risk accidentally misgendering them. The very next line should make the agent prick up their ears.
- Introductory Paragraph: Start with a brief and engaging introduction, mentioning any relevant credentials or writing achievements.
- An agent will always want to find publishable clients — and if you’ve already had some publishing success (no matter how small), that will likely work to your advantage. It doesn’t have to be full-length novels; it could also be short stories in literary magazines or novellas.
- If you have connections get a referral from an established author or a publishing insider.
- Book Description or Article Pitch: Provide a concise and compelling summary of your book (in the case of fiction or non-fiction) or the article idea you are proposing (for non-fiction writing). Your main sales tool should be your book itself. If you can’t think of a clever way to hook an agent in, just jump straight into your pitch by sharing three key information of your book:
- The title
- The book’s genre
- The word count (rounded to the nearest thousand)
- Author Bio: Include a brief bio highlighting your writing experience, relevant publications, and any expertise related to the subject matter of your work.
- Closing Paragraph: Express your gratitude for the recipient’s time and consideration, and invite them to request additional materials or a full manuscript.
- Sign-off: Use a professional closing (e.g., “Sincerely” or “Best regards”) followed by your name and contact information.
Query hooks, also known as “hooks” or “elevator pitches,” are short and attention-grabbing sentences that aim to pique the interest of literary agents, editors, or publishers. They are typically used at the beginning of a query letter to draw the recipient into the rest of the pitch.
Just as your novel must get readers involved within the first few pages, your query letter must pique an agent’s interest within a few lines. This part of the letter is known as the hook and it’s a short description of your book’s concept which helps agents get the gist of it at a glance.
Remember, a successful query hook should be clear, intriguing, and reflective of the essence of your story. It should entice the recipient to want to learn more about your project, compelling them to read further into your query letter. Tailor your hook to the specific genre and theme of your work, and make sure it captures the essence of your story in a captivating manner.
Here are some examples of query hooks for different genres:
- Fiction (Mystery/Thriller): “In a race against time, a brilliant detective must decipher a series of cryptic clues left by a sadistic serial killer to save the next victim, who may be closer than anyone suspects.”
- Fiction (Romance): “When a chance encounter reunites two childhood friends, they must confront their past and buried feelings as they embark on a whirlwind romance that challenges everything they thought they knew about love.”
- Fiction (Fantasy): “In a world where magic is forbidden, a young outcast discovers a powerful secret within herself and must decide whether to embrace her gifts and save her realm or risk losing everything to an ancient evil.”
- Non-Fiction (Memoir): “In this candid and heartfelt memoir, a survivor of a life-changing accident takes readers on a transformative journey of resilience, self-discovery, and the pursuit of a new identity.”
- Non-Fiction (Self-Help): “With practical tips and personal anecdotes, this empowering self-help book offers readers a roadmap to overcoming fear and self-doubt, helping them unlock their full potential and achieve their dreams.”
- Non-Fiction (Science): “Exploring the wonders of the natural world, this captivating science book delves into the astonishing behaviors and adaptations of animals that challenge our understanding of the world we share.”
- Young Adult (Fantasy): “In a kingdom ruled by darkness, a reluctant teenager with a hidden magical ability must lead a band of misfit rebels to overthrow a tyrannical regime and restore light to their realm.”
- Young Adult (Contemporary): “Amid the chaos of high school, an introverted teen discovers her passion for music and forms an unlikely friendship with a rebellious classmate, leading them both on a journey of self-discovery and acceptance.”
You could also build your hook around an intriguing central conflict.
Examples of Query Letters
Despite of their cliches the query examples I asked ChatGPT to write, they do have the right format and order. To see over 125 real examples of successful query letters here.
Mystery Novel Query Letter
Presenting the main conflict of a fiction book in a query letter requires succinctly conveying the central tension and stakes that drive the story. Here’s an example of how to do it effectively:
Dear [Agent’s/Editor’s Name],
I am excited to introduce my completed 80,000-word contemporary thriller novel, “Shadows of Deceit.” In this fast-paced and suspenseful tale, the protagonist, Detective Emily Lawson, must navigate a treacherous web of lies and deceit to solve a series of heinous crimes that hit close to home.
When Emily’s childhood friend is found brutally murdered, her personal and professional worlds collide. Determined to bring justice to her friend’s grieving family, she discovers shocking evidence that links the murders to an elusive and cunning serial killer. The clock is ticking, and Emily is faced with an impossible choice: follow the rules and risk the killer slipping through her fingers, or bend the rules and risk her career to end the murderous spree.
As Emily delves deeper into the investigation, she becomes entangled in a dangerous game of cat and mouse with the cunning killer, whose every move seems designed to taunt and torment her. As the body count rises and the threats escalate, Emily must battle her own inner demons while racing against time to stop the killer before he strikes again.
“Shadows of Deceit” is a character-driven thriller that explores themes of trust, loyalty, and the devastating consequences of secrets. With its intricate plot and intense psychological suspense, my novel will appeal to fans of [mention authors or titles that share similarities].
I have enclosed the first three chapters of my manuscript for your consideration. Thank you for taking the time to review my submission. I look forward to the possibility of working together.
Sincerely, [Your Name]
In this example, the query letter introduces the main character, Detective Emily Lawson, and the central conflict—the need to stop a cunning serial killer while facing personal and professional dilemmas. The query hints at the high stakes, tension, and psychological depth of the story. It also teases the exploration of themes and the target audience of the book. Keep your main conflict description clear, compelling, and concise to grab the agent’s or editor’s attention and entice them to request more material.
Epic Fantasy Query Letter
Dear [Agent’s/Editor’s Name],
I am thrilled to introduce my completed 120,000-word epic fantasy novel, “The Chronicles of Eldoria: Rise of the Shadowrealm.” Within the mythical realm of Eldoria, where magic and destiny intertwine, a young heroine named Lyra must embrace her extraordinary powers and lead a band of unlikely allies on a perilous quest to save their world from the encroaching darkness.
When the Shadowrealm—a malevolent force that feeds on fear and despair—begins to seep into Eldoria, ancient prophecies come to light, foretelling the rise of a powerful sorceress who will stand as the last hope against the shadows. Unbeknownst to Lyra, she is the fabled Chosen One destined to wield the Elemental Stones—the key to restoring balance to the fractured realm.
As Lyra embarks on her journey, she must navigate a treacherous world filled with mystical creatures, dangerous magic, and sinister adversaries. The stakes are high as she discovers that her every step is shadowed by the enigmatic Lord of Shadows, an ancient entity determined to extinguish the light of Eldoria and plunge the world into eternal darkness.
Joined by a diverse group of companions, including a wise elven sage, a fierce warrior from a rival kingdom, and a mischievous shape-shifter, Lyra must learn to harness her powers and confront her deepest fears. With time running out and the Shadowrealm spreading its tendrils, the fate of Eldoria hangs in the balance.
“The Chronicles of Eldoria: Rise of the Shadowrealm” is a tale of self-discovery, friendship, and the resilience of the human spirit. This epic fantasy will appeal to fans of [mention popular epic fantasy authors or titles].
I have attached the first five chapters of my manuscript for your review. Thank you for considering my submission. I am excited about the prospect of working together.
Sincerely, [Your Name]
In this epic fantasy query letter, the main conflict revolves around the protagonist, Lyra, discovering her destiny as the Chosen One and facing the malevolent force of the Shadowrealm. The query hints at the epic scale of the fantasy world, the magical elements, and the diverse cast of characters. It also alludes to themes of heroism, self-discovery, and the battle between light and darkness. By presenting the main conflict in an engaging and evocative manner, the query letter aims to captivate the agent’s or editor’s interest and leave them eager to read more.
Romance Novel Query Letter
[Your Name] [Your Address] [City, State, ZIP Code] [Your Email Address] [Your Phone Number] [Date]
[Agent’s/Editor’s Name] [Agency/Publishing House Name] [Address] [City, State, ZIP Code]
Dear [Agent’s/Editor’s Name],
I am delighted to introduce my completed 80,000-word contemporary romance novel, “Love’s Serenade,” a heartwarming and emotionally charged story of love, music, and second chances.
In “Love’s Serenade,” the vibrant city of New Orleans serves as the backdrop for the tale of Sarah Parker, a talented violinist, and Alex Turner, a charismatic jazz musician. When a chance encounter reunites them after a decade apart, they find themselves drawn to each other once more, their passion for music igniting a romance that neither can resist.
But their reunion is far from smooth sailing. Sarah carries the weight of her past mistakes and a broken heart, while Alex struggles to balance his dreams with familial obligations. As they face old wounds and new challenges, they must confront their fears and learn to trust each other again. With every tender note they play together, their hearts beat in harmony, guiding them towards a love that was meant to be.
“Love’s Serenade” is a character-driven romance that explores themes of forgiveness, following one’s dreams, and the healing power of music. It will appeal to fans of [mention bestselling romance authors or titles].
I am an avid reader and a passionate writer with a degree in music, which allowed me to infuse the story with authentic musical details and the magic of the jazz scene in New Orleans. “Love’s Serenade” will resonate with readers who enjoy stories that blend heartfelt emotions with a vibrant setting.
I have enclosed the first three chapters of my manuscript for your consideration. Thank you for taking the time to review my submission. I am excited about the possibility of working together to bring “Love’s Serenade” to readers who appreciate a captivating and tender romance.
In this romance novel query letter, the main conflict revolves around the reunion of the two main characters, Sarah and Alex, and the challenges they face in rekindling their romance while pursuing their passions and confronting their pasts. The letter emphasizes the heartfelt emotions and the enchanting setting of New Orleans, along with the author’s unique background that lends authenticity to the story. By presenting the main conflict and themes in a compelling manner, the query letter aims to entice the agent or editor to request more material and consider representing or publishing the romance novel.
Showcase Your Voice and Style
Your query letter should reflect your unique voice and writing style. Write with confidence and clarity, ensuring your personality shines through while maintaining a professional tone.
Keep It Concise
Aim for a query letter that is clear, concise, and to the point. Agents and editors receive numerous queries daily, so brevity is crucial. Keep your letter to one page, focusing on the most relevant and compelling information.
Proofread and Edit
Edit your query letter meticulously to avoid any grammatical or spelling errors. A polished and error-free letter demonstrates your attention to detail and professionalism.
Related: Levels of Editing
Follow the submission guidelines specified by the agent, editor, or publisher. Some may request email submissions, while others prefer postal mail. Adhere to any specific formatting requirements and ensure you have included all requested materials.
Query Multiple Agents/Publishers
Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Query multiple agents or publishers simultaneously to increase your chances of success. However, inform them in your letter if you are querying others simultaneously.
Response times can vary widely. Be patient and avoid sending follow-up emails too soon. If the recipient’s guidelines state a specific response time, wait until that period has passed before inquiring about the status of your query.
Writing and sending query letters can be a nerve-wracking process, but it is a vital step in getting your work noticed in the competitive world of publishing. By researching your recipients, crafting a compelling letter, and adhering to professional standards, you can greatly increase your chances of catching the eye of agents, editors, or publishers and taking your writing career to new heights. Good luck on your querying journey!