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  • Writer's pictureDavid Darling

How to write a Query Letter

Before you start with a query letter to an agent in hopes of gaining representation, there are a few things you have to accomplish first.

Make sure your manuscript is polished and completed as well as it can be: That includes professional editing, proofreading, beta readers. You only have moments to acquire the agent’s attention, and a spelling mistake or grammar error can push your project into a trash bin.

Follow the submission guidelines for the agent and agency. If you do not follow their layout and instructions, again, your submission will end up in the trash bin. They want to work with someone that can follow a set of instructions, and no matter how glorious your work is, you will be passed over. Some agents prefer no attachments, while others want everything in one attachment. If they want you to paste five pages of your manuscript in the body of an email, do not include several chapters—include five.

Tailor each query letter for each submission and make sure to personalize. That can be something as simple as including the agent’s name, or I was reading your manuscript wishlist, and I believe my novel would be a good fit.

The Letter

Four elements that are fairly standard in all query letters:

· Book title, genre/category, word count*

· The Hook. Why does the agent (or anyone) want to read your work? Tell them about your story and key elements. Keep this to 150 – 300 words. You are not writing out a synopsis of your whole novel, just enough to entice the agent.

· Biography of author. Tell the agent about yourself, why you are the one to be writing this novel and include past experiences, awards. For example, if you were an apache helicopter pilot or FBI agent, make sure to let the agent know! Pertinent careers lend credibility to your narrative.

· Make sure to thank them for their time in a brief closing sentence.

*If you are referred to the agent by someone else, I make sure to include that here or in the email’s subject line.

Make sure your query letter is between 250 to 450 words (one page). Flowing letters to an agent that are several pages long will not be read. They just do not have the time with hundreds of submissions daily. Again, make sure you follow the submission instructions to the letter.

Common Mistakes

Do not send out your query letter to an agent before your manuscript is 100% completed and polished. Some writers know an agent can take months to reply, and they want to ‘jump the gun.’ However, if an agent gets back to you early and is not finished, you have jeopardized that relationship. Be prepared.

You have to have several things ready if an agent replies, synopsis and full manuscript (or partial).

Synopsis: This is a one or two-page summary of your story, including spoilers and the ending. You do not need to compile a chapter-by-chapter playback. Instead, stick to the characters, plot, complication, rising action, and resolution.

Do’s and don’ts in a Query Letter

Do not heap praise on your writing. “The closest comparison of my novel would be Stephen King.” An agent will want to make their own assumptions.

Do not beg! I’ve heard of writers doing so. “Please just read the first fifty pages. You will be hooked. I guarantee it.”

Follow the submission instructions. (yes, I’ve said this already, but most ignore this part and are rejected immediately!). Instead, make sure to read not only the agent’s submission guidelines but also the agencies.) For example, if they ask for a one-page query letter, do not send in a 55-page letter. Likewise, if an agent wants the first three pages of your novel pasted below in the body of an email, do not include your whole manuscript as an attachment.

Query Example

<Agents name>,

I am pleased to introduce to you <Book title>, my <word count> -word adult <Genre> novel. <The Hook> You can include a quick synopsis here as if it were the reading on the back cover of a novel.

I have been writing for eight years and have won the Writer’s Pen award for my short stories in 2015. Thirty-two years on the police force have enabled me to… <insert quick bio and relevant info> I am dedicated to putting forth the work required to make this a full-time career.

Thank you for taking the time to consider my work. I look forward to your reply.

Thank you,

<insert your name and email here>

The Follow-up

After confirming the agent’s guidelines for submissions, it is okay to follow up by asking about your query. If you are submitting via Query Manager or email – make sure to use the same method. However, if your agent requested 90 days and you are only five weeks out, do not contact!

Make a note of response times and react accordingly. I strongly advise making a Query Chart of who you submitted to, date, method, which novel (if you have more than one), and which agency. Some agencies will not allow you to submit to multiple agents or only one manuscript at a time. Make sure to follow all query submission guidelines.

I hope that this may help some folks with writing a query letter. Also, if you have something that should be included above, let me know, and I’ll include it.

David Darling

5 June 2021

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