Along with the dreaded blurb and the dreaded synopsis, the query letter seems to rank as one of the hardest thing a writer has to tackle. Write a 100,000 word novel? No problem. Write a one-page letter? No thank you!
And while it’s true that the world of publishing is changing, and that many authors are happy to self-publish, some writers still wish to find an agent, and so will need to introduce themselves with a query letter.
It’s absolutely vital to remember that this letter is the first example of your writing that an agent will see, so make it count. These are the key things to remember:
- Address your letter to a specific agent – avoid Dear Sir/Madam. Using a name shows that you’ve selected that agent – not just stuck a pin in ‘The Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook’
- Make it clear you’ve done your homework – state why you’re approaching that particular agent (similar authors? Looking for your genre?)
- Make your book sound interesting
- State the genre and word length
- Include any details of your writing history – competitions, publications, experience
- Keep it formal, keep it short, be business-like
- Do include EXACTLY what they’ve asked for
Structuring your letter
When I’m helping my clients to write a query letter, this is the basic structure I suggest:
- Paragraph 1 – why you’re writing and what you’ve included
- Paragraph 2 – a VERY brief, two or three sentence summary of the book
- Paragraph 3 – brief details of any relevant writing experience/successes
- Paragraph 4 – the fact the manuscript is complete and word count. Also, state if you are working on a series, a new novel etc. Agents like to know that you have longevity
- Paragraph 5 – contact details including a telephone number and an email address
What not to do
- Don’t make jokes or try anything wacky – they’ve probably heard and seen it all before
- Don’t spell the agent’s name incorrectly
- Don’t forget to include your submission (apparently that does happen!)
- Don’t come across as arrogant – if the agent takes you on you will have a very close working relationship, so you don’t want to sound as if you’ll be a pain in the backside
- Equally, don’t beg or sound needy – agents need writers!
- Most important of all, be professional. Yes, we’re all artists, and creative types and so on, but publishing is, first and foremost, a business. This is a business letter – treat it as though you’re applying for a job (because you are)