Congratulations! You’ve completed your first novel; it’s been edited and polished and it’s now time to start on the road to publication. Obtaining representation from a literary agent is the first step in traditional publishing. To do that, you need to send out query letters to agents with whom you would like to work. What is a query letter and how do you get yours to stand out from the many other queries agents receive every week?
A query is a brief letter sent to agents in advance of your manuscript. Most agents receive at least fifty to a hundred queries per week so it is critical that the letter piques the agent’s interest and reflects your professionalism and knowledge of the industry.
The structure and content of the query is fairly well defined. It is traditionally three to five paragraphs long and approximately five hundred words or less.
The first paragraph is an introduction and should be designed to hook the agent. Address the agent by name and explain why you are reaching out to this particular agent—do they represent authors you love; do they represent similar work to yours? Do your research and ensure they represent your audience and genre. Include the name of your book, the target audience, genre, and word count. Word count is critical as it shows the agent you are familiar with the industry standards of publishing.
The next two paragraphs will be a short summary of your story. Who are the main characters? Where is it set? What is the major conflict? What are the stakes? It is important to note that this is not a synopsis—more of what you’d expect to see on the interior flap of a book. Don’t give the ending away! Don’t include all of the characters and subplots—just the protagonist and a few of the major players. Additionally, include two comparable books in the genre in order to help position the fit. An agent needs to know where you see your book in the market. Do take care not to list the most popular titles that are household names. Instead show a well reasoned selection that highlights your knowledge of the titles in your space.
The fourth paragraph is your biography. Keep your bio short but relevant. Include any academic degrees relevant to your writing, awards, and previously published works. Platforms and social media can be relevant, especially in non-fiction, so if you have a particularly large platform, make sure to let the agent know you have a substantial following or regularly appear or publish in traditional media on your subject.
The final paragraph is a short closing note thanking the agent for their time.
For an in-depth look at writing a successful query letter, join our Query Workshop!