How to Write a Query Letter Part 2: Crafting

You’ve done your research and are ready to connect with a literary agent, so it’s time to finally write a query letter. If compelling, this first impression can result in a request for your manuscript but make no mistake – the competition is fierce. Here’s how to write your query letter for the best chance of grabbing an agent’s attention.

The query letter breakdown

A query letter should only be about 300 words long, so put on your editor’s hat and keep things short, sweet, and punchy. Of this word count, you’ll want to use approximately half on your plot summary. This leaves around 150 words to cover basic information about the book, plus a bio or personalization for this agent.

The query letter can be broken down into 3-4 elements depending on your chosen approach:

1. Hook and personalization

Some writers speak of a query “hook” as an informative sentence about your book that also draws in the agent with a form of personalization, such as detail of how you met them at an event or how perfectly your story fits their call for manuscripts. Others consider the hook to be an intriguing start to your plot summary and choose to situate this as the opening to the letter.

Regardless of how you define “hook,” it’s important to grab the agent from the first sentence. Again, you’ll want to look at examples of other successful query letters and consider what you learned in your research when you decide which route is right for you.

2. Plot summary

This is the star of your letter and where you’ll want to pull the focus. Think of this plot summary as the blurb on the back of a book – don’t spoil the whole story but do weave in answers to the following:

  • Who is your protagonist?
  • What do they want?
  • What obstacles do they face?
  • What risks are they taking?

Follow your story arc up until the inciting incident and leave the agent hungry to read more.

3. Housekeeping

You’ll want to include a section that covers basic information on your book, such as:

  • Title
  • Genre (if known)
  • Approximate word count
  • Themes
  • Whether it’s a stand-alone novel or has series potential

This is also when you may want to include a comparison to other series or novels, keeping in mind that it’s best to stay away from anything that’s either a huge blockbuster or too niche.


4. Information about yourself

A bio paragraph isn’t necessary but if you include this information, it should be relevant to previous writing experience or the content itself. For example, if you’re a popular online advocate for mental health and are writing a book that centers around a character with depression, it may be useful to include this information.

If you choose to start your letter with the plot summary, this is a great place to incorporate any personalized information for the agent.

Before you submit

You usually have one shot with an agent, so before you send your query letter, triple check everything. You’ll want to address each agent by name rather than using “To Whom It May Concern” so ensure you have their details correct.

When you feel your letter is complete, see if you can swap queries with another writer to give each other feedback on whether or not the letters are compelling. It’s also a good idea to have a detail-oriented friend read your query to ensure there aren’t any mistakes you’re overlooking. Ask for help and join communities online if there aren’t any writers you can look to in your friend circle.

Know that you may not hear back, but don’t give up. Keep submitting to different agents, reworking your query letter as needed, and tackling other projects to submit in the future. With persistence and revision, you’ll find the right agent for you.

  • Posted by Julia McAlpine
  • July 1, 2020 8:50 AM PDT
Here’s how to write your query letter for the best chance of grabbing an agent’s attention.




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