The Write Practice

How to Write a Query Letter: 3 Paragraphs That Hook a Literary Agent

by Abigail Perry | 0 comments

If you're interested in getting your book traditionally published, it's crucial that you sign with a literary agent who loves your story and has a vision for your career. To do this means you need to write the single most important page you'll ever write outside of your book: a query letter.

No pressure, right?

how to write a query letter

If the thought of writing a query letter freaks you out or confuses you, hit the pause button and breathe for a second. You are not alone.

Here's the good news: there is a method that will help you get an agent to say, “Sounds great! Send me more.” I call this the three-paragraph method. It's all about the hook-book-cook!

What I Learned About Writing Query Letters by Working at a Literary Agency

When I studied film and television in college, I learned how to develop and present an elevator pitch. After graduation, I turned to publishing. Eventually I attended the Writer's Digest Conference in 2015, where I pitched my story in a pitch slam.

This experience was intimidating and fantastic. I had presented elevator pitches as an undergrad to my film professors, but I had never pitched my story idea live to a literary agent in under a minute. It also taught me one  part  of a query letter that you need to master in order to hook a literary agent.

Flash forward a few years later to when I worked as an Editorial Intern. To this day, I consider this one of the most valuable experiences in my writing and editing career.

And while I learned a lot more than just query letters in this role, evaluating query letters is an important part of any literary agent's job. I witnessed this firsthand.

I'd like to share what I learned to help you write a great query.

What the Heck is a Query Letter?

A query letter is a one-page letter that acts as a sales pitch. Although these were once sent as snail mail queries, writers now email their letters. This email should be concise, one page, and sent to a specific literary agent. The goal of a query letter is to hook that agent and get them interested in reading more of your manuscript.

You don't have to have a finished manuscript to write a query letter, but you absolutely should have a finished manuscript before you query a literary agent, unless you're a nonfiction writer and pitching a book proposal for a nonfiction book.

Rule of thumb? Focus on quality over quantity. While I have read my fair share of longer query letters that literary agents considered, short ones pitched well stand out.

What does short mean?

A single-spaced page, in standard Times New Roman, 12-point font, that is probably around 500 words. I'd encourage writers to stick to this length when writing their query letters.

Going over this suggests that you're trying too hard to tell your story. You shouldn't have to try hard to pitch the big hooks. The main character , stakes, and unique plot should be able to stand on their own.

Do You Really Need a Query Letter?

Yes. You bet. 👌

If you want to publish with traditional publishing, you need a query letter. It's as simple as that.

Query letters are one of the first steps in the publishing process.

Agents receive a lot of emails in their query letter inbox. Seriously, it's a bucket load. Because of this writers might think that some don't take query letters seriously. Writers might also take it personally if they don't get a response from a literary agent months after querying them.

Look, all rejection stinks. Nobody likes that feeling. But this is part of the traditional publishing business, and I think understanding why agents don't have time to answer every query makes the process more manageable.

It's not a shock that this isn't a lot.

Still, not querying gives you a zero percent chance at signing with an agent, especially since it is highly unlikely that a publisher will offer to publish a story that you have self-published or that is already published. There are outliers, like Andy Weir's The Martian , but your best shot by far is by querying an agent.

So, how do you write a query letter that stands out?

A Note on Self-Publishing

Self-publishing does not require a query letter. But learning this three-paragraph method can still help self-published authors because the second paragraph teaches a strategy to write your back cover.

Back covers work as great sales copy for Amazon and other online sellers!

First, Personalize Your Query Letter

Do not submit a query letter that is not addressed to a specific agent. Literary agents are part of literary agencies, but the specific agent is the one you will grow a business relationship with.

Which reminds me, make sure you spell their name right! Double check.

You'd be surprised how many query letters spell the agent's name wrong, and while this doesn't guarantee a rejection, it doesn't help.

If a literary agent is interested in representing you, they will do their fair share of research on you and your work. Mistakes happen, but spelling a name correctly makes for a friendlier beginning.

Some other reasons you want to query a specific agent are:

Personalizing your letter proves you've done your research, and it will likely make you more passionate and excited to work with that agent.

3 Research Strategies to Help You Personalize Your Letter

I emphasized the importance of research for specific literary agents, and you should do this.

However, there are a total of three elements you should research before writing your query letter to help not only with how you write it, but also give you a better idea about why you want to work with a literary agent and literary agency.

1. Your List of Dream Literary Agents

I recommend making a list of seven to ten dream agents before writing your query letter. This might make the letter easier to write, too, because you're writing to someone specific instead of a general audience.

There are several great ways to do this. Here's a list of ideas for you to consider.

You can find a literary agent who might be a good fit for you by:

2. Comp Titles

Comparable titles (or comps) won't break your query letter if not included in it, but good ones can seduce an agent into asking for more.

Before you include comps, however, make sure they are excellent ones.

Keep in mind that bad comps are worse than no comps, so it's better to not include comps in your query than include bad ones.

How can you tell if your comp choices are good picks?

You can learn more about strong comp titles in this article .

3. The Agency: What They've Sold and How They Work

Although you should address the letter to a specific agent, you should also research the literary agency. Just because one agency makes more six-figure deals than another doesn't mean they're the best agency for you.

There are a lot of factors that might make an agency the right fit for you or not. It's worth taking the time to think about what you want and need from an agency so you know whether the agencies you query fit the bill.

How to Write a Successful Query Letter with 3 Paragraphs

Agents look for specific details in a query letter. You can be sure they'll want to know your book's:

It can be tempting to try to explain your book at length, but a query letter is not a synopsis. You want to make this pitch short and concise.

This is why many agents prefer three paragraphs (give or take) that show a literary agent exactly what your book is about, whether or not it's a good fit for their list, if it will sell, and a little about you.

If you read query letter examples, the order of these paragraphs might be mixed. However, I personally prefer the order I'm about to share with you because it (1) establishes clear expectations of what a literary agent should expect, (2) hooks with a back cover description, and (3) shares more about the author.

Agent Carly Watters calls this order the hook, book, cook approach.

Paragraph 1: Hook

Paragraph one is about hooking a literary agent by setting up expectations for the book and making a connection.

When submitting multiple query letters to different agents, this is the one paragraph you need to differentiate. The rest of the query letter can stay the same.

Why does this paragraph change? Because you should be querying a specific agent for personal reasons, remember?

Make a connection by doing this:

Let's look at an example of how to do this.

One of my favorite books in 2021 is Nancy Johnson's The Kindest Lie . It's a timely book that explores the issue of systemic racism in America, and could be described as Smart Book Club Fiction.

Nancy's literary agent is Danielle Bukowski of Sterling Lord Literistic. I know this by looking at the acknowledgments section in her book.

Now let's pretend I have a book that is similar to Nancy's, and I want make a connection with Danielle. I research the books Danielle likes to represent by visiting one of the ways suggested in the dream agent section above.

Here's what I find on Danielle's website:

Danielle's list

She wants to represent books “traditionally overlooked by the publishing industry, as working on books that represent the world is important to me.” Wow, I love that.

And if I thought my (hypothetical) book fit into this category, like The Kindest Lie does, this would be a phenomenal point to make in that first paragraph.

Sharing this in the first paragraph shows I've done my research on Danielle. That I want to work with her , not just any agent who represents my book's genre. It also gives me a chance to share that I love authors and books she's represented.

Knowing all this, I could use these details in my query letter's first paragraph. Like:

P.S. Don't forget to address Danielle specifically. Don't make it out to the literary agency, and absolutely avoid “To Whom It May Concern.”

Put it all together (one to two sentences):

Dear Ms. Bukowski (or Dear Danielle), After reading (and loving!) Nancy Johnson's debut The Kindest Lie, I am submitting my BOOK TITLE HERE for your review. It is a 90,000-word Smart Book Club Fiction story about SOMETHING UNIQUE TO WHAT SHE IS LOOKING FOR or a ONE-SENTENCE SUMMARY. I think it will appeal to your interest in representing books that the publishing industry usually overlooks.

Notice a few things about that paragraph:

Some other good ways to make a connection with an agent could include:

Paragraph 2: Book

Paragraph two is all about the big pitch for your story premise. It does not describe the entire plot or every minor plot. It should read like the back cover of a book, which is why it's great to explore the back covers of comparable titles before writing this.

One element you'll want to consider when writing the back cover is your story's stakes. I like to think about James Scott Bell's whiff of death suggestions: psychological, physical, and/or professional death.

Note: Do not mistake value shifts for genres used in traditional publishing. While knowing your story's main stakes are great for writing and editing it, a traditional publisher will want to know it's a YA Fantasy story, not an Action or Performance story.

That said, knowing your value shifts can help you show them why your story has life and death stakes, or why your character's professional reputation is on the line, or their sanity in some way.

There are various ways to write a story's back cover, and some pantsers and plotters even use this to plan their book before writing it. However, I always turn back to James Scott Bell's strategy for writing back covers, which he covers in his book Revision and Self Editing .

This is his suggestion:

Ultimately, you can write this back cover in as little as three sentences.

Some query letters write this in two to three short paragraphs (with a heavy emphasis on short: each paragraph is two to three sentences). Keep in mind that you do not want to explain too much of your story when writing this. Let the plot and main character stand on their own.

Do not give away the ending. Instead, suggest the journey.

Here's the back cover for Nancy Johnson's The Kindest Lie :

Kindest Lie Back Cover

Notice the last paragraph? You don't need an overarching description about the big ideas in the book in your query letter, but if you can write this well, that's great to include.

Additionally, this is a published back cover, so it's longer than what's expected in a query letter.

If you want to read  The Kindest Lie  and more of Nancy's amazing work, visit her website here .

Paragraph 3: Cook

The last paragraph in a query letter is your author bio. The most important idea here is that you write a bio that shares your credibility as a writer, or any big information that sheds light on your professional writing resume, seasoned with a dash of your personality.

Don't force details here. If you haven't published before, that's okay. You absolutely can call yourself a debut writer . You don't have to have an MFA to get a literary agent (although you can mention it if you do have one).

If you have published, mention this. Even better, if you have a big platform or other numbers that would benefit your book's sales, include these.

Don't hold back on anything that demonstrates your publishing career!

Ultimately, bios don't need to be long. They are meant to give the agent a sense of who you are from a professional standpoint; think quality over quantity again. They could also include one memorable fun fact that humanizes you and shows your personality.

Here's Nancy Johnson's bio:

A native of Chicago's South Side, Nancy Johnson worked for more than a decade as an Emmy-nominated, award-winning television journalist at CBS and ABC affiliates in markets nationwide. A graduate of Northwestern University and The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, she lives in downtown Chicago and manages brand communications for a large nonprofit. The Kindest Lie is her first novel.

Bonus: Don't Forget the P.S.!

Including a P.S. underneath your signature that reestablishes your connection with the agent is a good bonus piece. Be genuine with this, and speak to the agent when you write it.

Also, it's nice to thank the agent for their time before your signature. It can't hurt to include your website address directly beneath your signature. This will suffice for contact information; you don't need to give phone numbers or addresses in a query. Try something like this:

Thank you so much for taking the time to review my manuscript. Warm Regards, YOUR NAME YOUR WEBSITE ADDRESS P.S. Congratulations on NAME OF CLIENT'S BOOK surpassing 100,000 copies sold! What a deserving milestone!

P.P.S. Pitch Your Story with Confidence!

Spend time with your query letter. If you want, get a professional critique and share it with your writing community. And when you're ready, pitch your story with confidence .

At some point, you have to hit send. You've done the research. Do it confidently!

THE GOOD PLACE: A Query Letter Sample and Template

This sample query letter is not a real letter used to query an agent but one I've crafted to model the Hook, Book, Cook format. To model this, I selected a hypothetical literary agent and built on the DVD description for one of my favorite TV shows, The Good Place (season one).

I also made this query letter YA by imagining that Eleanor is sixteen years old and not thirty-something.

Keep an eye on this space. As writers in the Write Practice community pitch successful query letters, we'll share those here, too.

Dear Ms. Schur, I absolutely loved the fun sense of humor and uplifting tone in Leslie Knope's YA debut, The Wonders of Pawnee, which is why I think you'll enjoy my 70,000-word YA Fiction novel, THE GOOD PLACE . It is a perfect blend of serious life questions explored by spunky characters full of wit, and will attract readers who adore love stories like Justin Reynolds' Opposite of Always and philosophical questions like in Gayle Forman's If I Stay. After sixteen-year-old Eleanor Shellstrop dies in a tragic accident, she winds up in the afterlife—and it's amazing. Here, in what's called the Good Place, Eleanor enjoys the endless pleasures of frozen yogurt, soulmates, and wonderful people who have dedicated their lives to performing good acts. Eternity here is perfect. The only problem is Eleanor isn't supposed to be here. In fact, her life decisions wouldn't have even gotten her close. But when Eleanor confesses the clerical error which only happens because she's reaping someone else's reward to her soulmate, indecisive ethics professor Chidi, trouble really starts to boil. Now, with the help of three unlikely companions, Eleanor struggles to learn how to be good in order to make sure her secret stays a secret. Not only for her eternal life, but the friends she grows to care about, and increasingly endangers with her growing mess. I am a veteran actor turned writer with a B.S. in TV, Radio, and Film and have spent the last decade studying story structure on the stage and now in books. As an avid YA fiction reader, I enjoy supporting authors on Goodreads and Instagram, where I have 14,000+ followers as a #bookstagrammer. THE GOOD PLACE will be my debut. Thank you for your time and consideration. Best Regards, Jenny Pages www.jennypages[DOT]com P.S. I really enjoyed your latest podcast episode on New Girl . That Jessica Day cracks me up!

Other Places to Find Examples

Here are some of my favorite examples:

What About Stories Written in Dual POV?

I've talked to a lot of writers who ask this question: what if your book has more than one point of view ? Should you include all of these in your query letter?

The answer: most likely.

Query letters set up expectations for your story, right? So if your story is written in dual POV , it wouldn't hurt to give the literary agent a heads up about this. Mention each POV and show how each has their own story arc that inevitably weaves together by the end.

How do you do this? Check out how authors of multi-POV novels have summarized their books in their back cover copy.

Here are some examples of strong multi-POV back covers:

What You Should Expect After You Hit Send

Most literary agencies have a policy that you won't hear a response from the literary agent if it's a pass. Others might notify you that you've been rejected. And everyone who wants to read more will contact you.

It hurts to be rejected. I get it. But please do your best to not take rejections personally, or get bummed out if an agent doesn't let you know directly that the book isn't for them.

It can feel very much that a rejection of a book is a rejection of you, but it isn't.

You might think, “Well what the heck, why don't they let me know why it's a pass? Or even that it is a pass?” While most literary agents would love to write personal rejection notes and give some notes for edits, they just don't have the time to do this. Query letters and signing clients is part of the job, and an exciting one at that!

But they also have to agent.

While you're waiting, work on your next book. Keep writing! Read some of those books piling up on your bookshelf. Go for a run with your pup. Play with your baby. Eat popcorn. Plot out your next big idea!

And if you get rejected, keep going. Submit to other agents on your agent list.

Remember, it only takes one yes!

Red Flags to Avoid in Your Query Letter

​One final note.

We've talked about what a literary agent likes in a query letter, and what will catch their attention and hook them.

We probably should also briefly cover some red flags, or items that will (likely) lead to hard rejections. Take note of this list, and be sure your query letter is free of all these items:

You have one chance to impress each agent with your query letter, and you want your letter to shine, with no bumps or hangups that might cause them to turn away. Make sure your commas are all in the right places!

Can You Follow Up?

You haven't heard from the literary agent in a while. Should you follow up?

If the submission guidelines say a no response is a rejection , and it's been longer than three months, it's probably a rejection.

Some agents don't mind a polite follow-up, but don't be hasty with this. Give the literary agent time to review their query letter inbox. And keep in mind, not every agent loves follow-ups. If you follow them on social media, they may talk about this on their platforms. Follow their lead.

Overall, I err on the side of leaving it be and not putting your book in one inbox. You can absolutely have that number one agent, but don't be afraid to query other agents after a significant time has passed (again, I recommend three months).

There's nothing wrong with following up politely. But best not to put your book in one inbox.

The Key Principles for How to Write a Query Letter

We've just covered a lot of information about query letters. Here are the key takeaways to keep in mind as you write your query letter.

Above All Else, You Need to Write a Great Book!

Publishing is a tough industry, and you need to dig deep and stay true to your passion if you want to publish you need to muster your love for storytelling and keep going !

I genuinely believe that stories have the greatest chance to engender growth in positive directions. They are bright gifts that teach us perspectives we couldn't learn intimately if locked away instead of put into print.

You are a writer.

You can do this. But to traditionally publish, you will want a literary agent. Your relationship with a literary agent is a business relationship first, and the submission process is also part of that business.

When you understand the mechanics of the submission process and master the three-paragraph format in your query letter, you'll boost your chances in the slush.

Ultimately, though, a query letter is only the first step in signing with a literary agent. Even more important than writing than a knockout query letter is writing a great book!

A great book is what a literary agent will offer to represent! The query letter gives them exciting reasons to check it out.

What scares or confuses you about writing query letters? Do you think these three paragraphs will help you overcome that fear or confusion?  Let us know in the comments .

Writing a winning query letter is tough. But you don't have to go it alone.

I'd love to share my best advice for your query letter with a professional query letter critique. Get the feedback you need to make your query letter shine, and send it to literary agents with confidence.

Get a Query Letter Critique

Now that you know the preferred three paragraphs in a query letter, pick the paragraph you find most intimidating and give it a go!

Spend fifteen minutes writing this paragraph.

It doesn't have to be perfect. You can't revise anything that isn't written, and we all need to start somewhere!

Once you're done, post it in the comments section for feedback. Do this confidently and with an open mind for critique.

Then, comment on three other people's paragraphs. Ask for them to critique your paragraph, too. This is how we help one another!

Good luck, and happy querying. I can't wait to see your book debut in the world!

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Abigail Perry

Abigail Perry is a Certified Story Grid Editor with professional teaching, literary agency, and film production experience. In addition to writing Story Grid masterwork guides, she works as a freelance editor and is the Content Editor for The Write Practice. Abigail loves stories that put women and diverse groups at the center of the story—and others that include superpowers and magic. Her favorite genres include: Smart Book Club Fiction, Women's Fiction, YA Fantasy, Historical Fiction, and unique memoirs. She also has a B.S. in TV, Radio, and Film and loves working on screenplays that are emotionally driven and/or full of action. You can learn more about Abigail on her website.

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How to Write a Query Letter in 7 Simple Steps

A query letter is an inquiry to an agent asking if they’re interested in representing a book. For context, the best agents receive dozens of queries a day, but might only sign a few authors per year. So you can see how writing a strong query letter is crucial to your success as an author! 

The good news is that once you’re familiar with the format, assembling your query letter should be no trouble at all.

Here’s the simple step-by-step process to write a query letter:

1. Open the query with a greeting

2. write a strong “hook” for the book, 3. include a story synopsis, 4. pitch your author credentials , 5. personalize to stand out from other queries, 6. close the letter by thanking the agent, 7. proofread your work, 8. hire a professional editor for a query letter review.

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First off, 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 misgendering them by accident.

The next line should make the agent prick up their ears. If you’ve published before,you can start with that. Be sure to mention any critical recognition or awards you've received for your previous work!

I’m seeking representation for my second novel, Cobalt Eyes . This book is the follow-up to Inferno Hearts , which I self-published and which was shortlisted for the Jay Malcolm Independent Prize last year.

If you haven’t published before, another great way to start is with a personal connection:

We met last year at the Writer’s Digest Annual Conference and chatted briefly about your work with up-and-coming suspense authors.

Or better yet, get a referral from an established author or a publishing insider. “You want something that will bring the submission directly to the agent rather than an assistant or an intern,” says editor and former agent Fran Lebowitz (not the NYC-based author). “Showing that you are connected never hurts.”

Jane Doe at Del Rey Books suggested that I contact you regarding representation for my debut science fiction novel, Arbormancer .

If you have no industry connections to speak of, don’t panic — just jump straight into your pitch. You can go the factual route by starting with your title, genre, and word count (rounded to the nearest thousand): three key pieces of information that will instantly paint a picture of your book.

I’m writing to seek representation for my 92,000-word crime thriller, Operation Kill.

Alternatively, you can try gripping the agent's attention by starting with your hook (more on that in the next step!).

💡 Pro tip: Download our query letter checklist, which will help you as you write and perfect your queries:

how to write a literary agent query


Query Letter Checklist

Learn how to grab a literary agent’s attention with our checklist.

This resource is completely free, so download it and give it a spin.

Within the first few pages of a novel, you need to make it impossible for readers to put your book down. In a query letter, you have to make do with just a few lines.

This part of the letter is known as the hook . Your hook should show agents how your book differs from the thousands of others in your genre. It should be an awesome concept that makes the reader wonder why someone hasn’t thought of it before.

how to write a literary agent query

Just look at the hook for Jeff Lindsay’s Darkly Dreaming Dexter (later adapted into Showtime’s Dexter ):

Meet Dexter Morgan, a polite wolf in sheep’s clothing. He’s handsome and charming, but something in his past has made him abide by a different set of rules. He’s a serial killer whose one golden rule makes him immensely likable: he only kills bad people.

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Another great hook might involve an intriguing central conflict , like the one in Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight :

About three things I was absolutely positive. First, Edward was a vampire. Second, there was a part of him — and I didn’t know how potent that part might be — that thirsted for my blood. And third, I was unconditionally and irrevocably in love with him.

Not only does this introduce the genre and tone, it sets up the narrator’s internal dilemma: she’s in love with someone who could possibly kill her. What will happen next? Is she walking into a trap? Will her love conquer the vampire’s bloodlust?

Perfecting your hook might take a while, but it’s hands-down the most important part of your pitch, so make sure you get it right! If you’re unsure whether it’s “grabby” enough, try testing it out on your friends — or better yet, have an editor with industry experience take a look.

how to write a literary agent query


How to Write a Query Letter

Learn to grab agents’ attention with 10 five-minute lessons.

How to write a query letter | Query letter synopsis

Now that you’ve “hooked” the agent, it’s time to reel them in with your synopsis and get them to request your manuscript.

“The synopsis should really get an agent interested in your book,” says Erin Young , a literary agent with Dystel, Goderich & Bourret. “Think as if you're writing the back cover of your book for future readers.” In other words, your synopsis is your opportunity to shed some light on:

Following Erin’s suggestion, let’s look at the back cover of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl and see how its blurb addresses those points.

On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick’s clever and beautiful wife disappears.   Husband-of-the-Year Nick isn’t doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife’s head, but passages from Amy's diary reveal the alpha-girl perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge. Under mounting pressure from the police and the media — as well as Amy’s fiercely doting parents — the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior.   Nick is oddly evasive, and he’s definitely bitter — but is he really a killer?

With just over 100 words, this synopsis lays out the plot, offers an impression of two multi-layered characters, and leaves us with the question that serves as the book’s engine: Did Nick kill his wife?

Even without a grand mystery at the center of your book, you can still grip agents by vividly defining the central conflict and stakes. High stakes help readers invest in your characters and stories; otherwise there's no reason to care about the outcome of your book. So make sure the letter-reader knows what your protagonists stand to win or lose.

💡 Pro tip: Your hook and synopsis should make up around 50% of your letter. That’s 150 or 200 words at most.

And now that the hard part is over, let’s talk about you: the author!

Following the synopsis, the “cherry on top” of your query letter will be what you’ve accomplished as a writer. Try not to ramble on about your day job or your hometown, as it’s much better to focus on your publishing history:

That said, if you don’t have any quantifiable writing chops, it’s okay to write: “I live in Poughkeepsie with my wife and three kids. This is my first novel.” You could also mention your inspiration for writing this book, or explain why you’re the only person who can do this story justice.

I was inspired to write Bad Teacher by my decade of experience teaching in state prisons, in my home state of Missouri.

You can also show that you’re going to be an informed publishing partner with an awareness of the market. A great way to do that is by identifying comparable titles and authors. That’s where you say something like:

This book has the sprawling fantasy feel of The Starless Sea with the dark feminist bent of Mexican Gothic .

You want to make the agent think, “Ooh, I like those books! Maybe I’ll like this one as well.” However, avoid comparing your manuscript to:

Finally, if you’re a popular blogger or influencer or have a large social media following, bring it up! This lets agents know that you come with a built-in fanbase. Again, show them that you’re approaching this like a professional and that you can help your book become a success.

Download our free template to ensure your manuscript looks professional and ready to impress:

how to write a literary agent query

Manuscript Format Template

Get your manuscript ready for submission to agents and publishers.

“You can tell when the letter’s just a generic copy-and-paste job,” says Amy Bishop , another agent with Dystel, Goderich & Bourret. “It indicates that the author hasn't done their research on the agent or agency they're querying.”

At least a bit of personalization is crucial; without it, your letter is just spam. The easiest way to give your query a personal touch is to reference the agent’s existing clients:

I am a huge fan of your client, Michael Chabon. The setting of The Yiddish Policemen’s Union was a major influence on my novel.

Or if you want to do one better, mention something that the agent has written or said in public.

I saw your presentation at the Literary Writers Conference last year. Your comments on the dearth of female protagonists in fantasy really resonated with me. My book attempts to redress that balance.

Don't lay it on too thick. Just show that you've put thought and effort into choosing which agents you query .

Keep track of the agents you contact with our free query tracker spreadsheet:

how to write a literary agent query

Query Submissions Tracker

Stay organized on your journey to find the right agent or publisher.

No muss, no fuss.

Thanks for your consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.   Sincerely, Your Name

Don’t overdo the ending. Don’t try to arrange a meeting or tell them how amazing it would be to work together. Just thank them and sign off!

This step is extremely important in terms of preserving your professionalism! Before you call it a day, go back through the letter and triple-check that you’ve included the following details about your book:

Make sure nothing is mistaken or misrepresented. If possible, get a friend to read through the whole thing to make sure your spelling, grammar, and punctuation are on point.

Finally, if you want to guarantee that your query letter is firing on all cylinders, you can get a query letter review from a professional editor. This will ensure that every part of your letter is perfectly honed — and perhaps more importantly, that you aren’t sending up any red flags to agents.

Why is getting a professional query letter review so much better than, say, having a friend read it over? Because you can work with an editor who’s actually been an acquiring editor for a publisher, or maybe even an agent themselves. This intimate industry knowledge can be a game-changer for authors struggling to sell their books.

Looking for a query letter review?

The best professional editors are on Reedsy. Sign up to meet them today!

Learn how Reedsy can help you craft a beautiful book.

Not to mention that, compared to most editing costs , the cost of a query letter review is a real bargain — most of our editors charge between $50 and $150 for this service. Considering that a compelling query letter could be your gateway to a generous advance and lucrative career, it might be the best return on investment you'll ever get.

And that concludes our post on how to write a query letter! We realize we’ve just thrown a lot of information at you. If it seems like a lot to absorb, don't worry: we’ve created an infographic checklist to help you remember it all.

To see what a query letter should look like (and what you can expect from a query letter review!), check out the next post in this series . We've posted six examples of query letters from a range of genres that have been reviewed and improved by Reedsy editors.

16 responses

Cheryl Charlesworth says:

02/11/2017 – 18:19

Best damn post this side of the Altantic....thank you.

↪️ Reedsy replied:

02/11/2017 – 23:23

Aw, thank you! Glad you liked it!

Olga GOA says:

02/11/2017 – 20:22

Hello. But how to find this agent? :D

02/11/2017 – 23:24

Ah, that's where the research comes in. In the next few weeks we'll be following this post up with another one that will be all about researching agents. Watch this space, as they say :)

Mandy Suhre says:

12/11/2017 – 05:16

I write screenplays and poetry. Can anybody help with that? Please and thank you, Mandy (Suhre) Brown

↪️ Sadie Francis Skyheart replied:

28/08/2019 – 15:57

What Reedsy does for authors, ScreenwritingU does for screenwriters. If you haven't checked it out, I highly recommend!

Aleksandr says:

07/12/2017 – 14:59

At first glance, the recommendations are worth it to be read. You have perfectly divided everything into parts: grab the attention of the agent, write a brief overview. If our experience in such letters is not great, but you really want to get the result from such a letter, then it is better to go to a professional. Of course, is cool when you all know how. But sometimes, some things should be transferred to another, for the sake of result. You can write great articles like Neil, or books like But in attracting the attention of the agent can be much more difficult. After tens of unsuccessful attempts, I went to I was perfectly satisfied with the work, and I got several meetings with agents that I needed. So sometimes it is important to distribute your efforts correctly.

31/07/2018 – 20:46

Thank you, thank you! This post is extremely helpful!!

jturkish says:

27/01/2019 – 23:13

Sorry folks, aside from the advice to pander to the audience in the first lines of your query and manuscript (which I don't agree with. If your manuscript is good you don't have to pander, have some respect for yourself and your audience! Besides, Gone Girl and especially Twilight, aren't very good novels,) and that your Synopsis should read like a Query Letter (I was trained that a Synopsis or Outline is just that, your entire novel as distilled as possible, ex: a two hundred page novel described completely in less than five pages, a description.) This is the exact same advice I've had in every other publishing column I've ever read, and what I foolishly spent twenty thousand to learn in college. Unless you are an absolute grass roots beginner, save your eyes, your time, and your sanity, for reading Agent's biographies and expectations instead of reading this column. And if you are a grass roots beginner (looking at you college creative writing class kids out there, of whom this page seems aimed at), do another edit on your book, or write another novel entirely. Get some experience under your belt, enjoy being an artist, join your school's society of uber geeks, drink beer, talk about your favorite books, read and critique each other's manuscripts, talk about your favorite Simpson's episodes, meet some very interesting people and incorporate them in your novels; before spending all your free time trying to break into the subjective rat race that is writing at a professional level. Don't worry, the writing biz will still be here when you graduate.

janis hutchinson says:

25/06/2019 – 20:52

I wish you also had an article describing a nonfiction (mine is Christian) query letter. Is there one somewhere?

Chloe says:

07/08/2019 – 19:29

When should I be worried if the agent doesn't respond back?

↪️ Yvonne replied:

08/08/2019 – 01:43

Hi Chloe, agents are very busy, so it could take a couple of weeks to even two or three months to get a response. Some literary agencies have guidelines posted on their website on when to follow up on an unanswered query — check those, as it could be helpful.

07/08/2019 – 19:30

When should be get worried if the agent doesn't respond back?

Sadie Francis Skyheart says:

28/08/2019 – 15:58

Excellent advice. :-)

B.L. Alley says:

04/11/2019 – 19:56

As usual, this advice is geared toward those who already have a foot in the door.

↪️ Martin Cavannagh replied:

05/11/2019 – 14:14

Not really, to be fair... most agents will tell you that they will, at various points in the year, be looking through the "slush pile" for new authors to represent. These steps are designed to help totally unknown authors stand out from the countless authors who submit overlong, unfocuses query letters.

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How To Write a Query Letter That Grabs an Agent’s Attention

How to Write a Query Letter That Grabs an Agent’s Attention

You’ve done the hard part.

You’ve spent ages researching, writing, and rewriting until you finally feel your book is ready to share with the world.

Not so fast .

Your next step is one of the most important. Writing a query letter can determine whether a literary agent asks to see more or sends you a cordial form letter intended to let you down easy.

It’s time to move from author to salesman.

You’re about to make a virtual sales call, and your query letter makes the first impression.

Nothing can be more important.

It was once customary for a bachelor to request permission to call on a woman by having his calling card delivered to her.

You’re courting an agent on behalf of your manuscript , and the query letter is your calling card.

This one-page letter must masterfully sell. Write it poorly and an agent will assume your book is also poorly written.

It must stimulate and intrigue to secure your all-important first date.

A Query Letter Format That Makes Agents Take Notice…

1—speaks to a specific person..

Get the agent’s name and title right. You’re not sending this “To Whom It May Concern.”

It should be clear you’ve done your research and are targeting an agent who represents your genre and that you’re aware of similar books he has represented to publishers.

2—Presents your book idea simply.

Include a one-sentence summary. Here was mine for my first novel: “A judge tries a man for a murder the judge committed.”

3—Evidences your style.

Grab the agent with compelling writing . Briefly tell the plot of your novel or the purpose of your nonfiction book. Write with the same voice you’d use when telling your best friend about it. Your passion must be obvious.

4—Show you know who your readers are.

An agent needs to believe he can sell your book before he’ll ask for more.

Be specific about your target audience, and “everyone” doesn’t count. Agents know the business and cannot be persuaded that “everyone will find this amazing.”

Tell what you hope readers will take away from your book and why.

5—Clarifies your qualifications.

Briefly summarize why you’re the one to write this book.

What else have you published ? What platform have you built? What education do you have? Link to your website .

The more you’ve done, the less you need say about it. Don’t emphasize your lack of experience, but resist the urge to exaggerate or embellish.

You need not list your entire resume. Instead, refer to a web page where an agent can find more details.

Better to just say something like, “I’ve been a professor of astrophysics for more than two decades, the last four years at Notre Dame.”

An amazing book idea can even transcend the need for a vast platform. So if you don’t have one, it’s all the more important to well represent the potential of your book.

6—Exhibits your flexibility and professionalism.

Keep it brief and express your ability to provide whatever is requested: proposal , synopsis , sample chapters, whatever. Conclude with a simple “Thanks for your consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.”

Be sure to:

Be patient. Occupy yourself with your next project idea.

Some agencies say that if you get no response after a certain period, assume they’re not interested. That’s rude, and sometimes you’re not even told whether they received it in the first place. In that case, wait six weeks  and follow up with kind note asking about the status.

Best case: the agent reads your query and immediately asks for more. That’s rare, but it happens.

Agents get thousands of submissions, and they reject most of them within minutes.

Too many writers give them too many reasons.

My goal is to get you to where you’re seen as the next success. That’s why agents are in the business.

Despite how many ideas they reject, they’re longing to discover the next bestseller. Be the one who writes it!

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Nathan Bransford | Writing, Book Editing, Publishing

Helping authors achieve their dreams

How to write a query letter

In order to have a book published by a traditional publisher, you will likely need to know how to write a query letter to find a literary agent..

A query letter is part business letter, part creative writing exercise, part introduction, part death defying leap through a flaming hoop. (Don’t worry, you won’t catch fire and die during the query process though it may feel precisely like that at times).

In essence: it is a brief letter describing your book that will hopefully make an agent want to represent you.

Read on to learn about the steps I recommend for writing a successful query letter. For more in-depth information on querying, editing, and the publishing process, check out my series of online classes here.

Want more help on your query letter?

Learn about my personalized editing and coaching services, here are the basic steps for how to write a query letter:.

Read examples of query letters that worked

Hone your pitch.

List your credentials (if you have them) and other key details

Polish your manuscript and/or proposal

There are as many opinions out on the internet about query letters as there are, well, opinions on the internet. You will find lots of dos and don’ts and peeves and strategies and formulas.

The important thing to remember about this is that everyone is wrong except for me. (Just kidding. The important thing to remember is that you will need to choose the ideas that work best for you).

Before you even write a query letter, it’s absolutely imperative that you start with a completely finished and polished novel or a nonfiction book proposal with 30-50 polished sample pages.

A great idea alone is not going to sail you through the publishing process.

Here are some resources that can help:

Familiarize yourself with what works. Read examples of good query letters in order to get a sense of the rhythm and format.

Here are four good query letters to sample:

Once you have a sense of what works in a query, it’s time write your pitch, which will comprise the bulk of your query (usually 2-3 paragraphs). This is extremely tricky to write, and it’s so important to nail it.

But you are in luck because I have a handy dandy mad lib to get you started. Just plug in the details of your novel into this query letter template and it will give you a basic query letter to start with. From there expand on it, personalize, and make it your own.

You are trying to accomplish two important tasks with your pitch:

Especially for fiction, try as much as possible to write the query letter so that it embodies the spirit of your project. If your book is funny, write a funny query letter. If your book is written with beautiful lyrical prose, write your query letter accordingly.

As you’re doing this, be as specific as possible about the plot, rather than descending into generalities. Key details about your characters and setting will make it come alive.

For narrative nonfiction, my advice is similar to fiction. Make the story you want to tell come alive through details.

For prescriptive nonfiction, be clear about the problem you’re trying to solve and give the agent a sense of your authority and voice.

For further reading:

Research literary agents

Make your query letter shine through personalization. To do this, you need to research literary agents so you can show them you queried them individually. You also need to follow submission procedures to the letter.

Here is a comprehensive post on how to research a literary agent. But the short version is that you need to do some research in order to

For nonfiction, it’s very important to give a sense of your level of expertise, your platform , and how much publicity you could bring to bear in the promotion of your work.

For fiction it’s totally fine to not even have a publishing credit to your name (just say confidently: “This is my first novel”). But do include a very brief bio and if you have, say, a notable social media presence, don’t be afraid to mention it.

Other things to include:

For example, here’s my bio paragraph from my query letter Jacob Wonderbar (I had separately included the genre in the personalization paragraph):

JACOB WONDERBAR AND THE COSMIC SPACE KAPOW is 50,000 words and stands alone, but I have ideas for a series, including titles such as JACOB WONDERBAR FOR PRESIDENT OF THE UNIVERSE and JACOB WONDERBAR AND THE VACATIONING ALIENS FROM ANOTHER PLANET. I’m the author of an eponymous agenting and writing blog.

Format your query letter

Don’t. Get Crazy.

Use block formatting. Double-space between paragraphs. Use a default font in a default size. Left-justify.

The amount of time you spend formatting, coloring, bolding, italicizing, and adding pictures to your query is inversely proportional to how professional it looks when you’re finished.

Here’s what this format looks like in action.

Altogether your query should be roughly 250-350 words.

Send it out

As the immortal Douglas Adams said, don’t panic! Write the best query letter you can, be yourself, don’t overthink it too much, don’t sweat it if you realize the second after you sent it that you made a typo or accidentally called an agent Vicky when their name is Nathan . If an agent is going to get mad or reject you over something trivial like that they’re probably not the type of person you’d want to work with anyway.

I highly recommend having query letters out with around seven agents at a time , which doesn’t leave you hanging endlessly with one agent, but also gives you some time to adjust course if you feel your query letter isn’t getting the attention you would have expected.

What Happens Next?

After you’ve sent your query letter off into the great unknown, you sit back and wait for the literary agent to consider it. And wait. And wait some more.

Here’s what’s happening on an agent’s end: First they print out all the queries and stack them up. Then they spread them around the room until they’re a few inches deep. Next they lie down, wave their arms and legs, and make query angels.

Actually it works kind of like this.

What you want is a request for a partial or a full manuscript, in which case your query letter has done its job and you have moved on to the next step. If you’ve sent out a dozen or so queries and haven’t gotten so much as a nibble, there might be something wrong with your query letter and you may wish to tweak it a little and give it a second look.

Bear in mind that many/most literary agents have a no-response-means-no policy, so if you do not hear back after a couple of months you have your answer. It is not customary to follow-up if you haven’t heard back on a query letter.

Also please remember that literary agents are positively besieged with queries – you have one query you are worrying about, agents have 15,000 or more to answer in a year. Keep your cool, stay calm, and be professional throughout the process.

You can write a successful query letter!

Query letter writing doesn’t have to be a horribly frightening experience. Just remember to be professional, do your research, and keep writing in the meantime. Don’t forget the 10 Commandments of the Happy Writer . And for a light-hearted version of this process, check out The Publishing Process in GIF Form .

And don’t forget, if you need help: reach out to me.

Happy querying!

Need more advice or personalized help? I teach online classes about the publishing process and offer one-on-one coaching and editing services. Learn more below!

Reader interactions.

May 30, 2019 at 11:34 pm

Thanks, Vicky! Now I’ll spend the rest of the night rereading your 52 links…

October 31, 2019 at 4:40 am

Dear Mr. Bransford, Say whatever it is your submitting is written under a pen name, like for example you want to get your start by writing one type of book under an assumed name then go on to write something else under your own.

When writing a query letter, do you sign it with the your legal given name, the pen name, or “sincerely, Real Name a.k.a Pen Name?

October 31, 2019 at 11:12 am

Thanks for the question! I cover that in this post:

I’ll be sure and add a link in this master query post.

But yes, I would recommend doing exactly what you propose. Query as your self and list your pen name if you want to use one.

November 1, 2019 at 7:17 pm

Thank you very much for your helpful advice and have a safe November-December.

April 25, 2020 at 2:54 pm

Dear Mr. Bransford, I am working on writing a query letter for a collection of short stories, it would be helpful if you can please share a query letter example for the same.

April 25, 2020 at 3:02 pm

This might not be a wholly satisfying answer and opinions may vary, but unless your short stories have attracted the type of publications and attention that means literary agents are approaching you, I’m not sure that I would spend time querying about a short story collection. And even if an agent is interested in your stories, they may want to pitch it to editors with a novel.

May 2, 2020 at 8:36 pm

Some helpful insights here and it’s good to know what it’s like from the agent’s perspective. I have been very nervous about querying but this post has given me some reassurance. Thanks, Nathan!

May 11, 2020 at 7:03 am

Is it good to mention a self-published book that was a “best of Kirkus indie” with a starred review if it had abysmal sales in my author bio in my query letter or should I not bring it up? Otherwise my writing credits are zip.

May 11, 2020 at 10:05 am

I don’t know that I’d mention it, I think agents take self-pubbed Kirkus reviews with a grain of salt. But it’s okay if you don’t have publishing credits:

February 22, 2021 at 9:45 am

West Bengal Class 10th Time Table 2021(Madhyamik) is made available by the West Bengal Board of Secondary Education (WBBSE), The timetable has been released by the West Bengal Board of Secondary Examination (Madhyamik Pariksha) for the year 2021 for WBBSE Question Paper 2021 WBBSE 10th Model Paper 2021 is released by the West Bengal Board of Secondary Education in the pdf form. Students should download the WB Bengal Madhyamik Questions paper 2021 and practice it.

June 5, 2021 at 2:56 pm

I’ve completed two of three books in a series (book three is nearing completion). When querying, should I query all three books as a trilogy, or just the first book in detail with only a passing mention of books two and three?

June 5, 2021 at 5:50 pm

Hi Nick, this post has everything you need to know:

January 27, 2022 at 3:38 pm

I think this advice works for people who aren’t coming from a marginalized community, but I have found…personally not through hearsay…that if I didn’t take a different road than the query process I would have been passed over time and again. The sad truth is that the publishing industry will hand over book deals to the non-gay authors who are writing gay content while the actual gay authors sit back shaking their heads. André Aciman is one of them. Annie Proulx is another. Both straight white authors appropriate gay content. Kathryn Stockett did it with black fiction. And we have no voices. This is the way publishing works. So after enough rejections about 20 years ago from the straight white gatekeepers, I went a different way with gay presses and digital presses and I found a nice little readership there. I haven’t sold millions of books but I’ve sold thousands. I’ve even been pirated many times. Indie publishing is also a way to avoid the privileged system. But the query system is painfully flawed.

January 27, 2022 at 4:12 pm

I’m glad you found a path that works for you, but is it really true that there are “no voices” in traditional publishing? While I would be the first to say that there always have been and continue to be structural problems in publishing that results in certain communities being underrepresented, I’m not sure it’s quite as stark as you’re suggesting here, and think you might be extrapolating your own personal path to be more universal than it may be?

April 21, 2022 at 2:38 am

Hi Ryan, I agree as a gay male author and reader. I really dislike reading gay books and finding the author is straight or especially a women. It seems odd and off putting and a turn off.

February 15, 2022 at 2:23 pm

Such a helpful article. Definitely will be bookmarking this for future use. Very helpful to beginners in this field.

May 6, 2022 at 9:04 pm

Hi Nathan, thanks for the informative article. I’m ready to start sending queries for my first novel but agents who represent fantasy fiction seem few and far between in Australia. There are many more in the US, would I be wasting my time (and theirs) if I queried internationally?

May 7, 2022 at 9:45 am

This is an old post that still applies:

May 7, 2022 at 6:21 pm

Ah, you’ve got an answer already prepared! Thanks, I’m finding your site very useful.

May 20, 2022 at 2:37 pm

Nathan, I think I must be going crazy. I was certain I saw in this post, or in one of th ehundred wonderful posts you linked, that you should include the firsts 5 pages *with the query*. Am I wrong on that? Does that sound crazy? Would you please clarify when we send how much sample pages?

May 20, 2022 at 2:46 pm

Yeah, unless the agent specifies otherwise it’s usually fine to paste the first five pages into the body of the email.

Read A Sample Literary Agent Query Letter, With Hints & Tips

Publishing industry ,

Read a sample literary agent query letter, with hints & tips.

Harry Bingham

By Harry Bingham

Sample Query Letter & Template Included

You want to know what a great query letter to literary agents should look like? We’re going to show you a perfect sample letter in a moment.

But we’re also going to figure out what your query letter needs to do – and how you’re going to write it.

This blog post will give you everything you need – and I promise that if you are talented enough to write a book, you are EASILY capable of writing a strong, confident query letter.

OK. We’ll get stuck in in one second.

But I should probably tell you that I am a real author describing a real book. The query letter below pretends that this book is a first novel and I have no track record in the industry.

Tiny digression: this isn’t a complete guide to getting your book published. You can get that  here . Nor is it a full guide to getting an agent – more  info here , and  here .)

Write A Query Letter In 3 Easy Steps:

Here’s What A Query Letter Should Look Like

Remember that your query letter needs to accomplish the following goals:

We’ll say more about all that shortly. But first up, here’s a query letter of a sort that would make any sane agent want to start reading the manuscript in question:

Dear Agent Name I’m writing to seek representation for my first novel, TALKING TO THE DEAD, a police procedural of 115,000 words. The book opens with news of a murder: a young woman and her daughter have been found dead in a rough area of Cardiff. The house where they’re found is in poor condition, but in the corner of the room is a platinum bank card belonging to a local millionaire. A millionaire who died in a plane crash some nine months previously. New recruit, Detective Constable Fiona Grifffiths is assigned to the investigation. Puzzling as this crime looks, it’s not the heart of the book’s mystery. It becomes rapidly clear that Fiona Griffiths herself is a very peculiar woman, who is withholding crucial secrets from the reader. Who exactly is her father? What was her childhood illness? And what is it with her and corpses? I currently run my own small consultancy business, and  this is my first novel. I look forward to writing further novels in the series. I enclose the first three chapters and a synopsis. I hope you like what you see and look forward to hearing from you. Yours, Harry Bingham

Simple right? And you can do it, no?

Here’s that query letter again with my comments highlighted in bold:

I’m writing to seek representation  [the purpose of you getting in touch]  for my first novel, TALKING TO THE DEAD, a police procedural of 115,000 words.  [title, genre, word count – all defined fast and clearly.] The book opens with news of a murder: a young woman and her daughter have been found dead in a rough area of Cardiff. The house where they’re found is in poor condition, but in the corner of the room is a platinum bank card belonging to a local millionaire. A millionaire who died in a plane crash some nine months previously.  [This sets up the basic premise of the crime story. Already, the agent has the basic co-ordinates she needs to navigate.]  New recruit, Detective Constable Fiona Grifffiths is assigned to the investigation.  [Introduce main character – clearly and succinctly.] Puzzling as this crime looks, it’s not the heart of the book’s mystery. It becomes rapidly clear that Fiona Griffiths herself is a very peculiar woman, who is withholding crucial secrets from the reader. Who exactly is her father? What was her childhood illness? And what is it with her and corpses?  [This hints nicely at the book’s mood and USP. It starts to suggest the emotional payoff – a mystery to do with the book’s central character.] I currently run my own small consultancy business, and  this is my first novel. I look forward to writing further novels in the series.  [A line or two about me. Confirmation that I understand I’m writing a series – an important touch for this kind of fiction.] I enclose the first three chapters and a synopsis. I hope you like what you see and look forward to hearing from you.  [Wrap it up. The whole letter easily fits onto one page. And yes, I know you’ll be sending an email, but you know what I mean.]

Now you know what you’re doing, we’ll get into a slightly more specific analysis.

Read a sample literary agent query letter

What To Include In Your Query Letter

All the letter must do is:

That’s it. If you can write a novel, you can write that letter.

And each of those elements is simple enough.

The 1 Sentence Summary

If you do those things, the agent can instantly understand what you want and what you’re offering. You will also, by the way, prove yourself to be a swift, professional writer.

The 1-2 Paragraph Introduction To The Book

First, it’s important to say what this is not.

You are not writing a back-of-book blurb. But nor are you writing a detailed outline of your story. (That’ll come in the form of your synopsis – more synopsis help  right here .)

What you  are  doing is explaining  what  your book is and  why  a reader will feel compelled to read it.

That ‘what’ element will typically be a matter of presenting some facts. You need to give some more information about your settings, your premise, your characters and so on. You don’t need to be as salesy as a cover blurb, and you don’t need to be as dry as a synopsis. It’s almost as though you were chatting to your best friend and telling her about the book you’ve just been reading.

The ‘why’ element is equally crucial. Here, you are conveying something about  emotions . What is a reader going to feel as they read the book? What kind of atmosphere will they inhabit? What kind of emotional payoff or challenge is likely?

Comparable Titles

Including comparable titles is a clear and simple way to help authors understand where your book fits in the market. It’s important to query agents who specialise in your genre, and comparable titles help them get a sense of where your book would fit in with their list. Some people choose to include this in the introduction of their query letter, while others add it in later on; you can place it anywhere that suits you.

Try to include two or three comparable titles. You could reference them by saying ‘readers of x, y, and z would love (your book)’ or ‘x meets y in (your book)’. Make sure that you also describe why your book is unique and detail the extra elements it adds to the books you reference.

It’s important that the comparable titles you use are genuinely similar to your book. Though it can be tempting to reference books you admire, it’s helpful to show an understanding of the market you’re writing in and give the agent a sense of the overall tone/style of your book. The titles should be commerically successful and contemporary (ideally from the last two years or so) to show your agent why you think your book will sell in the current market.

Agent Personalisation

Agent personalisation is a very brief part of your query letter, but it’s an important one. Lots of writers eagerly send query letters to lots of different agents, and agents want to know that you put some thought into deciding to contact them specifically. As with comparable titles, this is a section which can go anywhere in your query letter.

Providing an agent with a specific reason why you chose to query them will help make your query letter stand out, and it also shows that you’ve done your research.

Maybe they represent an author in your genre who you’re a big fan of, and that’s how you found out about them. Or perhaps you discovered them on Twitter, or went to an event they took part it where something they said really resonated with you. Let them know! Including this element of personalisation will make your letter more memorable.

A Brief Introduction To You, The Author

Luckily, agents don’t care too much about you. Nor should they. They should care about the book, and only the book. That’s a fine, honest, meritocratic approach. May the best book win!

That said, agents are obviously curious about the person behind the manuscript. So tell them something about yourself. It’s fine to be human here, rather than resume-style formal. It’s also OK to be quite brief. For example:

“I am a 41-year-old mother, with three children, two dogs, one husband, and the finest vegetable garden in the southwest.”

Why you wrote the book

If there is a real connection between who you are (a shrimp fisher, let’s say) and the book you’ve written (something to do with the sea and fishing) then it’s worth another sentence or two to tease that out a bit.

But don’t feel compelled to do that. In my case, I wrote a crime novel, just because I wanted to write one. I’m not a cop or ex-cop. I have no forensics expertise. I have no legal expertise. Or anything else relevant. And that doesn’t matter, of course – what matters is the quality of the book.

So if you have something good to say, say it. If you have nothing to say, then say nothing and don’t worry about it.

Your previous writing history

If you have some real background as a writer, then do say so. For example, you might have written a textbook or similar on a topic relevant to your own professional area. Or you might have won or been shortlisted for a major short story prize. Or perhaps you work as a journalist or copywriter. Or something similar.

If anything like that is the case, then do say so.

But if it’s not – don’t worry! We’ve seen a lot of agent query letters that say things like “I haven’t had much writing experience, but my English teacher always used to say that I would be a writer one day . . .” And, you know what? It just sounds feeble. So don’t say it.

Agents know that most slushpile submissions will be by complete newbie authors. And that’s fine. JK Rowling was a newbie once . . .

Writing a series?

If you are writing a series, then you should say so, much as I did in that sample letter above. Agents will like the fact that you recognise the series potential of your work and that you are committed to taking the steps needed to develop it.

What you don’t want to do, is sound overly rigid or arrogant. (“I have completed the first four novels in my  Lords of the Silver Sword  series, and have got complete chapter outlines for the next 11 titles. I am looking for a publisher who will commit fully to the series.” — if you write something like that, agents are likely to reject you out of hand.)

How Long Should Your Query Letter Be?

Your overall letter should not run to more than one page. (Except that non-fiction and literary authors can give themselves maybe a page and a half). And that’s it.

If you’ve written your query letter, and would like some feedback before querying agents, why not purchase an agent submission pack review from us.

We can help YOU get published. Did you know, we have a complete course on getting published? The course covers absolutely everything you need to know: how to prepare your manuscript, how to find agents, how to compile your shortlist, how to write your query letter and synopsis – and much, much more besides. That  course is quite expensive  to buy . . . so don’t buy it. The course is available completely free to members of Jericho Writers. Not just that course. You get our Agent Match tool for finding literary agents. You get our awesome How To Write course. Plus our members get regular opportunities to pitch their work live online to a panel of literary agents. Sounds good, doesn’t it?  So hop over here and find out more about joining us .

Query Letters: The Exceptions

OK, there are a few exceptions to the above rules. Of those, the two most important ones you need to know about are:

You Are Writing Literary Fiction

If you are writing genuinely high end literary fiction, agents will want you to strut a little, even in your query letter. So if you were writing about (Oh, I dunno) a fictional nun in 14th century Florence, you might talk a bit about the themes of your work and what inspired you to pick up this story.

This kind of thing:

“ I got the idea for this story, while working as a game warden one winter on the Hebridean island of Macvity. I was all alone and with a deeply unreliable internet connection. It occurred to me that my solitary life had its religious aspect and I became very interested in female monasticism. Blah, yadda, yadda, blah. ”

(Sorry for the blahs, but personally I like books that have corpses in them.)

The idea of this kind of approach is that you are selling the book (its themes, its resonances), but also you’re selling yourself – you’re showing that you can walk the talk as a literary writer.

You Are Writing Non-fiction And You Have A Remarkable Platform

Let’s say you are writing a cookbook and you have a couple of million people who subscribe to your YouTube channel. Or you are writing a book about motorcycle repair and you have a motorbike-themed blog with 250,000 monthly readers. In those cases, you have to delineate your platform in enough detail to convince an agent (and ultimately a publisher) that you are the right person to write this manuscript.

In those cases, then your query letter does need to outline your platform in sufficient detail. You may even want to kick that outline over into a separate document. However you handle it, the “one page query letter” rule can safely be binned. Your prospective agent wants to know what kind of platform you can supply – so tell her.

Oh yes: and having a website is not a platform. Having 10,000 followers on Twitter is impressive, but means nothing in the context of national or international marketing. In short: if you are going to make a big deal of your platform, your platform itself needs to be a big deal. That means having six- or seven-figure numbers to boast about. Nothing else will really cut it.

You Are Writing Non-fiction And You Have Extraordinary Authority

Much the same goes if you are (let’s say) writing a book of popular psychology and (like Daniel Kahnemann) just happen to have a Nobel Prize to wave around.

If you bring amazing authority to a topic, then you need to cover that, either in your query letter or a separate bio. Again, the one page rule just doesn’t apply.

What To Do If You Don’t Hear Back From Literary Agents

So. Let’s say you’ve got a shortlist of agents. You’ve checked those agents’ websites for their specific submission requirements – probably opening chapters + query letter + synopsis.

You use our query letter sample and write your own perfect query letter. You avoid any weak language, misspellings or grammatical howlers, of course.

You use our advice to put together your synopsis ( advice right here .) You don’t spend too long on writing the synopsis either, because if you use our techniques, that process is simplicity itself.

You read the opening chunk of your manuscript one last time – and follow our simple rules on  manuscript formatting .

And then – well, you send your stuff off.

You light some candles, pray to your favourite saints, tie a black cat into a knot and throw a mirror over a ladder. (Or under it? Or something to do with a wishing well? I’m not sure. Superstition isn’t my strong suit.)

Anyway. You get your stuff out to at least 6 agents and preferably more like 10-12. You wait an unfeasibly long amount of time – but let’s say 6-8 weeks as a rough guide.

What happens next? Well.

Rejections do happen, and are likely to happen even if you’ve written a great book. (Because agents have their hands full. Or just like a different sort of thing. Or have an author who is too directly competitive. Or anything else. It’s not always about you or your book.)

But if you send your material out to 10-12 agents, and find yourself being rejected, then you have to ask yourself:

Truthfully? The third of these issues is by far the most common.

If you’ve written a great book, and a rubbish query letter, you can still find an agent. The other way around? Never.

If you are confident that you’ve gone to the right agents, and have been rejected by 10+ people (or heard nothing after 8 weeks, which amonts to the exact same thing), then the probable truth is that your book is not yet strong enough for commercial publication.

And, you know what?

That’s not a big deal.

All books start out bad. Then they get better. So getting rejected is really just a signal that you still have further to travel down that road. ( Find out about the type of rejection letters to look out for here. )

Remember that getting third party editorial advice is the standard way of improving your work. We offer outstanding editorial help and  you can read all about it here .

Alternatively, join the Jericho Writers family, and you can get a ton of help absolutely free within your membership. Free courses on How To Write. Free courses on Getting Published. Free access to AgentMatch. And so much more.  Find out more here .

Happy writing, and good luck!

Jericho Writers is a  global membership group for writers , providing everything you need to get published. Keep up with our news, membership offers, and updates by  signing up to our newsletter . For more writing articles, take a look at our  blog page .

About the author

Harry has written a variety of books over the years, notching up multiple six-figure deals and relationships with each of the world’s three largest trade publishers. His work has been critically acclaimed across the globe, has been adapted for TV, and is currently the subject of a major new screen deal. He’s also written non-fiction, short stories, and has worked as ghost/editor on a number of exciting projects. Harry also self-publishes some of his work, and loves doing so. His Fiona Griffiths series in particular has done really well in the US, where it’s been self-published since 2015. View his website , his Amazon profile , his Twitter . He's been reviewed in Kirkus, the Boston Globe , USA Today , The Seattle Times , The Washington Post , Library Journal , Publishers Weekly , CulturMag (Germany), Frankfurter Allgemeine , The Daily Mail , The Sunday Times , The Daily Telegraph , The Guardian , and many other places besides. His work has appeared on TV, via Bonafide . And go take a look at what he thinks about Blick Rothenberg . You might also want to watch our " Blick Rothenberg - The Truth " video, if you want to know how badly an accountancy firm can behave.

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Jane Friedman

The Complete Guide to Query Letters

Query letters - how to write a query letter that gets manuscript requests

This post is regularly updated with new information.

The query letter has one purpose, and one purpose only: to seduce the agent or editor into reading or requesting your work. The query letter is so much of a sales piece that it’s quite possible to write one without having written a word of the manuscript. All it requires is a firm grasp of your story premise.

For some writers, the query will represent a completely different way of thinking about their book—because it means thinking about one’s work as a product to be sold. It helps to have some distance from your work to see its salable qualities.

This post focuses on query letters for novels, although the same advice applies to memoirists, because both novelists and memoirists are selling a story. Nonfiction book queries are addressed here .

Before you query

Novelists and most memoirists should have a finished and polished manuscript before they begin querying. However, some may be tempted to begin early because it can take so long to receive responses from agents and publishers. The thinking goes: Well, the agent probably won’t respond any earlier than a month anyway, and I’ll be done by then, so why not get a jump on it?

But what if the agent responds right away?

Or what if you’re not done in a month? What if you realize your manuscript needs a lot more work?

You’ll wish you hadn’t started querying. You may end up rushing your writing or editing process (undesirable to say the least), or admitting to the agent/editor that it will take you X weeks or months to follow up, by which point, their enthusiasm may have waned.

To avoid creating a high-pressure or awkward situation, I recommend you wait until you feel the manuscript is totally done—the best you can make it. That doesn’t mean you have to hire freelance editors or copyeditors or proofreaders, but it does mean fixing or revising anything you know needs attention.

4 elements of every query letter

I recommend your query include these elements, in no particular order (except the closing):

I consider personalization or customization of the query optional. More on that later.

Some agents and publishers require that you mention comparable or competitive titles. You can learn how to research your comps in this post.

In its entirety, the query shouldn’t run more than 1 page, single spaced, if printed, or somewhere around 200 to 450 words. I recommend brevity, especially if you lack confidence. Brevity gets you in less trouble. The more you try to explain, the more you’ll squeeze the life out of your story. So: Get in, get out.

Opening your query letter

Put your best foot forward, or lead with your strongest selling point. Here are the most common ways to begin a query:

Many writers don’t have referrals or conference meetings to fall back on, so the story becomes the lead for the query letter.

Personalizing the query letter: yes or no?

Your query is a sales tool, and good salespeople try to develop a rapport with their target. It can be helpful to show you’ve done your homework and that you’re not blasting indiscriminately. It can also set you apart from the large majority of writers querying—if it’s done meaningfully.

Here’s an example of a meaningful personalization: “The acknowledgments of The Ideal American mention you with praise, and F. Scott’s masterful work partly inspired my own novel.

If you personalize the query by saying, “I found you in Writer’s Market ,” or “I see from your website that you’re seeking mystery,” and you add nothing else, that’s not terribly meaningful. Try to say something that can’t be repeated by another writer or used in another query. Here I comment further on whether to personalize your query.

Identifying what you’re selling

Your book’s title, word count, and genre can be stated upfront, although often it’s better to wait until the end of the query to offer this housekeeping information.

Describing your story (the hook)

For most queries, the hook does all of the work in convincing the agent or editor to request your manuscript. Here are a couple formulas that can help you get started.

Here’s an example of a brief hook for The DaVinci Code :

Robert Langdon is an American academic and an expert in the symbols of the ancient world. While on business in Paris, he’s summoned to the scene of a grisly murder in the Louvre where he’s the main suspect. He must race across Europe, one step ahead of the police chasing him, to solve the murder and prove his innocence. In the process, he uncovers arcane messages hidden in the world’s best-known artworks, solves ancient puzzles, and ultimately discovers secrets about Jesus that could bring down the Catholic Church.

As part of this hook, you may need to establish the setting or time period right away; this is especially true for authors of historical fiction or science fiction and fantasy. For example: “My novel, SCI-FI EPIC, is set in the distant future where humans have abandoned earth and now live on the rings of Saturn.”

A good hook balances character and plot. By the end of the query, the reader should have an idea of why we care about the main character(s) but also the story problem or tension that keeps us turning pages.

While the hook formula looks simple—and it is—your story may sound rather boring when it’s boiled down to these elements.

When a hook is well written but boring, it offers the same old formula without distinction. The protagonist feels one-dimensional (or like every other protagonist), the story angle is something we’ve seen too many times.

The best hooks have some kind of twist or an element that helps your work stand out, that makes it uniquely yours. That is: the idea doesn’t feel derivative of existing bestsellers. For example: Every time an agent comes across a query featuring a YA protagonist with special powers acquired on his birthday, and he must figure out how to control these powers at an unfamiliar school, there’s a good chance the agent is going to pass unless there’s a dramatic twist.

How do you know if your idea is tired—by an agent’s standards? Well, this is why everyone tells writers to read and read and read . It builds your knowledge and experience of what’s been done before in your genre, as well as the conventions.

In Laurie Scheer’s  The Writer’s Advantage , she well demonstrates the difference between a boring story hook and an exciting one:

I have heard an eternity of pitches featuring women as victims, survivors, single mothers, etc. If someone pitches me a story about a 43-year-old unmarried woman who has had a successful career in advertising or law or pharmaceuticals or whatever, and decides at the last minute that her biological clock’s ticking and she wants to have a child … I will wait for the writer to tell me the rest of the story. And there is no rest of the story, because in their mind, that is their story. To which I say, “Who cares?” Seriously, who will care about that storyline? No one. We have seen numerous stories about women wanting to have children later in life. I could produce a list at least two pages long consisting of books and movies with this plot line. However, if one of the main characters is a 43-year-old single businesswoman having her first child and, at the same time, her 22-year-old niece is also having her first child—because the niece does not see the benefit of having a career and only wants to be supported by a rich husband—I suddenly see some conflict here.

Whenever I teach a class where we critique hooks, just about everyone can point out the hook’s problems and talk about how to improve them. Why? Because when you’re not the writer, you have distance from the work. When you do come across a great novel hook, it feels so natural and easy—like it was effortless to write.

Examples of brief story hooks

Every day, PublishersMarketplace lists book deals that were recently signed at major New York houses. It identifies the title, the author, the publisher/editor who bought the project, and the agent who sold it. It also offers a one-sentence description of the book. These sentences are inevitably well-crafted, and can help you better understand what is currently exciting to agents and publishers.

There are trends and fashions in publishing, and if you were to read the one-sentence description of every novel that sold in your genre in the last six months, you would see definite themes emerge.

While your query hook would get into more detail than the following two examples, these hooks help illustrate how much you can accomplish in just a line or two.

Bridget Boland’s DOULA, an emotionally controversial novel about a doula with a sixth sense [protagonist] who, while following her calling, has to confront a dark and uncertain future when standing trial for the death of her best friend’s baby [protagonist’s problem] [a doula with a sixth sense? cool.]

John Hornor Jacobs’s SOUTHERN GODS, in which a Memphis DJ [protagonist] hires a recent World War II veteran to find a mysterious bluesman whose music [protagonist’s problem] — broadcast at ever-shifting frequencies by a phantom radio station — is said to make living men insane and dead men rise [twist]

Check for red flags in your hook

How to tell if your hook could be improved:

Writing the bio in your query letter

For novelists, especially unpublished ones, I think it’s OK to leave out the bio if you can’t think of anything worth sharing. But it’s nice to put in something . 

The key to every detail in your bio is: Will it be meaningful—or perhaps charming—to the agent/editor? If you can’t confidently answer yes, leave it out. In order of importance, these are the categories of pertinent info.

If you have no meaningful publication credits, don’t try to invent any. If you have no professional credentials, no research to mention, no awards to your name—nothing notable at all to share—don’t apologize for it. Perhaps say something brief about yourself—where you live, your education, your day job, hobbies. Remember: Even if you’re unpublished, you’re still completely respectable. You’re mainly getting judged on the story premise, not your bio.

On the other end of the spectrum: Don’t talk about starting to write when you were in second grade. Don’t talk about how much you’ve improved your writing in the last few years. Don’t talk about how much you enjoy returning to writing in your retirement. Just mention a few highlights that prove your seriousness and devotion to the craft of writing. If unsure, leave it out.

If your bio can reveal something of your voice or personality, all the better. While the query isn’t the place to digress or mention irrelevant info, there’s something to be said for expressing something about yourself that gives insight into the kind of author you are—that ineffable you. Charm helps.

Novel queries don’t have to address market concerns

Don’t be tempted to elaborate on the audience or market for your novel. This is often misunderstood since nonfiction writers do have to talk about market concerns. However, when it comes to selling fiction , you don’t talk about the trends in the market, or about the target audience. You sell the story. I often encourage memoirists to follow the same principle and leave out readership information—save it for the book proposal if it’s requested.

Also, novelists don’t need to discuss their marketing plan or platform. Sometimes you might mention your website or blog, especially if you feel confident about its presentation. The truth is the agent/editor is going to Google you anyway, and find your website/blog whether you mention it or not (unless you’re writing under a different name).

While having an online presence helps show you’ll likely be a good marketer and promoter of your work—especially if you have a sizable readership already—it doesn’t say anything about your ability to write a great story. That said, if you have 100,000+ fans/readers on Wattpad or at your blog, that should be in your query letter.

Close your letter professionally

You don’t read much advice about how to close a query letter, perhaps because there’s not much to it, right? You say thanks and sign your name. But here’s how to leave a good final impression.

The following stuff doesn’t belong in the query

The submissions strategy I recommend

If you’d like to take a conservative approach, divide your agents into buckets: A list, B list, and everyone-else list. Try submitting in rounds of 5-10 at a time (depending on the size of your list), including 1-2 of each agent type. If your A list people immediately and favorably respond, then I’d send out another round right away, a mix of As and Bs, to see if you can gin up competing interest. If responses trickle in with no particular pattern or order, send another round within 2-4 weeks or so. At least every month, send another round until your list is exhausted.

If you immediately see a pattern in the response that indicates something’s amiss, you can adjust your approach for the next round of queries. The reason I recommend this conservative approach is it tends to be easier to manage psychologically. But there’s nothing wrong with sending out your materials to everyone on your list at once or sending in higher volume. It just means that you don’t get that “next chance” or opportunity to adjust your pitch later. (Once a rejection, always a rejection—or that should be your assumption.)

Query letter example for a novel

It’s the year 1200. Since succeeding to the papacy two years ago, Pope Innocent III has been agitating for a new crusade, one that will finally conquer Muslim-controlled Jerusalem. But European monarchs ignore his call, too involved in squabbling amongst themselves.

So the Pope turns to two of his trusted men with a mission: to seek out the powerful Presbyter John, an unknown king in the Far East, who has promised to put his vast armies in service to the Pope’s Crusade. But it requires traveling through the treacherous political, religious and mercantile terrain of medieval Europe.

One of the emissaries is Mauro, an older monk who uses logic and reason to deepen his faith. The other man is Nicolo, a young Genoese merchant striving to improve his family’s fortune and his own place in the world. Nicolo is supposed to lead and guide the mission, but the young man carries secret orders from a corrupt Cardinal.

THE EMISSARIES (96,000 words) is an adventure tale solidly grounded in historical fact about the search for Presbyter John. The book will appeal to readers of historical fiction in the style of Ken Follett ( Pillars of the Earth ) and Noah Gordon ( The Physician ), and also to readers seeking the accessible social critique of Amitav Ghosh ( Sea of Poppies , the Ibis Trilogy).

I did research for The Emissaries in most of the locations mentioned in the book. I have lived and worked in over fifty countries and received numerous international awards for my work in social and trade justice. My nonfiction book, Javatrekker: Dispatches from the World of Fair Trade Coffee (Chelsea Green, 2008) received a Publishers Weekly Starred Review and the Gold Medal as Best Travel Essay Book from the Independent Publishers Association. I have been the on-air host of two recent PBS specials (“Coffee: The Drink That Changed America” and “Traveling in the 1970s”), and speak regularly at universities and conferences on issues of social justice, international trade and the environment.

Thanks for your consideration.

Special advice on email queries

Email queries and queries submitted through online forms tend to get read and rejected more quickly than snail mail queries (which are rarely accepted these days, in fact). Depending on your situation, you may end up creating two separate versions of your query letter, one for email and another for printing/mailing.

Here’s the formatting process I recommend for email queries specifically:

Email queries benefit from shorter paragraphs and/or more paragraph breaks—unless the agent insists everything be contained within three large, outsized paragraphs. That is a very backward requirement that only makes things harder for everyone, but follow such guidelines if you must.

If you have an email address for an editor/agent who doesn’t accept email queries, you can try sending your query on a hope and a prayer, but you probably won’t receive a response.   In fact, I’ve heard many writers complain that they never receive a response from email queries. (Sometimes silence is the new rejection.) This is a phenomenon that must be regrettably accepted. Send one follow-up to inquire, but don’t keep sending emails to figure out if your query was received.

You’ve sent your query—now what?

If you don’t hear back, follow up after the stated response time using the same method as the original query. If no response time is given, wait about 1 month. If querying via snail mail, include another copy of the query. If you still don’t hear back after one follow-up attempt, assume it’s a rejection, and move on. Do not phone or visit.

If an agent asks for an exclusive read on your manuscript, that means no one else can read the manuscript while they’re considering it. I don’t recommend granting an exclusive unless it’s for a very short period (maybe 2 weeks).

In non-exclusive situations (which should be most situations): If you have a second request for the manuscript before you hear back from the first agent, then as a courtesy, let the second agent know it’s also under consideration elsewhere (though you needn’t say with whom). If the second agent offers you representation first, go back to the first agent and let her know you’ve been made an offer, and give her a chance to respond.

Additional resources on query letters

Looking for more?

Jane Friedman 2020

Jane Friedman ( @JaneFriedman ) has nearly 25 years of experience in the media & publishing industry. She is the publisher of The Hot Sheet , the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors, and was named Publishing Commentator of the Year by Digital Book World in 2019.

In addition to being a professor with The Great Courses ( How to Publish Your Book ), she is the author of The Business of Being a Writer (University of Chicago Press), which received a starred review from Library Journal.

Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as Digital Book World and Frankfurt Book Fair, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.


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Tiffany Hawk, Writing Coach

How to Write a Query Letter That Wows Literary Agents + Template

How to write a query letter. Photo by Dinesh Boaz

You’ve got a great book, but now you have to write something that might feel even harder — a knockout query letter.  

If you’re struggling to write your query and cursing their very existence, don’t worry, I completely agree. They suck. 

They’re also a necessary evil, so today I’ll cover:

Why you need a killer query

Exactly what agents look for as they skim their slush pile

The #1 secret to getting an agent's attention

How to quickly appeal to their taste and demonstrate your book is a good read

What it takes for agents to see you as a pro

How to use my query letter template 

Why you need a killer query letter

I  desperately  wish I could say the query is nothing to fret over or that the brilliance of your book will shine through a so-so pitch. But I’d be lying. No matter how terrific your manuscript is, without a strong query, no agent is going to bother setting eyes on page one. 

If that seems unfair, take a step back and look at it from their perspective. They skim the promotional emails in their slammed-full inbox just like you and I do. Don’t forget what your query is—a sales pitch.              

One of the hardest things to get through a writer’s head—mine included—is that agents are not anything like teachers. When we submit a story or a pitch, it’s all too easy to imagine publishing gatekeepers sitting at their desk reviewing each submission like it’s a stack of essays to be graded.

We understand that they might deem our work unworthy, but what we forget is how unlikely they are to even read past the first sentence.

Lest you get upset, I’ll remind you again that not only do you do the same thing with your junk mail, you even do it with books.

How often have you stood at the bookstore and read a line or two of the book, or even just the back cover, before deciding it isn’t for you? And you’re only being asked to spend a few bucks and a few hours reading that book for pleasure. An agent is being asked to devote years of their life to your book  and  stake their livelihood on its success! 

In my post  Why You’re Not Hearing Back from Literary Agents , I explain the five main reasons agents will reject your book, and one of the most likely ones is that your query sucks. Even if the book itself is great. 

I’ve had several clients hit a wall with agents until they rewrote their queries. Then, once their queries were dialed in, they started getting frequent requests without changing a word of the book!

So today, I want to talk about what agents are looking for as they skim your pitch + how to give it to them by using a template.

Is it formulaic? Yep. That’s by design. By clearly laying out the key points they expect to see in a standard format, you’re making the agent’s job easier. The structure of your query is not the place to be original! 

What agents look for while skimming


A book that is:

Finished, if it’s fiction. ( Nonfiction calls for a well-developed and convincing book proposal .)

Is in a genre they represent

Fits their taste in tone and style

Sounds like a compelling read

Is written by an author who shows professionalism and who can help publishers get word out

What do I mean by finished?

On the most basic level, finished means you’ve written to The End. Definitely don’t start pitching a novel if you’re not done.

Nonfiction can be sold on proposal, but you still need to lay out a summary of each chapter through the end.

Finished also means that the word count is within an acceptable range. For mainstream adult fiction, that’s generally between about 70,000 and 100,000 words. ( Much more detail on word count in this post .)

Stray very far outside of that and you’re going to raise a red flag. Again, this sounds annoyingly formulaic, but these numbers aren’t arbitrary. A 50,000-word novel is usually not fully developed, and a 150,000-word novel is probably poorly edited and bogged down with filler. 

Either way, if you’re way short or way long, you’re probably not finished. 

Obviously, you already know not to waste an agent’s time, or yours, by pitching a romance novel to someone whose list is dominated by political thrillers or literary essay collections.  

But there’s a lot more to it than that. 

You want them to quickly see that you’ve written in a genre they represent, as well as a subgenre they regularly sell, and that the book is similar to other books on their list in tone or topic or style. You can determine that by researching agents’ sales histories, Manuscript Wish Lists, interviews etc.  

Demonstrate that your book is a great read

I know it’s exceptionally hard to boil your book down to a paragraph or two, but it’s crucial to get this right.  

There are two primary ways to do this.  

Using only the most essential details, make it clear that you have a compelling protagonist, and make his or her story arc clear.

Be specific not generic

Besides cut-and-paste jobs blasted out indiscriminately all over New York, the second most common mistake I see authors make with their queries is that they focus on themes at the expense of story, saying things like “this is a story of love and loss” or “guilt and redemption.” Or they try to sell the book with subjective claims like “page-turning” or “thought-provoking.”

The problem? None of that says anything. It’s all so generic that it could apply to practically every other book on their shelves and in their inbox. 

The secret is to get specific about how your book is special. When in doubt, ask yourself if there’s any chance the agent could mistake it for another book. If so, you’re doomed. Your story should sound like nothing else. 

Which book would you rather read?  

“A provocative and assured novel of morality and miracles, science and sacrifice set in the Amazon rainforest. It delivers an enthrallingly innovative tale of aspiration, exploration, and attachment. It is a gripping adventure story and a profound look at the difficult choices we make in the name of discovery and love.” 

Now, we’d all love it if a reviewer spoke so highly of our books, but as a sales pitch – a query or back cover copy – it tells us nothing. Besides a hint of adventure in an Amazon setting, that could describe any number of books. That summary is nothing but themes and subjective claims.  

Let’s try this again with the same book.  

“Dr. Marina Singh, a research scientist with a pharmaceutical company, is sent to track down her former mentor, Dr. Annick Swenson, who seems to have all but disappeared in the Amazon while working on what is destined to be an extremely valuable new drug. Nothing about the assignment is easy: not only does no one know where Dr. Swenson is, but the last person who was sent to find her, Marina's research partner Anders Eckman, died before he could complete his mission. Plagued by trepidation, Marina embarks on an odyssey into the jungle in hopes of finding Dr. Swenson as well as answers to troubling questions about her friend's death, the state of her company's future, and her own past.”

Both descriptions are fair, and in fact the first description is what Amazon actually uses for Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder , but they can only get away with that because of her fame. The second one, which you’ll find on Patchett’s own website, is far more engaging because it brings to life a specific character with a specific problem in a unique situation. 

Describing your entire novel in a one page query letter may feel impossible (it does to me!). Thankfully there’s a standard but effective formula you can follow, spicing it up with your own style.

First, I'll introduce the query letter formula, and then I'll show you exactly how to rock each section.

Section one  should do two things. It should demonstrate that you’re a savvy professional pitching this particular literary agent for a reason. (I’ll tell you  how to personalize your opening below.) Next, it should quickly introduce your book.

Section two  should tell the agent about the story and leave them wanting more.

Optionally, you can  compare your novel to other similar books. (More on how to find those books below.)

Section three  of your query should introduce you and your background. (Don’t worry if you’ve never published anything before. There are plenty of other things to say.)

Section 1:  Your Query’s Opening

This is the place to show an agent that you know who they are, that you targeted them for a reason, and that you’re not blindly sending this same query to a thousand agents you found online, most of whom are not a fit. 

The goal here is not to kiss up or stroke the agent’s ego. It’s to show that you know who they are and what they like and that you have a reason for querying them specifically.  

Next, quickly introduce your novel with title, word count, and genre.

This can be extremely simple. For example, “I’m hoping you will consider my 83,000-word historical novel, [Insert Your Title Here].” 

Section 2: The Story

This is the really hard part. You’ll want to summarize your book in one or  maybe  two paragraphs. This means leaving out A LOT! You need to be specific enough that they understand who and what the book is about, but the goal is not to give them a  CliffsNotes  rundown of the entire plot. It’s to get them to read more.

In other words, the job of a query letter is to paint your book into a pretty little box that they can instantly understand BUT at the same time make it seem special and like nothing else they’ve read before. 

If that sounds challenging, start by filling in these blanks:

MAIN CHARACTER, a ______________, desperately wants to _____________, but _____________ is getting in the way. To reach his/her goal, character tries _____________ but that plan fails because of _____________.  

Once you have the bird’s eye view of your story, add in some specific details about the characters, their location, and the lurking danger. Avoid being generic. Help them see how your character’s situation is unique.

Section 3: Your Bio

If you have any writing credentials, this is the place to mention them. Definitely include your publications or awards or your MFA. If you’ve been selected for a prestigious conference or residency, include that.

Section 4: The Closing

End with a short, polite closing. Something as basic as, “Thank you for your time and consideration” is perfectly professional. If their submission instructions ask for additional materials like the synopsis or opening chapters, mention those attachments here.

In the end 

I know it’s daunting, but your book is worth it! I can’t make this process fun, but I can try to make it a little easier and a lot more effective.

What do you think? Are you going to personalize your queries? Do you feel ready? Let me know your thoughts and concerns in the comments.


Keep reading…

6 Things You Must Do Before Querying Agents. (Number 5 is key.)

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All queries must be submitted through Query Manager. Visit our Agents page to determine who will be the best fit for your work. Please do not query more than one agent at Ladderbird at a time. If two agents like your work it could result in bloodshed and we try to keep that to a minimum. Each agent uses their own Query Me page, (links can be found after their bios). Make sure you're sending your work to the right person.  


Please fill in all questions in Query Manager. Here are some helpful hints:

Include your writing credentials, but also include something about yourself. If you were a former foot model, we want to hear that! We like to get to know our authors. This bio should be no more than four or five sentences. 


Make sure your synopsis covers the major plot points, but don't get sidetracked by all your wonderful subplots. We'll learn about those in the manuscript. Also, please make sure your synopsis gives a feel for who your characters are and what their individual arcs are. The inimitable Jane Friedman offers some excellent advice. Please take a look if you're having difficulty coming up with just the right words.  How to Write a Novel Synopsis  


 Almost as bad as writing the synopsis, right? And what's worse, not every agent likes them. But we do! We want books that are on the market and share themes, or touch the same audience. Eric Smith gives a nice take on how to figure out what to comp.  How to Find Comps . 


Bio, including credentials.

Why are you qualified to write on this particular subject, what skills, history, etc... do you bring to the table?  


Much like fiction, we need a query to give us a brief idea of what the book is about and why it's important. As always Jane Friedman offers sage advice.  ​How to Write a Nonfiction Query Letter   


 This can be anywhere from a couple of paragraphs to a whole page describing the intention of the project and what gap in the market it is serving. Who needs to read this and why?  


What do you intend to do to promote your book? 


This needs to tell us exactly what the project is about and should be between one and three pages.   


We like annotated outlines where the premise of each chapter is given in a paragraph or two.  


This should be a few paragraphs to a page on who the likely audience is for this book. Be as specific as possible. Are there people who watch certain shows or read certain books? Think about any crossover appeal your project has and who your secondary audience might be.   


You've told us all about you, now who else are you going to reach out to that will endorse and promote the book? Are you best friends with a celebrity? Do you hang out in a group chat with an internet influencer who said that they're dying to see this project on the shelves? Do you play pool with a great book reviewer? We want to know all of it.    


We like to see at least five good comps, but no more than ten. Write a paragraph or so for each book explaining why they are similar to your project and what space your project fills in that is not covered by the comp. 


So important for nonfiction! We have had really wonderful authors forget to include this information and have sadly had to pass on otherwise very worthy projects. Don't let that be you! We want to know your social media outreach (including if you have followers with their own large followings who are excited about your project). Are you on any boards in related fields where you might sell your project? Have you won any related awards? Do you have any secondary interests that might crossover? Give us as much as you can!  


These need to be the first chapters of the project, and they should really showcase your writing. We want compelling, beautiful writing that hooks us from page one! 

how to write a literary agent query

How to Write and Publish Children's Books

How to Write a Literary Agent Query Letter

There are a lot of “how to write a query letter” articles out there about what not to do. A lot . And I’m going to write some here in short order. But this is a different article. An article on how to approach a literary agent query letter, just so you can see my philosophy on queries.

literary agent query letter

How to Write a Query Letter: The Beginning

Want to know how to write a literary agent query letter? It’s simple, really:

Make me care .

Cut out the cutesy jokes, the rhetorical questions, the extraneous subplots, the superfluous biographical details and get to the heart of your story.

Start simply, without a lot of throat-clearing, and get to the point:

Dear Name, I’m writing to you because you represented BOOK/because I saw you at CONFERENCE/because I like your philosophy of WHATEVER. I’ve got a complete manuscript I want to tell you about: MY BOOK, a WORD COUNT – length novel for AGE GROUP.

So far, so good. Personalize the literary agent query letter and then give them the bare bones details of what your project is.

The Key to Writing a Fiction Query Letter

Now we get the meat (read more about the elements of a query letter ). The meat is a longer paragraph (or two shorter paragraphs) that creatively presents the answers to the following questions:

The above questions are essential to a complete story. They are, in effect, designed to get you thinking about the most important elements of your book.  They’re also the key in terms of how to write a query letter that’ll grab an agent’s attention. The funny thing is, when I read the answers to these questions, I start to care about the character! I start wishing I could read the whole story! (For more on this topic, check out my post on writing fiction that makes readers care.)

Unfortunately, you can’t just present the above information in Q&A format. These are the questions you’ll have to answer in prose, in a maximum of two paragraphs, in a style that tells the agent something about you, your book and your voice. Yes. It is moderately difficult to do. But now you’ve got tons of ideas for how to pull it off and what the meat of your query should include.

How to Write a Query Letter: The Closing

Then, you’ll finish your literary agent query letter with:

Voila! Now you have a query letter format that hits the very heart of your story, doesn’t waste any space and makes the agent or editor reading it care about the character and the character’s journey.

This is by no means the only answer to questions about how to write a query letter, but it does cut to the chase rather simply and brilliantly, doesn’t it?

Need a query letter editor ? I’ve seen tens of thousands of queries, and I can help yours stand out in the slush pile.

27 Replies to “How to Write a Literary Agent Query Letter”

Great post. I’ll keep this in mind. Thanks for the simple format too!

Besides taking someone by the hand and writing the letter for him, this entry is the next best thing. One of the most important parts (as stated above) is to let the editor know why you chose to query him/her over, say, other colleagues in the office.

Fantastic that you inverted the reasoning and provided the most useful advice so far on writing query letters. Thank you!

Thanks for the info. You have done a great job of explaining the process of writing a query letter.

Good stuff. Thanks for putting this together. I do have a question or two (knowing that this is an old post 🙂 sorry)

What about jumping straight into the query synopsis after the “Dear (Agent)” salutation, and sticking the “I am seeking representation for X” at the end?

Also, I’ve been adding a sentence that goes something like this: “(Book title) will appeal to fans of (author) and (author)” — is this a pro or con?

Kristen — No worries that it’s an old post, I’ll respond in the next few weeks so that everyone can get some clarification on these questions.

Thanks for this post – I found your list of WHO/WHAT/WHEN/WHERE questions really informative – useful for focusing the query on the key story elements.

I’ve got the same question as Kirsten on the reference sentence – “(Book title) is a mashup of (title) and (title) with a great new twist” or some such.

I’ve read having those reference titles is very useful when it comes to selling the MS, and I can really see how it would capture the imagination, if done carefully. On the other hand I’ve heard some people say that it’s presumptuous and/or not necessary.

I’d love your thoughts on the subject.

I’m sure I’ve read it before, but you said it in a way that makes perfect and genuine sense. Make ’em care. Got it. Thanks.

Thank You! This is the first time I’ve seen a query broken down to its basic elements. You know, instead of just saying “Don’t call it a fiction novel” or “Don’t mention you think your novel would make a great film.” While the dont’s are helpful, the do’s are far more important, IMO.

Cheers, Debra

Such an insightful post! I’ve been tearing my hair out for weeks, trying to get my query just right. Maybe I just need to keep it simple, eh? Thanks for all of your advice!

This has been the most helpful tool I’ve come across for writing a query. Thank you.

Wow, this information is so very helpful to me. Thanks so much!

I think it’s important to hear this advice from an agent, someone who actually deals with query letter! -j.p.

Love the list of questions, very helpful and something I obviously didn’t have in mind during my first query letter. I’ve done a little post on my blog covering the last five queries I did for a project and it’s still not there, breaking it down with these questions stuck to the screen next to me will be very helpful for the one millionth draft!

I’m still trying to clarify my story arc, so your 6 Ws can help me with that. Even trying to write a query letter to myself for a WIP would be a good exercise.

I like the valuable info you provide in your articles. I’ll bookmark your weblog and test once more right here frequently. I’m relatively sure I’ll be informed many new stuff proper right here! Good luck for the next!

Hi Mary, So six years later… Editors/agents want a great hook. But these days, does it help at all to include links to a Pinterest page with images/facts/videos about the time period for an historical novel? What about websites that could provide promotional venues related to the theme of your novel (i.e. A Mighty Girl or Amelia Bloomer project)? Can you sense I’m desperate? 😉

More super helpful advice! Thank you! “Make me care”, what a great goal in our query writing and in our story writing too!

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How to Write a Query Letter, with Examples (2023)

how to write a literary agent query

by Fija Callaghan

Updated Dec 13, 2022

Writing and finishing a book is one of the most demanding, strenuous, and ultimately rewarding tasks anyone can do. Now that you’ve gotten through that first monumental hurdle, finding an audience for it is your next step. Usually to do that, you need to reach out to literary agents to represent you and your work, and to do that , you need to master the art of writing query letters.

Learning how to write a compelling query letter is a skill just like any other, and it’s not a hard one to learn, either. In this article we’ll guide you through everything you need in order to craft a query letter that’ll knock any agent’s socks off and get your story where it needs to be: in the hands of readers who will love it and share it with others.

Let’s dive in and learn how to write a successful query letter together!

What is a query letter?

In the publishing industry, a query letter is both a brief introduction to your book, and a request to the literary agent to consider partnering with you to represent you and your book to publishers. You’ll sometimes see query letters being called “book pitches” or “book proposals.”

Your query letter will introduce literary agents to your book, your writer’s voice , and your unique writing style. It’ll also give them an idea as to why your book is one the world needs to read, and why you think they should enter in to a business relationship with you to help your book get published.

A query letter is your first step in becoming a traditionally published author.

Successful query letters should get literary agents excited about reading your work. If your letter is well written and engaging, it’ll make them feel like they have something special on their hands that readers everywhere are going to love.

Do you need to write a query letter to get a book published?

Writing a query letter is a huge part of the publishing process, but is it necessary? Not entirely, but it certainly will make your life a lot easier in the long run.

Finding a literary agent is the only way into the “Big Five” of traditional publishing—the major publishing houses that dominates most contemporary publishing.

If you go into a major chain bookshop like Barnes and Noble, chances are everything you see on the shelves came from a Big Five publishing house. And they all began with query letters.

A successful query letter will help your book reach more readers.

However, if you’re looking to market a self-published book rather than sending your book to a traditional publisher, you won’t need a literary agent to liaise for you. Self-published authors are responsible for getting their book out into readers’ hands without any representatives in between.

There are also smaller, independent publishing houses that accept submissions directly from authors rather than (or in addition to) from agents.

However, dealing with publishers directly can be complex—a literary agent will ensure you get the best possible deal.

How to write a query letter to a literary agent

A query letter is a short, one-page letter: usually around 3—4 paragraphs. In the first paragraph you’ll introduce yourself, the second paragraph will introduce your book, and the closing paragraphs will convince the agent the two of you are a great match.

Try to keep your query from spilling over more than one page. Most agents get dozens if not hundreds of these every day, so brevity is your happy place. You’ll need to make your query letter shine and catch their attention quickly and succinctly if you’re going to stand out from the crowd.

The process if a little bit different if you’re a nonfiction writer; a nonfiction book proposal follows a different format than querying for fiction. Here, we’ll look at the essential steps to include when you begin querying agents for your first novel.

1. The agent’s name

Simple, right? And yet, many writers sink themselves right at this very first sentence. These days, most literary agents prefer to be addressed by their first name: “Dear Sarah.” Not , “To whom it may concern,” “Dear Agent,” “Dear XXX Literary Agency” (bonus life lost if it’s the wrong agency), or “Dear lucky winner.”

You’ll be able to find the name of the specific agent on their agency’s website (they might have their own, or they might be part of a larger company with multiple agents), along with the genres they represent. You can use this information to make sure that they’re a good fit for your work.

Super top-secret insider intel pro tip: get the agent’s name right.

2. Where you found them and why you’d be a good match

There are many online resources for finding literary agencies to represent your work, like online agency listings.

Another good place for researching agents is the contact pages of authors who write in your genre—often contact pages will direct inquiries through the writer’s agent instead of going directly to the writer.

It’s important that you don’t cast too wide a net when you seek representation—even in the best case scenario where a grab-bag agent does take on your book, they might not have the best insight into the particular market you’re suited for.

More likely, an agent you picked at random will see that you didn’t do your research and politely decline. Try and get an agent interested who loves the kind of work that you do, then mention it in your query letter.

3. Your book title, genre, and word count

Your manuscript’s genre word count are two of the most important pieces of information the agent needs to know. You can include these specific details anywhere in your query letter—but make sure to include them!

A query letter without a genre or word count is going to go straight to an agent’s trash bin.

4. A one-sentence pitch that will make them want to read more

Think about what the tagline would be on the cover of your book. This sales pitch sometimes called the “hook.” Is your book “ Star Wars meets Pride and Prejudice ”? Is it “ Ender’s Game reimagined with hippogriffs”? “If Game of Thrones took place in 1960s California”?

References to comparable titles are helpful for the agent to mentally place your story, but make sure you mention what makes yours unique (this is sometimes called your “unique selling point,” or “USP”).

This juxtaposition is what will hook a literary agent and make them consider your work more carefully.

A catchy hook is the key to a knockout query letter.

The pitch might be the most important part of a query letter. It’s so important that whole writing conferences, like the New York Pitch Conference and (the now-defunct) Pitch Wars, have sprung up to carefully hone a writer’s pitch to an agent. Compose yours carefully—we’ll share some tips on writing great hooks below.

5. A quick summary of your book

Now that you’ve got their attention, you can dive a little deeper into what your story’s about. Briefly describe your tormented yet ultimately empathetic protagonist , the environment in which your story takes place , and the conflict that launches the story into action .

This is the sort of thing you might read on the back of a book or on an Amazon product page—short enough to be absorbed in about a minute, but clear enough to tell someone what to expect from your book.

6. Some background information about you

This isn’t a resume or a play-by-play biography, but it’s helpful to write just a few sentences about yourself and your writing credentials.

If you have a creative writing degree, or if you’ve had short stories published in literary journals or been recognised by any awards, this is a good time to mention them as part of your writing experience.

In addition to your writing credits, you can also mention any unique life experiences that give you a particularly powerful perspective from which to tell this story.

Don’t forget to tell the agent what makes you special as a writer.

Remember: This should just be one or two sentences. Don’t overwhelm the agent with paragraphs of your whole life story. They don’t have time to read that, and most of it isn’t relevant to them representing your book.

7. Any other information the agent specifically asks for

Some agents may have special requirements for query letters addressed to them, like including the first few pages of your manuscript or a detailed summary of the entire plot.

If the agent you’re pitching has requirements like that, make sure to follow them to the letter . If you don’t, the agent will think your letter is a generic one sent to many other agents, or that you didn’t care enough to research them personally, and they’ll immediately trash your query letter.

Tips for writing a great hook in a query letter

We have an entire article dedicated to writing a great hook that you might want to check out. But here is some helpful advice to get you started.

To get an agent’s attention, you’ll need to have a effective and short pitch for your book—this is called “the hook.”

This is usually a catchy one-sentence summary. Whether you know it or not, you come across hooks every time you look at a story premise and decide whether or not you want to invest in reading it. If a book’s hook is successful, you’ll want to start reading immediately. If the hook isn’t successful, you’ll put it down and choose something else.

Your agent will make the same choice when they’re deciding whether to not to represent you.

1. Describe the protagonist and their conflict

Your hook should center around your protagonist and their immediate conflict, because that’s what drives a story’s plot.

You don’t need to recount the entire story, but you may include one or two extra characters if you think they give context to some of the choices your protagonist faces.

2. Include a plot twist to make it stand out

Make sure your hook pitches your story in a way that’s uniquely yours, so that it’s not a regurgitation of any old novel in your chosen genre.

The agent understands that your work will have been influenced by the stories you’ve read and loved, but they need to see that what you’re offering them is something new—something the world has never seen before.

In a busy world full of novels, what makes yours different?

3. Don’t make the hook too long

Hooks exist to catch an agent’s attention, not to summarize your entire novel—that’s what your book’s synopsis is for. If your hook is more than about 300 words, see if you can trim it down to the more essential details.

Remember that your entire query letter shouldn’t be more than one page.

An example of an effective hook

Consider the following hook:

Mortimer Folchart has a unique gift: he can read characters out of books and into the real world. The problem is that anytime something comes out, something else has to go in. When he accidentally reads a terrible villain out of a story and his wife winds up in the story world instead, he sets events into motion that will change his life—and his daughter’s—forever.

Sounds like a pretty great story, doesn’t it? It is, in fact, the hook behind Cornelia Funke’s bestselling fantasy novel Inkheart .

Here we see who the main character is, what makes them unique, and the stage for the central conflict of the story. In just a few words we understand what has already been lost and what he still has the potential to lose, raising the stakes even further.

The key to a great hook is to say just enough that the agent or the reader will want to keep reading, and to leave enough unsaid that we can imagine numerous possibilities for where the story might go.

4 mistakes to avoid in your query letter

See? It’s not so hard. But when we’re learning how to write a query letter for the first time, there are a few pitfalls that inexperienced writers can get caught on.

Here are three of the biggest mistakes to watch out for when writing your query letter.

1. Don’t stray from the formula

Agents get a huge number of query letters every day, so having each one follow this basic formula makes it easier for agents to get through all of their email.

Trying to get cute and doing something wacky and different isn’t going to make your query letter stand out—it’s going to make the agent roll their eyes and delete it, because they’re too busy for that kind of stuff.

Writers are creative types, but this time, save it for the novel.

Your query letter isn’t the time to be creative and different. Your agent is going to be your business partner, and sticking to the formula above will ensure that your query letter makes a professional impression.

Save your creativity for your manuscript.

2. Don’t CC twenty different agents on the same email

Imagine you’re using a dating app, and someone sends you a generic message— and you can actually see the list of twenty names at the top that the message went out to. Chances are, you’re going to think this person is only after one thing and doesn’t really care who gives it to them. Swipe left, please.

If an agent sees a slew of other email addresses at the top of your email, they’re going to know that you didn’t do your research and are just spamming anyone with an email address.

To find the right agent for your book, make sure every query letter that you write is personalised to reach one particular agent and make a connection with them.

3. Don’t begin your query letter with “Dear Sirs”

We’ve talked about the power of first names, but it’s also important to realise how rampant sexism is in the publishing industry , even in this day in age. Starting your query letter without considering the agent’s gender will get your query letter binned so fast that you’ll feel the whiplash even across the country.

Instead of a generic opening like “Dear Sirs” or even “Dear Sir or Madam,” write the agent’s first name if you know it, or their last name if you don’t. It’s just as easy, and much more personal.

4. Don’t talk yourself down

As a new writer it’s understandable to feel uncertain about your work, especially if you’ve been brought up reading the great masters of literature. But be careful not to let negative attitudes towards yourself infiltrate your query letter.

Remember to sell your confidence! Even if you have to pretend for a little while.

It’s amazing how many query letters contain phrases like, “I wonder if there’s the slightest possibility you might be willing to represent my humble work?” or “I’d be eternally grateful if you could take a leap of faith on a hopeful first novel.”

Again, imagine a dating app. You’re not asking the literary agent for a favour—you’re offering them a mutually beneficial, collaborative business opportunity. Be confident in yourself!

5.Don’t query before your book is ready

One of the quickest ways to black-mark yourself in the publishing industry is to begin querying literary agents before you’ve finished writing your book—or even before you’re started!

Ideas are great, but they will never make you (or a literary agent) money. What you need is a saleable product.

Before you begin your query letter, make sure you have a polished manuscript ready to go that is completely free of typos, ideally one that’s been looked over by a professional editor. If an agent responds to your query letter asking to view a full manuscript, you need to be able to send it off right away—not in another six months.

! DO. NOT. Query a fiction agent before you’ve written a novel. !

Query letter example

Here’s a very simple query letter template for you to dress up with your own unique story and voice.

Dear [Agent’s first name], I am seeking representation for my [genre] novel, [Title]. I came across your name [however you found them] and I think that my work would be a good fit for you. [Title] is a [your book’s word count] word novel about [your quick-and-dirty tagline that will make them want to read more]. [Your protagonist] is a [one-line description of your character] living in [your amazing setting]. But all of that changes when [your plot]. My previous work has appeared in [various magazines, literary journals, contests, etc.] and my unique experiences in [occupation, educational program, cool anecdote] have given me an insight into the lives of [something to do with your story]. Thank you for your time in considering my work. I look forward to hearing from you. Sincerely, [Your name]

What to do if the agent doesn’t respond to your query letter

So you’ve sent your artfully crafted query letter. Now all you have to do is sit back and wait. And wait.… And wait. But what do you do if you never hear back? When is it okay to reach out again?

Literary agents are incredibly busy reviewing query letters, reading manuscripts, liaising with publishers, and securing book deals for their authors—all the things you’re hoping that they’ll start doing for you. It’s normal for them to take a while to respond to your query letter.

In general, expect to wait around three months before reaching out to them again.

After three months have passed, double check their agency website to see if their submission guidelines offer any insight into wait times. They might mention how many weeks or months they usually take to respond to a query letter, or they might note that if you haven’t heard back from them within a certain window of time, they’re not interested.

Not every agent will respond to let you know they’ve decided to pass on your work, but there should be a guideline to this effect on their website.

If it’s been at least three months, and their submission guidelines don’t answer your question, you can send the agent a quick, respectful message following up on your query letter. If they don’t respond to that, then they’re probably unable to represent you, and you should move on.

If at first you don’t succeed, keep going! Someone out there will love your work.

How to write a follow up to a query letter

A follow up to a query letter should be short and straight to the point, but with enough information that your agent can easily locate your original email. Here’s a simple template that you can use:

Dear [Agent’s first name], I am writing to follow up on my email sent on [Whenever you sent it] regarding my [genre] novel “[your brilliant work]”. Could you please provide me with an update on my submission? I appreciate your time in considering my work. Kind regards, [Your cool-headed self]

In your follow up, you’ve included the date of your original message and the genre, which will help jog their memory so that they can track it down quickly. You don’t need to rehash your original query letter; they’ll be able to find it by looking through their mail, or if it’s been misplaced, they’ll reply asking for more information.

At this point you’ve started a conversation, which is always a great first step.

Knowing how to write a successful query letter can launch your literary career

If you want to get published, then writing a query letter is as much of an essential skill as writing a novel. Even when it seems like all the hard work is done when your book is finished, knowing how to write a query letter that’s effective and engaging can open the gates to the next stage in your writing career.

And when your query letter lands in the hands of the right literary agent, it may even create a rewarding professional partnership that can last a lifetime.

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How to Write a Literary Agent Query Letter

by Literary Agent News | 5 December, 2022 | Looking for a Literary Agent

Home » Literary Agent Blog » Looking for a Literary Agent » How to Write a Literary Agent Query Letter

This article about how to write a literary agent query letter, by Mark Malatesta, is part of the Literary Agent Submissions  section of our free 15-part Guide About How to Get a Book Agent . This article was first published in the inaugural edition of the  Publishers Weekly Book Publishing Almanac , a collaboration between Publishers Weekly and Skyhorse Publishing, one of the fastest-growing publishers with 56 New York Times bestsellers, distributed by Simon & Schuster.

Book publishing agent in suit inviting authors to read about how to write a query letter to a literary agent

How to Write a Query Letter to a Literary Agent by Mark Malatesta

First published in the Publishers Weekly Book Publishing Almanac, a collaboration between Publishers Weekly and Skyhorse Publishing

Cover of the Publishers Weekly Book Publishing Almanac including an article by Mark Malatesta about how to write a literary agent query letter

Authors are often confused about how to write a literary agent query letter. That’s because most query letter “experts” have limited experience—or the wrong type of experience.

One source of “how to write a query letter” information is book agents, but their advice is based on reading queries rather than writing them. In addition, publishing agents usually give advice based on their personal opinions and preferences. In other words, they say to write queries a certain way because that’s what they like. With more than one thousand book agents, it’s no wonder there’s a lot of conflicting information out there.

Another source of “how to write a query letter to a literary agent” info is published authors, who sometimes share the queries that landed them agents. But these aren’t reliable models either. One reason is that they represent just one author’s experience, which is limited. Another reason is some of those letters aren’t great. (Yes, sometimes authors get agents despite mediocre queries. And yes, a bit of luck is occasionally involved in publishing.)

Instead of relying on luck when writing a query letter to a literary agent—or modeling what one book agent recommended or one author has written—write your literary agent query letter using principles that have helped hundreds of authors get literary representation and/or book deals, with traditional publishers such as Random House, Harper Collins, Simon & Schuster, Harcourt, and Thomas Nelson. Some authors who’ve used this method have gotten multiple offers for representation from agents and multiple offers from publishers.

Writing a Literary Agent Query Letter

Group of book publishing agents inviting authors to learn how to write a literary agent query letter

Literary Agent Query Letter

Book agents and authors explain how to write a literary agent query letter on a basic or “micro” level. In other words, they mainly share what they believe should be the main parts of a query. I’m going to do that too, but I’m also going to share four “big picture” fundamentals. Understanding them will help you make you and your book look as appealing as possible.

1. Include Items most Likely to Help – How to Write a Query Letter to a Literary Agent

Sounds obvious, but when writing a query letter to a literary agent it isn’t always clear what’s most important to share. Only include information showing: a) what your target market is, b) what your book is about, c) what your book is similar to and how it’s unique, and d) that you’re professional, pleasant to work with, uniquely qualified to write a book like yours, and both willing and able to get exposure for your book. With that information, publishing agents can make an informed decision instead of incorrect assumptions.

2. Arrange Everything in the Best Order – How to Write a Query Letter to a Literary Agent

Most authors assume book agents are going to read their entire query letter. Instead, assume they’re only going to read the first sentence. And, if that sentence pulls them in—or doesn’t trip them up—they’ll read the next sentence. And so on. That’s why it’s critical, if you have something you must share in your query letter that might turn literary agents off, that you put it near the end of a literary agent query letter. And that’s why you should start the query letter with your best thing. What that “best thing” is varies for each book and author.

Examples of your best thing are a highly unusual book premise; you being one of the only people on the planet with access to some of the information in your book; an article you’ve written having been published in a major print or online media outlet; or that you have 50,000 social media followers. Examples of things you might want to put at the end of your query include that your word count is excessively low or high (each genre has different expectations); or that your book has already been published (something most agents don’t like).

The best tip you’ll ever get about how to write a literary agent query letter is to get some traction and momentum in your query before you address something difficult. Start your query with the most impressive item, followed by your book title, word count, and genre, along with a 1- or 2-sentence description. And, for the small number of book agents for whom you can do so, tell them why you believe—based on what you’ve seen in their bios and/or on their websites—they might like a book like the one you’re pitching.

If the above information “hooks” the publishing agent, they’ll then want to know more about your book. So, the next part of your literary agent query letter should be a paragraph or two about that. Think 6 to 12 lines of text, like the copy you’d find on the book’s back cover. Though most author representatives don’t require it, you should follow the above with another 6 to 12 lines of text comparing/contrasting your book with similar titles by other authors. Doing so will help agents get a better feel for what your work is like, it will give them the impression you’re knowledgeable about your competition, and it will give them the sense you might be doing something special.

Lastly, include another 6 to 12 lines of text telling the publishing agent about yourself. Things that show any of the following: you’re educated, professional, coachable, have had leadership positions, or that you understand success, business, advertising, marketing, or media; you’re a good writer and/or uniquely qualified to write a book like yours; and you have the time, connections, resources, skill, and desire to get exposure and sell books. You don’t need all those things, but any/all those things will make you more attractive to book agents.

3. Omit Items That Don’t Matter or Could Hurt Your Odds With Literary Agents – How to Write a Query Letter to a Literary Agent

Many authors unwittingly volunteer information they should, for the moment, keep to themselves instead of putting them in a literary agent query letter. For example, the number of queries the author has sent out unsuccessfully; or any information that isn’t relevant to the book. If it’s not going to make publishing agents believe you’re the best person to write and/or promote your book, leave it out.

4. Make Your Query Letter Concise – How to Write a Query Letter to a Literary Agent

In most cases, your literary agent query letter shouldn’t be more than one single-spaced page. Include everything you believe should be included. Then put everything in the best order. After that, do one last edit to make the query tight. As you likely know, successful people—including literary agents and publishing house executives—move fast. They must, to survive. Top agents get 10–15k queries a year, so you can lose them if you ramble or you’re redundant. Instead, present everything as outlined above. Give agents exactly what they want and need to sell your book, and they’ll trust you more because of it.

In a perfect world, authors would not need to learn how to write a literary agent query letter. Instead, book agents would just read every author’s manuscript. But that’s now how it is. We all must work within the system we’re in. For example, I could write a book about how to write a query (and one day I will), but when I was invited to write this article, I was told it should be no more than 1,250 words. So, guess what? It’s 1,250 words. Make every word count.

This article about how to write a literary agent query letter was created by former publishing agent turned author coach Mark Malatesta , creator of The Directory of Literary Agents , host of Ask a Book Agent , and founder of Literary Agent Undercover and The Bestselling Author .

Mark has helped hundreds of authors get offers from literary agents and/or traditional publishers. Writers of all  Book Genres  have used our  Literary Agent Advice coaching/consulting to get the  Top Literary Agents at the Best Literary Agencies  on our List of Book Agents .

How to write a literary agent query letter – Next Steps

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How I Got My Book Agent

Successful Authors

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Thanks in part to your query letter, manuscript suggestions, and support prioritizing agents, I received multiple offers from agents. Within two weeks of sending out the first query, I knew who I was going to sign with. I value our friendship.

N E L S O N . J O H N S O N

NY Times bestselling author of  Boardwalk Empire , produced by Martin Scorsese for HBO, and Darrow's Nightmare: The Forgotten Story of America's Most Famous Trial Lawyer

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After following your advice, my book was acquired, the prestigious PW gave it a great review, and Time Magazine asked for an excerpt. Thank you for believing in my book, and for helping me share the surprising truth about women’s most popular body part!

L E S L I E . L E H R

Author of A Boob's Life: How America's Obsession Shaped Me―and You , published by Pegasus Books, distributed by Simon & Schuster and now in development for a TV series by Salma Hayek for HBO Max

LL Book Cover posted by Get a Literary Agent Guide

Fine Print Lit got publishers bidding against each other [for my book]. I ended up signing a contract with Thomas Nelson (an imprint of Harper Collins) for what I’ve been told by several people is a very large advance. What cloud is higher than 9?

S C O T T . L E R E T T E

Author of The Unbreakable Boy (Thomas Nelson/Harper Collins), adapted to feature film with Lionsgate starring Zachary Levi, Amy Acker, and Patricia Heaton

SL Book Cover for TUB with photo of boy on beach with jester hat at sunset, posted by Get a Literary Agent Guide

AHHH! OMG, it happened! You helped me get three offers for representation from top literary agents! A short time later I signed a publishing contract. After that, my agent sold my next book. I’m in heaven!

M I R I . L E S H E M . P E L L Y

Author/illustrator of Penny and the Plain Piece of Paper (Penguin Books/Philomel), Scribble & Author (Kane Miller), and other children’s picture books

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Interviews/Tips from Successful Authors

Fiction/General - J. Jago Fiction/Mystery - B. Harper Fiction/Mainstream - K. Cox Fiction/Christian - K. Sargent Nonfiction/Business - D. Hamme Nonfiction/Self-Help - A. Goddard Nonfiction/Environment - J. Biemer Nonfiction/Diversity - S. Peer Narrative Nonfiction - D. Cohen Memoir/Women - L. Lehr Memoir/Christian - S. LeRette Memoir/Family/Identity - S. Foti Memoir/Multicultural - N. Aronheim Memoir/Inspirational - L. Subramani Memoir/Mainstream - E. Armstrong Children's/Pic Book - M. Leshem-Pelly Children's/Chapter Book - J. Agee Children's/YA - C. Plum-Ucci Children's/YA - D. Bester Children's/YA - L. Moe

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how to write a literary agent query

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How To Write A Query Letter

We’ve worked with many creative writers over the years to perfect their query letters—whether we’re helping to improve on an existing query or putting our heads together and starting from scratch. We’ve helped many writers learn to pitch literary agents via queries! Our query letter tool kit is your secret weapon!

We sincerely hope the free articles below will make your life a bit easier when it comes time to approach literary agents with your query. Good luck! (Oh—and if you want our help, you know where to find us !)

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How-To Basics:

The Ultimate Query Letter Tool Kit

The Ultimate Query Letter Tool Kit  by Writer’s Relief offers you an easy-to-follow, step-by-step blueprint for writing a successful query letter using proven marketing techniques that get results.

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Writing A Blurb Or Mini-Synopsis F or Your Book

Writing A Bio That Shines

12 Things To Definitely Brag About In Your Query Or Cover Letter. 12 things to brag about and include when writing the author bio in your query letter or cover letter.

You Wrote A Query Letter: What Next?

Submission Etiquette

Related Issues

A Couple More Links We Like

Another query letter article with sound advice

Final Thoughts

Please bear in mind that knowing how to write a good query letter is only one tiny piece of making a successful connection with a literary agent. You’ll also need do a lot of research to find the agents who are appropriate for your query (and eliminate those who aren’t appropriate). And, of course, the strength, originality, and marketability of your book will be a major contributing factor to your success. If you would like to submit your book for consideration at Writer’s Relief, view our submission guidelines .

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by Kate Sullivan | 24 comments

how to write a query letter to get book deal

If you’re looking to get a traditional publishing deal, a great query letter is a must.

But it seems like a dark art: what do agents and editors want to see in that first moment of contact? How do you cut through all the clutter and get the agent to actually read your note, instead of skimming and trashing it like so many others?

Most importantly, how do you get someone to request your full manuscript for review from just a teeny little one-page note?

A Great Query Letter Sells Your Book

From that perspective, a query letter is a marketing piece—it’s a 30-second written commercial intended to get a  literary agent  or editor at a publishing company to read your manuscript, review your book proposal, or read your submitted sample chapters.

Different publishers have different  submission guidelines. Some require you to write a full book proposal , while others only ask you to only submit a few sample chapters, and still others may require you to submit your full and completed manuscript for review.

But no matter what your addressee’s submission guidelines are, you’ll still need to write a great query letter to get them to open your email and review your submission in the first place.

How to Write a Query Letter

Follow our formula to learn how to write a query letter that works:

Personalization + Statistics + Hook + Synopsis + Bio + Closing = Query

1. make it personal.

Lead off your query letter by customizing it for the agent or editor you’re writing to. Do your research; show that you’ve spent some time figuring out who’s a good fit for your work and why.

Agents and editors know that you’re submitting to a dozen or more different places. That’s normal and fine. What they need to see is that you’re not spamming them—if they have no interest in historical romance but you send them an Edwardian bodice-ripper, you’re not only going to get nowhere with your query, but you’re also going to tick the person off. It might seem like that doesn’t matter, but you might have a project that’s a better fit someday and end up regretting having torpedoed that relationship by failing to do your homework.

Personalizing the query letter doesn’t have to be a lengthy thing. Just mention why you’re writing to this agent, editor, or publisher specifically. Here’s some examples:

Mention any personal referral from another author or anyone in your network, whether you’ve met the agent or editor in person at a conference or workshop, if you’ve attended a speaking engagement they were at, or any other personal connection you might have.

None of those apply? No worries! Just mention that you know the person is interested in your specific genre—either from a listing on their website or because they’ve recently had success publishing something similar—and go from there.

2. Know Your Market and Statistics

Variable 2 in the query letter formula is the statistics for your book. Outline up front what the agent or editor can expect to deal with. This is simple: title, genre, approximate word count, and whether the book is part of a series.

Yes, you have to include the word count. Yes, the book has to be complete. You should never send out query letters before the book is done and has been revised at least once—if it’s not ready to go immediately, what will you do if the agent or editor requests to see the full manuscript right away? Look like a fool as you try to get around the request or ask for a delay without burning any bridges. Never a good situation.

If it’s relevant, you can also include no more than one or two examples of books that may have targeted a similar audience. Don’t fall back on the tired old cliché of “Dan Brown meets Jodi Picoult” here—use specific examples that show you’ve done your market research.

The statistics line in your query letter may look something like this:

Follow our free  guide to book market research  and go through that process before attempting to query agents or publishers.

3. Include a Great Hook

Next up in our formula is the most important bit: the hook. This is where you grab your reader’s attention with a one-sentence tagline explaining what the heck your book is about.

This may be the most important piece of marketing copy you’ll ever write for your book, so take your time and get it right. Distill the essence of your book into a single sentence (don’t worry, it can be a long one) and put it all out there.

For instance:

4. Synopsis

The book synopsis picks up where your hook line leaves off. In 300 words or less—a single paragraph—you now explain the who, why, and how of your book.

Who is your main character? What tantalizing situation do they find themselves in? What is at stake?

Describe the arc of the story as vividly as you can, but leave out secondary/tangential characters, side plots, and the ultimate conclusion—leave your reader aching to find out what happens so they have to request the full manuscript to get to the conclusion!

The best way to write a synopsis is to sit down and completely summarize your book, then start crossing stuff out. Whittle it down to 200-300 words, then get friends and colleagues to read your description. Find out what confuses them and what engages them, then revise accordingly.

It’ll probably take quite a few tries to get this right… but it’s a key part of the query letter formula. You need to give enough detail to show what sets your book apart from others—the sizzle and spark that makes it unique—but not so much that it bogs things down. Keep it lean, mean, and streamlined.

5. Include Your Bio

Include a little information about yourself and why you’re the best possible person to write this book. For nonfiction, this is particularly important—you want to show that you’re an expert in a relevant area and demonstrate your platform.

In fiction, you don’t need to worry so much about establishing your credentials. In fact, unless you have an MFA from a prestigious program or you’ve won some major awards, it’s often best not to bother with outlining professional credentials at all.

When in doubt, just include one or two basic bits of background about yourself and leave it at that. Unless you have a huge personal platform already, agents and editors are more interested in the quality of your writing than your 15 years as a kindergarten teacher.

6. Make the Closing Brief

Keep the closing short and sweet. Thank the person reading for their time and consideration, then mention that the full manuscript is available upon request. If you’re writing nonfiction and you haven’t completed the manuscript due to the volume of research required, mention that a complete pitch package is available upon request.

Sign off with a formal closing, like “sincerely” or “best regards” and you’re done.

Sample Query Letters for Nonfiction and Fiction

To begin drafting your query letter template, you should start by researching and reading some successful query letters.

A “successful” query letter is a query letter that got somebody (hopefully you!) a book deal. If you model your query letter based on the best elements of successful query letters, you’ll have a much better shot of getting the agent’s or editor’s attention.

You can  browse hundreds of successful query letters here,  and here’s a great  list of successful nonfiction query letters.

When you’re drafting your query letter, make sure you’re modeling successful query letters from authors with books  in your market or genre.  Modeling your query letter for a business book based on the query letter for a memoir may very well lead you astray.

The more successful query letters you read, the easier it will be to write a professional query letter.

More Tips for Querying Agents

While the query letter formula gets everything you need out there quickly and efficiently, there are still a few other things you can do to increase your chances of success.

1. Write short, snappy sentences.

Publishing professionals never have enough time in the day. Skimming is a way of life. So make their lives easier by keeping your sentences short and streamlined and keeping paragraphs small. It’s easier to digest—and the agent or editor is more likely to remember what they’ve read.

2. Use a similar tone to your book.

Although the formula doesn’t leave a lot of wiggle room and you should certainly never veer off into left field with an outrageously innovative query letter that, say, takes the form of an interpretive dance video, you have some flexibility in the tone you use.

If your book is a humor novel, lighten up your Personalization, Bio, and Closing sections a bit. If it’s a spy thriller, punch things up with more action. Just be sure that the essential elements are covered and you’re not spending too much time attempting to show how funny, clever, or smart you are. The query letter is about your book and its plot—nothing more, nothing less.

3. Don’t write fluff.

There’s no need to guess at the audience for your work or anticipate their reaction. You’re adding nothing by injecting your opinions or hopes for how audiences will connect with your work—let it stand on its own merits.

Likewise, you don’t need to articulate the major themes in your work. You’re not writing to a college literature class—you’re marketing your book to an agent or editor. Restrict your description to the plot arc.

Examples of fluff include statements like “I believe young readers will connect strongly with my heroine” or “This book’s themes of everyday heroism and quiet self-confidence are perfect for our troubled times.”

4. Follow the submission guidelines.

I can’t stress this one enough: Follow the submission guidelines. Follow the submission guidelines . FOLLOW THE SUBMISSION GUIDELINES.

Read up on the agent, editor, or publisher you’re submitting to. Do they want only a query letter? Do they want a query letter plus a certain number of pages? Do they want the full manuscript right away?

What format do they want any samples in: RTF, Word, pasted directly into the email? Should samples be double-spaced? In a certain font?

Do they have a preference for electronic or print submissions?

No matter what they ask, even if it involves standing on your head and whistling Twinkle Twinkle Little Star , if you’re interested in working with this person, do your best to follow along.

Follow this simple formula and you’ll be turning out great query letters in no time!

Now that you’ve learned how to write a query letter, you’ll be on your way to getting a great literary agent.

Finding Literary Agents to Query

Looking to start querying literary agents? Check out our lists of literary agents in your genre to find the right agent for your book.

Did you find this post helpful? Let us know in the comments below!

For more on how to succeed in traditional publishing, read on:

Kate Sullivan

Kate Sullivan is an editor with experience in every aspect of the publishing industry, from editorial to marketing to cover and interior design.

In her career, Kate has edited millions of words and helped dozens of bestselling, award-winning authors grow their careers and do what they love!


happy wheels

We appreciate you taking the time to explain the structure and provide some illustrations to help us understand it better. For the first time in a long time, I feel safe.

Michael Lambert

So grateful to have found your post! I’ve spent 2 1/2 years working on my first manuscript. It’s done! It felt like I just drove off a cliff when I finished the second draft. Now, I can thoughtfully move into the next phase of this experience. Much appreciated!

Kaelyn Barron

We hope the post helps you write some great query letters, Michael! You already did the hard work of finishing your book, now you just have to find it a home! :)

Louis Desforges

Hi Kaelyn – after an exhaustive search, I landed on your post, and it helped cut through the clutter and provided a bit of hope – thank you! I am a self-published children’s book writer focused on diversity in STEM. I am looking for a literary agent, yet clueless of the right (best) place to start. I look forward to any guidance you can share.

Hi Louis, I’m glad you found the post helpful! :) I would start by checking out this list of children’s book literary agents and focus on those searching for books related to science or education.

Reba Hervas

Hi, After years of keeping my theatrical works to myself and producing them in-house at a not -for profit I was involved in starting, I think I’d like to see if I could get them published. I believe that I would need to acquire a literary agent? That genre is not listed above and I would love any help pointing me in the right direction. Thank you!

Hi Reba, you might want to start with this list of play publishers or our post on how to publish a play . I don’t think all of them require an agent, but I’ll work on a list for that too.

Rod E. Packer, Ph.D

Great initial guidance. Sadly, my “genre” is tiny: “projecting current overpop/global warming into 2029->2089…has to be fiction, but based on current hard-facts. Alienates everyone who denies current human overpopulation of double to quadruple. My publications were in late 1980s on “Computers in Investing” (Reston, etc. books) I’m now 90 yrs. old…never published “fiction”..but have a 3rd draft of 45,000 words. Toffler interviewed me at a “Think Tank” for his “Future Shock”. Rod Packer

Hi Rod, sounds interesting. Are you looking for an agent or publisher?

Yes, Kaelyn..I’ll need an Agent. If you’ll read a brief “Query”, I’ll send it in an eMail, including a couple of early Chapters and my credentials. “NovoCiety”, a Future Documentary covers 2029 to 2089, and next week’s fiasco in Scotland’s “Climate” annual on backing out on Coal mining closure is already preparing my readership (potentially several million). I’ll send the Query eMail if you’ll provide you eAddress. -Rod

Hi Rod, I’m actually not an agent, but you’re welcome to submit your book to us for publishing consideration. You can find detailed instructions on our submissions page

Rod E. Packer, Ph.D

Summary: A “Future Documentary” 2029 to 2089″ on Overpopulation driving Global Warming. Highly competent Supreme Court Justices CLERKS, without Justices knowledge, form club including dozens of wealthy parents/contacts, to buy up Earth areas to become MORE liveable in next 3 generations (mainly So.Island, New Zealand). Their NovoCiety attracts highly skilled scientists, futurists, and needful workers in vineyards, sheep/deer farms, and computing tech. As leading nations fail, China–leader–sees takeover of NovoCiety as its ideal survival action.

Credentials: Yale/USC/Uof Minn.”Mass Communications” Ph.D My career spanned “Think Tanks” (beginning with G.Dynamics BARTransit proposal for its RapidTransit loops), initial development of Circle K & my monthly “Tomorrow’s Convenience Stores nationally, then books (Reston, etc.) and articles (Science Digest) on use of computers in investment, etc. (all in 1980s-90)…my 1st fiction effort–at age 90 (3rd Draft: 60K. words)

After several Foreword/Prologue pages on this story’s relevant Science/MassCommunications, here are several opening pages:

A vacant warehouse in Washington, DCs closest industrial fringe to the pristine U.S. Supreme Court:

It was late Wednesday evening, early October, 2028. Washington D.C.’s growing summer heat–usually faded by late September, still hovered in mid-90s this evening. The U.S. and most of the world had hotter Summers and warmer Falls each year. Neither the U.N. nor most nations recognized the sharp need to phase-out atmospheric pollution. Oil was yet pumped and refined for society’s electricity and vehicle fuel. Coal mines had NOT shut down as “scheduled” years earlier–particularly in China and Germany–each had promised early shut-downs. Politicians were dragging their feet on anti-global warming “targets”–always slipping one new decade away. In short–decades were now wasted in UN pledges to slow or stop atmospheric pollution and Earth’s steadily higher temperatures.

Large sky-lights above the assembled four dozen Clerks of the Supreme Court exhausted the high room’s heat to barely bearable–if not comfort-level. Someone was ‘calling to order’ this first official, but secretive meeting of the yet unofficial new “ClerksClub”–with no Supreme Court Justices’ permission for their unusual undertaking. The 30-foot square room hung in the top corner of a decrepit old warehouse on the fringe of an industrial district within walking distance of the Supreme Court. Nondescript, vacant, cooled via the huge open skylites–plus an attractive rental cost (free) made this an acceptable–if not plush nor ideal–meeting site for these young and underpaid law clerks. It was 10pm. All these “Clerks of the Supreme Court” had climbed the 22 steps to reach this high-hung “Meeting Room” in its vacant building. It snugly fit their meeting purpose: a frugal, secret “clubhouse”. There were not enough folding chairs, but was a firm wooden box for speakers. The unpublicized time-and-place, hand circulated “off-Web”, had worked well.

Brian Stanford, in his late 20s, and second in his 2028 Yale Lawschool class, had come to the room’s front to approach “the Box” in the room’s inner corner (opposite the stairs), pushing “Down..down!” with his hands. His Clerk- audience stopped milling. Brian was still unsure how to “Open” strongly: Again he mulled to himself: “Tonight is the ‘Start’ of…of..what?” Brian, an “outstanding” law scholar to his “profs”, stood six-foot, white, blue-eyed–noted by some of the two-dozen females of the four-dozen Clerks. His “Grab a chair, all!..let’s get started! became his clever “Opening”. But, at least there was no Court Justice to critique them up here! So…Time to speak! His compact audience: settled and silent. Brian took a deep breath and began:

“Good Evening, Justice Clerks! All present, it seems! Even better, NOT present is even one Supreme Justice .. they all are probably sound asleep–having been appointed “late” in what each hopes, along with his backers, will be a very long life!” ( Supportive laughter!) “Our quiet, still queasy Supreme Clerks Club has, managed months of quiet plans toward goal: actively advancing our supposedly already “advance society” toward more dynamic and consciencious goals for a still-young 21st Century. It is a world that WE–not our respected, but aging Justices–must live much further into. A world we hope will not be worsening with an unliveable climate–that some climatologists see climbing to above 140-plus ! And that’s “Fahrenheit”–not Law Degrees!” (Brian’s feeble joke brought feeble groans). Look around you: Our crop of Clerks would seem admirable: Carefully selected as half male, half Goddesses–I mean women, of course. And maybe a Gay or two–they “deserve”. Races run from a Native American thru White, Black, Latino, Asian –some of us not totally up on our various racial roots! We have professed Catholics, Jews, Protestants, a Muslim, an open Atheist or two..and several “Undecideds”. That’s fine. It mirrors major cases that are coming before our current Court, for fair decision by a Court’s, itself, of carefully “balances” appointments. Many Supreme Court preoccupations and decisions were reflected in our Clerks’ selections. But where are the deep, decisive Supreme Court decisions on world energy monopolies, the U.S. stalemated 2-Party system, the Court’s striking down flagrant gerrymandering, secret funding of political campaigns, legal, or illegal restrictions on voting, wild “printing” of unbacked dollars by the trillions, and most to the point: Strong ruling aids in building renewable energy–to significantly slow major global warming–as it is pushed ever upward, by unfettered, unwise- -even unnoticed explosion of humans from 2.5 Billion to over 8 Billion in only 125 years! Is that really “legal”? Could this Court–on which some of us dream of becoming later-life Justices–actually rule on over-population policies on a future day ? Most of you might mirror my impressions.–or reflect even stronger opinions that could get one in our public position quickly discharged. That’s why our meetings will be careful, cautious–and in late evenings. Such outlandish hope is not openly permissable just yet. seeking to save Humanity from soon being incinerated in extreme temperatures is beyond “normal” in many quarters–some of them legally influential. Trying to hold back future high-tides possibly up by feet higher–as ices melt in Greenland and Antarctic glaciers and slip into the seas!: That’s obviously “physical”. But some questions are legal or political: like being blown-to-bits in an insanely created radioactive cloud–because “The Bomb” is still hoarded by “advanced” powers…”just-in-case”. We remain responsible “law-clerks”. Not a weird batch of unbalance minds–running wild against society. So let us proceed in a sane manner. It won’t be easy: So who volunteers to voice baby-steps toward our modest goal of “saving this, our world, from itself?”

Brian cedes his “soapbox” in the dingy room to Denise Buendonado–whose well-assembled shape draws male ClerkClubbers’ attention even before she speaks. Denise charges right in: “Our law schooling gave us mountains of murky facts buried in mountains of miniscule data.: The point? to Extract useful TRUTHS, and form concise legal opinions! Wow! You well know how this legal smorgasbord has moved us from Law School to our Supreme Court bewilderment. In “Mock Court”, obstacles were flagged as: deliberate obscurities. But too many lawyers want self-advancement more than winning –to please a judge, not advance legal precedent and principles. Let’s push that kind of Bar aside for this Club’s broad “extra- judicial” new goal–to nudge society away from its plunge into more overpopulation, deteriorated climate or even into nuclear destruction. Our Club’s first focus? I’d propose recruiting others, like-minded, with more seasoned wisdom–and particularly with wealth acquired by many fortunate elders who are like-minded with our goals. Many happen to be our parents: surprise ! They are wiser than we! We must then make early and active use of our new pools of knowledge, capital and “know-how” to accomplish new objectives as we gradually define them…using that “save-the-earth” priority that we bring–neglected by current society leadership. The underlying cause of Earth’s dilemma, “over-population” we must always attack at all angles.

Denise, just warming up ..continues: “Our Club must launch programs and groups intent on reversing deadly abuses of Earth’s forests, oceans and resources by billions of overpopulating “consumers”, but rarely producers. The ClerksClub is unseasoned and certainly underfunded after our years of costly education. But we can be a logical touchstone for starting real, positive actions leading to permanent programs. Where will find the determination and the billions in capital toward our goal? Certainly not from among our Supreme Court Justices–for all of their highest special authority. As the pathetic prisoner said to his companion, both chained to the wall: “’s my plan!…” But..” Denise said after feeble laughs: “Sadly, our Don Quijote altruism looks, as we try to get underway, too much like that chained prisoner’s plan. So let’s begin with top-of-our -heads offerings from Club members right here & now–concepts for funnelling our early efforts into a strong start. After all, our project’s time-schedule will measure, not in months..but probably in decades, long after our Supreme Court Clerkships!!” Denise–now done–stepped back down into the group.

And..slowly, on this awkward warehouse perch, a green but growing “altruism” DID come into being. These “green” ambitious activists’ mood morphed from nebulous to impetus. Brian recognized the importance of Denise’s call for immediate ideas, and he breathed a hopeful sigh. Awakened specifics began pouring from numerous short speeches: Suggestions and ideas and funding plans, even early suggested projects. And surprisingly, this young ClerksClub took shape–even from this initial meeting–a permanent, positive action group–clearly divorced from their specified duties to the U.S. Supreme Justices.

At first lull, a large, swarthy male Clerk stood up: “Hi!..Stride Browning here: “It’s hardly surprising that our Clerks’ Club has wide-ranging ideas about improving–even saving society for our own families later lives. We’d like seeing ourselves successfully showing Society how to rein-in overpopulation and suicidal Global Warming. We may believe it will be in political battles within each nation: to convince people that their Party policies must reflect life-threatening realities if overpopulation continues–a tough sell!. But most of us are “born pessimists”. I’m among them: We see true success only in abandoning the inertia of current world societies and slowly building what I’ve heard here termed a separate “NovoCiety”. It must consist of willing “pilgrims” into a positive, stable new way of life, separated from the burdensome politics and regulated “inertias” of today’s established nations. And it has to mature, through intensive education of its OWN following generations, to understand the positive power of Stability–not eternal Growth…of individual effort, not society’s “support” of ever-shallower youths. That task may prove longer and tougher than we here hope. But let’s start soon–perhaps on New Zealand’s suggested South Island –with a reality that we can begin by shaping own small society through insightful “trial & error”. Even if “multi-generational” our can best succeed best by our “getting going” right now. As our Earth overheats, we’ll be ready to provide the “escape hatch” for each generation’s awakening to the Earth’s growing desperation. We certainly cannot just “extemporize” as our lives grow ever hotter & more unliveable. Sorry to state aloud what most of you know. But it’s really time to move our intended project “off-the-dime”! NovoCiety is the name I’ve hear proposed. And as such, it could well become a three or four-generational task. “OK..I’m telling myself: CUT”.. I’m being too verbose. .too wordy. Shut up, sit down.” And he did.

I’m in good expectancy about 96-7..Earth events are already shaping up as conceived (especially back-downs on shutting COAL production worldwide). My readership should only grow through 2020s. – Rod Packer, Ph.D.

Nick Olsen

Greetings to you,

I am looking for a literary agent who handle inspirational poetry. I just completed a collection of poetry based upon my perspective and experience life through covid 19

Hi Nick, thanks for your comment! You might find this list of poetry agents helpful

Kelly Petrie

Good morning. I am looking for a literary agent in the children’s book area. I reside in Canada 6 months and in Florida 6 months.

Hi Kelly, you can find a list of children’s book literary agents here

Dr. Rev. Alfredo Lopez Cortes

Good morning, and God bless you, Kaelyn Barron. I am seeking a list of Christian Literary Agents who handle Non-Fiction Christian Books. I am primarily seeking to be published with a traditional publisher, something I have in prayer with God. I have written 7-Christian books; 1-Memoir book on Child Abuse; and am presently writting an Action packed Thriller. I have also written over 2,000 poems under three headings: 1-Christian; 2-General; 3-Love, both in English and in Spanish. Hope you can help me with a list of agents. Thank you so much, and may God bless you in the name of Jesus. Amen. Yours truly, Dr. Rev. Alfredo Lopez Cortes

Hi Dr. Rev. Cortes, we have this list of Christian literary agents that includes nonfiction representatives. I hope that helps! :) and may God bless you too


Thank you for demystifying the format and providing concrete examples. I’m not scared anymore.

I’m so glad you found this post helpful for writing query letters, Aaron!

Joseph Frazzetta

do you have a list of literary agents in NYC?

Hi Joseph, we don’t have a list of agents specific to certain regions. However, we do have many lists by genre. Which genre are you interested in?


This is such useful information written in concise, easy-to-follow steps. Thank you! I am a new writer with a completed novel and sequel and I’m just starting the process of acquiring an agent.

I’m so happy you found the post helpful, Sharri! Best of luck with your search :) let us know if you have any questions!

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How to Format an Email Query for Literary Agents

Home » Get a Literary Agent – Free Audio & Article Series » How to Format an Email Query for Literary Agents

How to format an email query for literary agents

This article is part of a 17-part series called Get a Literary Agent for your Fiction, Nonfiction, or Children’s Book .

How to Format an Email Query for Literary Agents – Seven Tips

Although I’m giving you guidelines about how to format a query letter for literary agents, some literary agencies have their own requirements. So, you might want to check individual agency guidelines on how to format an email query for literary agents there before you submit to them.

format an email query for literary agents rules

Now the seven tips on how to format an email query for literary agents…

1 – Subject Line How to Format an Email Query for Literary Agents

It’s critical that literary agencies understand your email is a query, so start your subject line with the word “Query.”  That will keep any agents from getting confused and/or wasting time trying to figure out what you want.

email query for literary agents subject

After the word query, list your book title and genre or category. The title makes it easier for a literary agency to find your email later (most literary agencies get hundreds of submissions a week). The genre lets the literary agency instantly know who the email needs to be forwarded to, if it’s not a one man (or woman) operation.

For example:

2 – Font How to Format an Email Query for Literary Agents

The standard is New Courier or Times New Roman (12 point). Don’t use colored type, images, or background stationery.

query for literary agents font

3 – Salutation or Greeting

There are over one thousand literary agents in the United States alone, and they all have different interests. Getting an agent’s name right is a sign that you’ve done your research and your submission is well-targeted. “Dear Agent” is almost guaranteed to get an instant rejection.

Make sure you use a colon after the agents name, not a comma, since query letters are business letters. And specify the agent’s gender by using “Mr.” or “Ms.” Stick with the more formal “Dear” …instead of something more casual like “Hi,” “Hey,” “Hello,” “Yo,” “Dude,” or “What’s Up!” (yes, I’ve seen it all).

email query for literary agents greeting

Here’s how your greeting should look:

4 – Email Body How to Format an Email Query for Literary Agents

Left-justify your text. Don’t indent your paragraphs. Double-space between paragraphs but everything else should be single-spaced. Capitalize and italicize  your book title (like any other book title). You can also put your book title in all CAPS and/or or use  bold type.

query for book agents bold

5 – Closing How to Format an Email Query for Literary Agents

Don’t drag out your closing. Say something simple like “Thank you for your consideration.” You don’t need to tell the literary agent that you’re ready to send the rest of your material, etc. Agents already know that. It might sound trite, but excess words can grate on an agent’s nerves.

book agents closing

6 – Signature Block How to Format an Email Query for Literary Agents

The signature block should be located at the end of your query letter. You can use a separation line before it. Just make sure you include all of your contact information. One of my best clients originally queried me by postal mail with nothing more than his mailing address. But I fell in love with his query and wanted to call him immediately on the phone to ask him to overnight the manuscript and grant me an exclusive.

Instead I had to wait a week or two to get the book.

book agents irritating


Here’s an example signature block:


Mark Malatesta Literary Agent Undercover 324 S Beverly Drive, Ste 410 Beverly Hills, CA 90212 USA Phone/Fax: (800) 928-5028 [Email Address]

7 – Sample Pages How to Format an Email Query for Literary Agents

If a literary agency asks you to send sample manuscript pages with your query letter, check to see if they have specific requirements about how to include them. If you don’t find any guidelines, simply paste them after your signature block. Don’t worry too much about the formatting of the pages. You’ll be cutting and pasting from another document, so things are bound to be a little off. Just do your best to make sure everything is readable.

book agents query chapters

How to Format an Email Query for Literary Agents – Conclusion

Remember, some literary agencies have special requirements about how to format an email query for literary agents. Although it’s certainly bothersome to check every literary agency’s guidelines, it can be worth it. Some literary agencies have one or two peculiar things that they ask an author to do, simply to see if the author is paying attention to their policies… and willing to follow instructions.

book agents email query

I know, I know.

But do it anyway (it’ll be worth it).

Now, click here to read the next article in this 17-part series and see information about  Online Submissions to Literary Agents .

Take a look at our file format submission guidelines for literary agents

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Home » How to Write a Literary Agent Query – How to Write A Query for Book Agents

How to Write a Query Letter

Agent Query – How to Write a Query Letter

Training Write a Query Letter How To

How to Write a Query Letter

Part 1-  introduction  – how to write a query letter.

These guidelines include everything you want to know about how to write a query letter. For example: What is a query letter? What is the best query length? What’s the most popular query format? Is there a sample query, query example, or query template you can model? What is a query hook and what is the best one to use? What is a SASE for query letters? What is the best email format for query letters? Where can you get help writing your book query? And more.

So let’s get started…

Part 2 –  What Is An Agent Query?  – How to Write a Query Letter

What is an agent query? An agent query is simply a “pitch letter” that writers submit to literary agents, book publishers, and/or magazine editors. This article called  What Is a Query Letter?  explains. It’s part two of our free 15-part training guidelines about how to write a query letter.

Part 3 –  Literary Agent Query Warning  – How to Write a Query Letter

Did you know that many authors, literary agents, and other publishing professionals give bad advice about how to write agent queries? Of course, they don’t do it on purpose, but you need to be aware of this so you don’t follow their bad advice. This article called Literary Agent Query Letter Warning  explains. It’s part three of our free 15-part training guidelines about how to write a query letter.

Part 4 –  Agent Query Examples  – How to Write a Query Letter

Where can you find the best examples of query letters to help you write your agent query? This article called  Query Letter Examples  shares an example query letter, and it shows you where to learn more. This article is part four of our free 15-part training guidelines about how to write a successful query letter.

Part 5 –  Writing An Agent Query  – How to Write a Query Letter

What’s the best way to create a query that helps you stand out from the crowd–the thousands of other agent queries written by other authors trying to get book agents every month. This article called Writing a Query Letter  explains. It’s part five of our free 15-part training guidelines about writing irresistible agent queries.

Part 6 –  Agent Query Template  – How to Write a Query Letter

What’s the best template to use when writing a agent query? What’s the best structure to use? And what order should you put everything in? This article called  Query Letter Template  explains. It’s part six of our free 15-part training guidelines about how to write a query letter.

Part 7 –  Sample Agent Query  – How to Write a Query Letter

Where can you find a sample successful query letter that you can learn from and model–so you can get a top literary agent, publisher, and book deal? This article called  Sample Query Letter  explains. It’s part seven of our free 15-part training guidelines about crafting agent queries that work.

Part 8 –  Agent Query vs Synopsis  – How to Write a Query Letter

What’s the difference between a book synopsis and a query letter, and how should you use the two things together so they complement each other? This article called  Query Letter vs Synopsis  explains. It’s part eight of our free 15-part training guidelines about how to write a great query letter.

Part 9 –  Agent Query Length  – How to Write a Query Letter

How long should your agent query be? One page? Two pages? More? This article called  Query Letter Length  explains. It’s part nine of our free 15-part training guidelines about how to write irresistible agent queries.

Part 10 –  Agent Query Hook  – How to Write a Query Letter

What is an agent query hook–and what are the best query letter hooks from query letters that worked? This article called  Query Letter Hook  explains. It’s part ten of our free 15-part training guidelines about how to write successful agent queries.

Part 11 –  Agent Query Format  – How to Write a Query Letter

What are the different ways you can format your query. And, what’s the best way to format your query? This article called  Query Letter Format  explains. It’s part eleven of our free 15-part training guidelines about how to write the best agent queries.

Part 12 –  What Is a SASE for An Agent Query?  – How to Write a Query Letter

What is a SASE? And what do you need to know about using a SASE when querying book agents? This article called  What Is a SASE for a Query Letter ? explains. It’s part twelve of our free 15-part training guidelines about how to write query letters.

Part 13 –  Email Query Format  – How to Write a Query Letter

Are there different ways to format an email query? What is the best email query format? And do all book agents want email queries formatted the same way? This article called  Email Query Letter Format  explains. It’s part thirteen of our free 15-part training guidelines about writing query letters.

Part 14 –  Agent Query Letter Adivce for Online Submissions – How to Write a Query Letter

What guidelines do you need to follow when submitting your query to literary agents using an online submission form? This article called  Agent Query Letter Advice for Online Queries  explains. It’s part fourteen of our free 15-part training guidelines about writing agent queries.

Part 15 –  Agent Query Critique – How to Write a Query Letter

What is a query critique? What does it involve? And where can you get one? This article called  Query Letter Critique  explains. It’s part fifteen of our free 15-part training guidelines about how to write a query letter.

Now click here to to start your free training and read part one of these guidelines called What Is a Query Letter?

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Interviews/Tips from Successful Authors

Fiction/General – J. Jago Fiction/Mystery – B. Harper Fiction/Mainstream – K. Cox Fiction/Christian – K. Sargent Nonfiction/Business – D. Hamme Nonfiction/Self-Help – A. Goddard Nonfiction/Environment – J. Biemer Nonfiction/Diversity – S. Peer Narrative Nonfiction – D. Cohen Memoir/Women – L. Lehr Memoir/Christian – S. LeRette Memoir/Family/Identity – S. Foti Memoir/Multicultural – N. Aronheim Memoir/Inspirational – L. Subramani Memoir/Mainstream – E. Armstrong Children’s/Pic Book – M. Leshem-Pelly Children’s/Chapter Book – J. Agee Children’s/YA – C. Plum-Ucci Children’s/YA – D. Bester Children’s/YA – L. Moe

How to Get a Literary Agent

What Is a Literary Agent? When Should You Get An Agent? Odds of Getting a Book Agent How Long to Get An Agent? How Much Does An Agent Cost? How Much Do Authors Make? How to Find a Book Agent Book Agent Submissions How to Get a Fiction Agent How to Get a Nonfiction Agent Get a Kids’ Book Agent Get An Agent After Self-Publishing Offer of Representation After You Get A Book Agent

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how to write a literary agent query

Writing Blossoms Laurie Pawlik Kienlen Successful Writers

15 Things Writers Need to Know About Literary Agents

Here’s what writers need to know about getting a literary agent and signing a book contract with a publisher. Finding the right agent to represent you and your work is one of the most important things you can do as a writer.

How do you sign with a literary agent who believes in you, loves your book, and will help you get published? These tips for finding the right literary agent are from Janet Reid, who runs the Query Shark blog. Learn how to write a query letter, approach agents, and submit your sample chapters or full manuscript.

I first met literary agent Janet Reid at the Surrey International Writers Conference, way back when we were dodging dinosaurs. Reid sat on a panel of book publishers, editors, and literary agents; I sat in the audience. They discussed the most important things writers need to know about getting a literary agent and becoming a published book author; I took copious amounts of notes. I summarized their conversation in 17 Reasons Manuscripts are Rejected by Book Publishers and Editors .

In this article, I share 15 little-known tips for writers who know successful query letters are (usually) the first and most important step to getting their book published. Here, you’ll learn not only on how to get a literary agent, but how to write query letters that sing like a stuck pig.

These query letter writing tips are from a podcast called DIY MFA , founded by writer, teacher, and self-proclaimed word nerd Gabriela Pereira. I was mesmerized by her conversation with Janet Reid (henceforth the “Query Shark”) on how to write a query letter and find a literary agent. Here I summarize the best tips from the Query Shark herself. This is not a transcript of the entire discussion; to listen to the full episode, go to Gabriela’s How to Write a Killer Query – Interview with Janet Reid .

15 Questions Writers Ask About Finding Literary Agents

A query letter is a cover letter that describes your book. It’s designed to get a literary agent’s attention and make her curious enough to ask for the full manuscript (fiction) or book proposal (nonfiction).

1. What is the purpose of a query letter?

“Your query letter is an introduction of both you as the writer and your manuscript,” says the Query Shark. “It’s the place where you tell me what your book is about and a little bit about yourself. The purpose of the query letter is twofold: 1) to entice the literary agent to read the first couple of pages of your novel; and 2) to demonstrate that you the writer are serious about writing and getting your book published.”

Elements of a query letter:

The query letter is a brief one-page introduction to both you as the author and to the work you are submitting for publication.

2. Why do writers send query letters to literary agents?

Writers send queries – instead of complete novels or book proposals – because the manuscript doesn’t contain the word count, genre, or your biography.

“A novel doesn’t tell me if you’ve been previously published,” says the Query Shark. “It doesn’t tell me anything about you as a person. I need the query letter as a prelude. It’s the overture in a Broadway musical….correctly done it’s very helpful. Poorly done, a query letter can really sabotage you as a writer because if it’s poorly done a literary agent won’t read your manuscript. You really want an agent to read the first 3 to 5 pages that you’ve included with your query letter, and ask to see the rest of the manuscript or novel.”

She adds that her purpose with Query Shark (the blog) is to help writers get out of their own way. She critiques fiction queries online, out there in public for the world to see. How does this help a writer learn how to get a literary agent? By showing them exactly where and how they lose the agent’s attention.

3. What else does a query letter do?

Despite all the books and blogs and articles on how to get a literary agent, there are some basic things that most writers don’t know about submitting query letters to literary agents. Not only is the goal of a query letter to make the literary agent want to read the full novel or manuscript, it’s also a good foundation for the publication of your book. A good query letter is used far beyond the query stage.

According to the Query Shark, a good query letter often serves as:

Are You Ready to Submit Your Sample Chapters to a Book Publisher? If so, then you’re ready to seek representation from a literary agent.

15 Things Writers Need to Know About Literary Agents

4. Is there a formula for a good query letter?

“It’s almost impossible to define a good query letter because each one is individual,” says the Query Shark.

“On [the blog] Query Shark, I teach writers how to avoid making the most common mistakes that writers make when sending query letters to literary agents. Often, writers tell me how much they like to write and give me background into their own history. Really, though, all I need to know what the novel is about, where it sits in a bookstore shelf, and what category or genre it’s in.”

She adds that query letters are as different from each other as books are. “You need to know what the rules for writing query letters are so you can break them on purpose,” says this literary agent. “There are a lot of really good queries that don’t follow the model demonstrated on the Query Shark blog. But if you know what the model is based on – such as the fact that you have to get some plot on the page – then you can do that without following an exact template.”

5. Can writers be creative when querying agents?

This is one of the oldest writing tips in the book: only when you know the rules for writing can you successfully break them. An astute literary agent can tell when a writer is trying too hard to be creative to get her attention, versus a writer who actually knows how to write a query letter and how to break those rules.

“Only by knowing the fundamentals can you actually exercise some creativity,” says the Query Shark. “The fundamentals are: what the book is about, who the main character is, what problem the main character has or what that main character wants, and what’s keeping her from getting it. What’s at stake? That’s how a reader creates tension. You want to entice a literary agent to read the rest of the book. The question you want an agent to ask is, ‘What happens next?’”

You don’t want to reveal the entire plot, and you don’t want to reveal too little. This isn’t just a good tip on how to get a literary agent, it’s also keystone to writing good books, articles, blog posts, etc. Give just the right amount of information so that the reader (or literary agent) is curious about what happens next.

6. What information does not belong in a query letter?

Your query letter doesn’t need to tell the agent that you’ve been in love with writing since you were six years old. The Query Shark assumes that you love to write because you’ve written a novel! You don’t have to include information about your pets unless your main character is a shark – in which case this literary agent wants a picture.

Your query letter does not have to be formal or overly businesslike, but it has to be professional. Learn what you need to know about how to get a literary agent, and don’t let your emotions or creativity get the best of you…or you’ll show your worst in your query letter to the agent.

How do you know if your request for representation has needless information? Ask fellow writers for feedback. That’s what I did in How Can I Improve on This Query Letter to Literary Agents?

7. Are writers important to agents and publishers?

“I really want writers to feel like they have value,” says the Query Shark, “because if they don’t feel like they have value, then they’ll sign with the first literary agent or publishing deal that comes along. They won’t ask any questions because they’ll feel so grateful to be published. None of those are good business choices, so part of my job as a literary agent is saying to writers that everything you do has value, so try to treat it like that.”

One of a literary agent’s biggest problems is writers who demean themselves and query letters. They say things such as, “I know how busy you literary agents are,” or “I’m sorry to bother you,” or “I know I’m just an unpublished writer, but…”

“Writers, don’t assume that a literary agent is too busy to read your query letter!” says this agent. “Literary agents make their living reading queries and getting your books published – they make their living off the sweat off your brow!

You as the writer are the most important person in the publishing triangle, so don’t demean yourself in your query letter. The entire publishing industry rests on your work, so you must see yourself and your writing as valuable. Writers often see themselves as the bottom of the barrel, but they’re not. They’re the top of the barrel! Writers are valuable and significant in the publishing industry. ”

8. What makes a query letter bad or unsuccessful?

The biggest problem the Query Shark is currently seeing is lack of information in the query letter. Writers will describe the book’s setting, character arc, events…but there is no sense of plot or what’s at stake for the characters in the book.

If you’re submitting a novel, tell the agent the most important things. What do your characters want? What can’t they get? What are they blocked from getting? What is the reason they’re blocked from getting it? Writers seem to have a hard time getting that in the page of the query letter.

9. How hard is it to get a literary agent?

Go to writers’ conferences. Attend online or in-person query writing workshops. Join a good writers’ group. Learn how to give and accept thoughtful critiques of your and others’ writing. Practice writing query letters, both for your book and other novels.

“Writing a good query letter is definitely something you have to practice,” says the Query Shark. “At my Query Writing Workshops I often suggest writing a query letter for a book that is already been published. It’s sometimes easier to to pick a book you love and figure out how – if you were the author – you would’ve queried that novel to get the plot on the page.”

You might also practice writing queries for nonfiction or fiction articles. Here’s the pitch that won me my first article in Reader’s Digest magazine: Sample of a Successful Query Letter to Reader’s Digest .

10. Why do novels have to belong to one specific genre?

According to this query letter, many writers tend to list all the possible categories or genres that a novel can be in.

“For example, writers will describe their novel as a Western with romance plus an element of suspense and it’s also thriller!” says the Query Shark. “That kind of mishmash is not helpful to a literary agent. If anything, it tells the agents that the writer does not understand what category means and he or she certainly doesn’t know what category the novel is in. A novel can’t be a suspense, thriller, Western, and romance all at the same time. You can have elements of all of those categories, but you have to think about where the book is going to sit on a bookstore’s shelf.”

If you don’t know what genre your novel is in, you may need to read more books in each category. One of the Query Shark’s benchmarks is 100 novels. 

“You shouldn’t write a novel unless you’ve read 100 novels in the category that you think your book fits,” she says. “That way, you understand the rules of the category. This isn’t to say you have to follow the rules – you can break those rules with grace and style – but you have to know what they are. Libraries are a great place to find booklists in your category or genre. Libraries are even better than bookstores because they contain books that aren’t published anymore, aren’t bestsellers, and aren’t in bookstores or on Amazon.”

The Query Shark’s Best Advice on How to Get a Literary Agent

11. How do you start a query letter?

Some literary agents ask writers to name the category at the top of their queries. The Query Shark has different advice on how to get a literary agent’s attention…

“Even if a literary agent’s instructions say to put the category in the first sentence in the query letter, I think the category should be in the very last part of the query letter,” she says. “Why? Because if you get the genre wrong and the literary agent doesn’t represent that category, then she will stop reading and reject your novel. But, if she reads your query letter without knowing the category, she may decide for herself the proper category based on your plot, characterization, and story arc. She may then consider your novel to be something she actually represents. But if you’ve already identified your book as a genre that she doesn’t represent, you’ve given her a reason to say no. So, identify the category or genre of your novel, but don’t tell the literary agent until the end of your query letter.”

12. Do query letters have to be serious and formal?

If you’ve written a lighthearted humorous satirical novel on how to get a literary agent, then your query letter should have lighthearted humorous undertones. For instance, if your novel is about the demise of the publishing industry, then your query should have serious and even sombre overtones. The Query Shark reminds writers that comedic or humorous writing can backfire, so be very careful about approaching literary agents with a lighthearted tone. Writing a funny professional query letter may not be the best approach for newbies who are learning how to get a literary agent.

“Writers come up with new ways to screw up their query letters every single week,” she says. “It’s absolutely hilarious, except not really. Ten years of talking about query letters [on my Query Shark blog], and writers are still getting them wrong!”

13. How long does it take to get a literary agent?

“It’s not a straightforward line from the literary agent reading your novel to the book getting published,” says the Query Shark. “The first thing that happens is the literary agent will request the full manuscript. Or, if it’s a nonfiction book, the agent will request the book proposal. Then oftentimes there is a delay of up to a year as the agent and writer work on revisions to the proposal or novel.”

She adds that it can also take a couple of months for an literary agent to actually read your full novel – even if she requests and is eager to read it. The Query Shark described how one of her clients sent his query over 1.5 years ago – and she just this week signed him with a publishing house for his book! That was a very long process from query letter to book manuscript to landing a publishing deal.

Patience is an important quality for writers who want to find a literary agent. In that case, agent and writer did about 15 rounds of revisions on the book proposal before the Query Shark decided it was ready to be pitched to editor at a publishing house.

14. Do literary agents have blogs?

“ The last novelist I signed was a much quicker process, but even that took close to four months for me to read his novel,” says the Query Shark. “That novelist had a terrible query letter – one of the worst query letters ever! But, that writer had a little ‘in.’ He had won one of the writing contests I ran on my Query Shark blog. He had mentioned it, so I knew he could write.

So even though his query letter was terrible, I knew he was a good writer so I read his manuscript. His book and writing was amazing, and I am glad he mentioned that he won the writing contest on my Query Shark blog. Even so, it took four months of back-and-forth before I offered him representation.”

15. Is it hard to get a book published?

The publishing industry is extremely competitive. The more literary agents you have interested in your novel or book proposal, the faster the material will be read. The higher the interest, the faster things will move (but it’ll still be mostly glacial). If three or four agents have requested your novel or proposal, then it will get read overnight or over the weekend. If there is less interest, then it can take longer for an agent to read it.

“After you get an offer and sign with a literary agent, the glacial process towards publication begins again as she begins to assemble a list of editors and pitch the book to the publishing houses,” says the Query Shark. “They glacial silence ensues as you wait for the editors at the publishers to read the book proposal or manuscript. The publishing industry is run on patience. If you don’t have patience, if you don’t learn how to wait patiently, then publishing is the wrong industry for you.”

6 Tips for Submitting Query Letters to Literary Agents

how to write a literary agent query

In The Nonfiction Book Proposal That Won Me a Publishing Contract I describe how I found a literary agent to represent me and Growing Forward When You Can’t Go Back .

travel writing tips

1. Get to the point. This is a great tip for writing in general – not just query letters to literary agents. “Agents are busy people,” writes Cross. “They only have a limited amount of time to consider your project. If you ramble on about inconsequential things, such as ‘I spent two months crafting this letter hoping to get it just right after spending six years writing my manuscript…”

2. Write your query letter over weeks or months. A famous published author once said she spent more time on her one-page query letter to her agent than on her whole manuscript. She may not have been serious but her point is solid: before you submit your query letter, write it with care. This means edit, revise, edit, revise, and edit and revise.

3. Mention self-published books only if they sold well. Literary agents don’t view self-published books seriously, says Cross. “They may believe the book was only self-published because the quality was poor, it was badly written, or it was just not good enough to garner a traditional publisher.” It’s best to mention a self-published book only if it sold several thousand copies, received noteworthy media attention, or won a prestigious award.

4. Demonstrate the tone and style of your book. “If you’ve written a thriller, create suspense with your writing,” says Cross. “If your novel is a romance, deliver an emotional punch. If your manuscript is light-hearted, be sure to include humor in your query letter.” She also suggests using the present tense and active verbs to convey a sense of immediacy and immersion. Finding a literary agent requires thoughtful, strategic query letter writing!

5. Do not compare yourself to well-known authors. Positioning your book alongside other published works in style, subject, or readership is acceptable…but don’t compare the quality of your writing to established authors. “For example, ‘Similar in plotting to Clive Barker, but closer in style to Stephen King’ is fine. Stating, ‘My writing is as innovative as J.K. Rowling,’ or ‘I am the next Seth Godin,’ will make you appear conceited, not confident.” Your writing – even in a query letter to a literary agent! – speaks for itself.

6. Leave the agent wanting more. “End with a ‘teaser’ that leaves the literary agent wanting to know what happens next in the story,” writes Cross. Nonfiction writers can do this too; even textbook writers can tease their readers! Both publishers and editors have told me the want “edgy and quirky” writing – which includes leaving a trail of breadcrumbs through your writing, for readers to follow.

I’ve actually had two agents represent me over the past dozen years! Read How I Signed With a Literary Agent at the Irene Goodman Agency.

Help Submitting Your Work to a Literary Agent

In  Guide to Literary Agents 2020: The Most Trusted Guide to Getting Published , you’ll learn how to submit your best work to agencies and find the right literary agent to represent you.

Is It Hard to Get an Agent? 15 Tips From the Query Shark

Writer’s Market: The Most Trusted Guide to Getting Published is a great resource for writers who are ready to look for an agent and need to know what to expect. Query letters, synopses, social media, beta readers – everything is covered – whatever genre your book is in.

The Writer’s Market also includes a comprehensive list of agents and a list of writers’ conferences. The authors and editors share up-to-date hints and strategies on how to get a literary agent – such as the most current ways to use social media platforms to build relationships with people in the publishing industry – as well as advice for fiction and non-fiction proposals, query-writing, synopsis-tweaking, and even how to build a good relationship with your literary agent, editor, and publisher.

If you doubt your ability to get published (much less find a literary agent), read How Do You Stop Doubting Yourself as a Writer?

Uprooted She Blossoms Laurie Pawlik Kienlen

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5 thoughts on “15 Things Writers Need to Know About Literary Agents”

I’m cleaning up all my old blog posts on writing, blogging, and getting published. Here’s a snippet from a blog post I wrote 12 years ago:

Getting Your Book Published – Rejection, Perseverance and Timing for Writers

Keep pitching your article ideas, book proposals, and manuscripts. Last Thursday my favorite Reader’s Digest editor turned down my feature article idea about green weight loss. She gently explained why she didn’t want to publish it and didn’t slash my writing confidence – but hey, a rejection is still a rejection. I shrugged it off as a bad idea for a feature article.

The very next day, a Woman’s Day editor sent me a writing contract for that same feature article. See how you just never know? See how important it is to keep sending out your work, even if it gets rejected and even if you think it’s a bad idea? If you’re struggling with failure and disappointment, read How to Fail and Bounce Back as a Writer, Blogger, or Freelancer.

Finding the Right Book Publisher (and Literary Agent!) is All About Timing

It may not be your article ideas, plots, characters, themes or imagery that doesn’t work for publishers. Sometimes it’s just not a good fit between you and the book publisher, or it’s not good timing. There are so many reasons a book manuscript is rejected, and some are in your control (like the Query Shark’s tips on how to get a literary agent in the above article 🙂 )

One possibility is that your writing isn’t good enough for some reason – but that’s one possibility. Other possibilities for rejection are: 1) your manuscript never reached the book publisher; 2) your book proposal or manuscript is buried in the slush pile; or 3) your manuscript was accidentally left on the subway.

If you think your book was rejected by the publisher because your writing isn’t up to par, then you need to improve your writing skills. Take online writing courses, read as much as you can about book publishing and proposals, and network with other writers.

Don’t take rejection personally, fellow scribes! It’s likely not an indication of your writing skills or ideas. It may just be the wrong timing for that book publisher, magazine editor or literary agent.

Don’t give up if you want to be a published author. Find ways to enjoy the process!

Thanks Laurie but I already own The Complete Guide to Hiring a Literary Agent: Everything You Need to Know to become Successfully Published. It’s okay but the author said this and I quote:

“Well-known writers such as Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, John Grisham, Jodi Picoult, Clive Cussler, James Patterson, Patricia Cornwell, Stephanie Meyer, and Dean Koontz all use literary agents to sell their books. Acquiring an agent can be easy. All you need to do is write a compelling and marketable manuscript or salable book idea, and follow the literary agency’s submission guidelines to be considered for representation.”

Finding an agent is NOT easy. No matter how good your writing or book idea is it is exceedingly difficult to secure representation. I’ve been trying to get an agent for 15 years and have been unsuccessful. If you can tell me how to get published without an agent I would be grateful!

Respectfully, Frank P. Campbell

hi i’m currently writing a fictional text and ,believe it or not, i’m writing it at a very young age. I was wondering if maybe a literary agent would take me seriously even though my books are YA? I’ve been working on the query letter and the manuscript for four years.

Hello Query Shark,

Are genre and category the same thing? I’m writing a query letter stating my book is fiction (genre) and thriller (category). Is this correct?

Thanks for the tips!

Thank you very much for these tips on how to get a literary agent. I’m far from writing a book but this is good advice for my future as a writer!


  1. How to Write a Query Letter

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  2. How to Query a Literary Agent: 11 Steps in 2020 (With images)

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  3. Read A Sample Literary Agent Query Letter, With Hints & Tips

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  6. Literary Agent Query Letter Sample Pdf

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  1. How to Write a Query Letter: 3 Paragraphs That Hook a Literary Agent

    How to Write a Successful Query Letter with 3 Paragraphs Agents look for specific details in a query letter. You can be sure they'll want to know your book's: Genre Word count Title Connection point Stakes Main character Back cover pitch with a hook Author bio, with writing credentials

  2. 5 Agent-Approved Query Letter Examples

    This letter also makes use of a brief hook, before moving swiftly into the meat and potatoes of the query - the necessary details about the book that the agent really wants to know, including word count, genre, title. Dear Kevin, In my thirty years as a foster mother, I had one rule: no teenagers.

  3. How to Write the Perfect Query Letter

    If you write fiction or narrative nonfiction, a query letter is your first (and often, your only) chance to get an agent interested in reading (and, with hope, signing) your work. You should put just as much care and attention into crafting and polishing your query as you did into your manuscript.

  4. How to Write a Query Letter an Agent Will Read in 9 Steps

    The (short) first paragraph of your letter should inform the agent of why you want them to represent your manuscript. Whether they gave you their contact information, you were referred by another client of theirs, or you're submitting cold, say why you're sending this query to them specifically.

  5. How to Write a Query Letter in 7 Simple Steps

    Here's the simple step-by-step process to write a query letter: 1. Open the query with a greeting 2. Write a strong "hook" for the book 3. Include a story synopsis 4. Pitch your author credentials 5. Personalize to stand out from other queries 6. Close the letter by thanking the agent 7. Proofread your work 8.

  6. How to Write a Query Letter That Grabs an Agent's Attention

    1—Speaks to a specific person. Get the agent's name and title right. You're not sending this "To Whom It May Concern." It should be clear you've done your research and are targeting an agent who represents your genre and that you're aware of similar books he has represented to publishers. 2—Presents your book idea simply.

  7. 38 Query Letter Tips From Literary Agents for Writers

    38 Query Letter Tips From Literary Agents This is one of the first things you need to know for querying agents. Each query has a personalized salutation—"Dear Mr. Jones" or "Dear Ms. Williams," etc. If you are unsure of an agent's gender, you can always use their full name: "Dear Cris Wendel."

  8. How to write a query letter for a literary agent

    Here are the basic steps for how to write a query letter: (Click to skip to that section!) Start with a completely finished and polished manuscript (fiction) or a book proposal and 30-50 sample pages (nonfiction) Read examples of query letters that worked Hone your pitch Research agents so you can personalize your query

  9. Read A Sample Literary Agent Query Letter, With Hints & Tips

    Write A Query Letter In 3 Easy Steps: Introductory sentence - include your purpose for writing (you're seeking representation!) book title, wordcount, genre. 1-2 paragraphs about your book - what your book's about and why a reader will love it. A brief note about You - who you are and why you wrote the book.

  10. How to Write a Query Letter That Gets Manuscript Requests

    Opening your query letter Put your best foot forward, or lead with your strongest selling point. Here are the most common ways to begin a query: Maybe you've been vouched for or referred by an existing client or author; mention the referral right away.

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    All queries must be submitted through Query Manager. Visit our Agents page to determine who will be the best fit for your work. Please do not query more than one agent at Ladderbird at a time. If two agents like your work it could result in bloodshed and we try to keep that to a minimum.

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    It's simple, really: Make me care. Cut out the cutesy jokes, the rhetorical questions, the extraneous subplots, the superfluous biographical details and get to the heart of your story. Start simply, without a lot of throat-clearing, and get to the point: Dear Name, I'm writing to you because you represented BOOK/because I saw you at ...

  14. How to Write a Query Letter, with Examples (2023)

    How to write a query letter to a literary agent A query letter is a short, one-page letter: usually around 3—4 paragraphs. In the first paragraph you'll introduce yourself, the second paragraph will introduce your book, and the closing paragraphs will convince the agent the two of you are a great match.

  15. Query Letter

    Create Irresistible Query Letters. My name is Mark Malatesta and I'm a former literary agent and the former president and owner of New Brand Agency Group. I'm also the former Marketing & Licensing Manager of Blue Mountain Arts, the book and gift publisher that invented e-greetings and then sold their e-card division for close to $1 billion ...

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    2. Arrange Everything in the Best Order - How to Write a Query Letter to a Literary Agent. Most authors assume book agents are going to read their entire query letter. Instead, assume they're only going to read the first sentence. And, if that sentence pulls them in—or doesn't trip them up—they'll read the next sentence.

  17. How To Write a Query Letter to Literary Agents (Plus Tips)

    Use these tips to create an impressive query letter: 1. Use a professional format. If you'll be using postal mail rather than email, invest in high-quality white paper. Your query letter should be single-spaced with 1-inch margins. Select a font that is easy to read, like Arial or Times New Roman in size 12.

  18. AgentQuery :: Find the Agent Who Will Find You a Publisher

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  19. Literary Agents: What They Do and How to Find One

    For many writers, agents help offload some of the business demands of writing. The best literary agents are cognizant of their authors' current projects, upcoming deadlines, and financial needs. ... The literary agent query letter gives the agent all the information they need about you, your style, and your manuscript. Think of it like a ...

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    The Query Letter: What To Include In A Letter To Literary Agents. This is an anatomy lesson in query letters. Break out the rubber gloves and learn the parts of a query letter. Before You Start Writing Your Query Letter—Do This First . Set yourself up for success by establishing a strong foundation with these important pre-query steps!

  21. How to Write a Query Letter: The 6-Step Formula for Nonfiction and

    Keep it lean, mean, and streamlined. 5. Include Your Bio. Include a little information about yourself and why you're the best possible person to write this book. For nonfiction, this is particularly important—you want to show that you're an expert in a relevant area and demonstrate your platform.

  22. Ashley Reisinger

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    How to Format an Email Query for Literary Agents The standard is New Courier or Times New Roman (12 point). Don't use colored type, images, or background stationery. 3 - Salutation or Greeting How to Format an Email Query for Literary Agents

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    Agent Query - How to Write a Query Letter. How to Write a Query Letter - This section of our website about query letters includes a FREE 15-part guide on writing a Query Letter.This guide was created by Mark Malatesta, a former literary agent and Marketing & Licensing Manager for a well-known book publisher.For your convenience we've posted short summaries for each section in our ...

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    In The Nonfiction Book Proposal That Won Me a Publishing Contract I describe how I found a literary agent to represent me and Growing Forward When You Can't Go Back. 1. Get to the point. This is a great tip for writing in general - not just query letters to literary agents. "Agents are busy people," writes Cross.