What Makes A Great Query Letter?

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I’ll never forget my first attempt at writing a query letter. I even showed it to a writer friend, who had just scored an agent, and I couldn’t wait to hear her opinion. Only it didn’t quite go as I’d hoped, the tale more or less like this.

“Joanne, what on earth are you thinking?” She waved the four crisp pages of my query letter in front of me.

“Um… That I’ve written a fabulous query letter. Why?”

“It’s too long. Way too long.”

Okay, I could deal with that. I could shorten it. “What length should it be?”

She leaned it. “I have a book on how to write query letters, and I’ll give it to you. Your query letter is your sales pitch to the screener of the slush pile. That means, it’s one page in length.”

“One page?” She had to be kidding, only I saw by the frankness of her expression she wasn’t. “But I’ll only get three paragraphs in.”

“Exactly. Imagine you’re in an elevator, and you hand your query letter to the editor who happens to be going up one floor. That’s about the length of time you have to engage their attention and tempt them into reading your synopsis next.”

“Seriously?” So unfair. “So they might not even read my synopsis if I can’t capture their interest with the query letter?”

“Yes, my friend.” She handed me back my wad of papers. “Welcome to the wonderful world of trying to find an agent or a publisher.”

So, I set to work and read the book she gave me from cover to cover. First, I was in shock that writers actually sell books on how to write query letters, but it’s totally true. And second, the next time I presented my friend with my new query letter, she sighed with delight. It was perfect, and her happiness had me delirious.

So, what makes a great query letter? Let me detail what I’ve learnt.

  • Keep it to one page. 🙂 (Yep, that’s me being ever so helpful.)
  • Ensure you address your query letter personally to the agent or editor listed on the submissions page. A must.
  • Then your first paragraph goes something like this:

I am seeking representation for my “Genre_of_your_Novel  and Book_Title,” complete at “Word_Count.” I am enclosing a synopsis and a sample chapter as per your submission guidelines. (In one or two brief sentences list your credentials, but make sure you touch only on the most impressive.) (In one or two brief sentences describe your desire to write so that the agent/editor understands this is your passion, and refer to any published works if you have them.)

NOTE: The line of what you’re enclosing needs to reflect what the agent’s or publisher’s submission guidelines request.

  • Next, you detail your blurb or pitch of the book, so keep it short. For this, just imagine you’re standing in a book shop and you’re checking out the books on the shelves. You see one you might like, and you flip it over and read the back cover. As you read this, you’re going to either find it engaging, or not. It’s the back cover which will decide whether or not you buy the book. Now, this is your pitch for your query letter, and this blurb needs to entice the agent or editor into looking at your synopsis next.
  • Lastly, thank them for their generous time in a nice single sentence.
  • Also ensure you include your name, address, phone number, and email address on the letter.

That’s it. Nothing else, unless they specifically ask for it within their submission guidelines. The query letter is often referred to as the bait, and your synopsis the hook. Then the sample of your manuscript needs to reel them right in. I love that analogy, and it’s so very true. If you’re after some more tips on how to write a synopsis next, you’ll find that on a post I did right HERE.

Okay, it’s time to announce the winner of my blog hop’s draw. For those who left a comment WITH THEIR EMAIL ADDRESS, I used random.org to draw a name for a chance to win an ebook copy of PROTECTOR. That winner is:

** Meghan Stith **

Congratulations, Meghan. I have your email, so I’ll be making contact with you today to send you your prize. Of course the Grand Prize winners will be posted later today on Carrie Ann Ryan’s Blog Hop Page HERE, and they’ll be notified via email of their win.

Don’t forget, if you want to leave a comment, you know I love them. Perhaps you have another tip to add in writing a great query letter? Let me know, and thanks for dropping by to see me this week. If you want to pick up your copy of Protector, the links are just below. 🙂

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PROTECTOR–BUY THE BOOK: Amazon Kindle / B&N Nook / iTunes / Lyrical Press / Kobo.

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11 thoughts on “What Makes A Great Query Letter?

  1. Thanks for this Joanne! I especially love what your first paragraph should look like. Ghaah! It’s not easy boiling it down. But this helps.

  2. I know all of what you’ve written and yet the art still eludes me. I’d rather pull my fingernails out than write a query or synopsis. I just can’t find the right words to make the story ‘pop’. What is the name of the book your friend gave you? Maybe something in there will sink in. 🙂 Great post. btw.

    1. I wish I could remember the title, but I borrowed the book in 2009 and she’d had it a couple of years before that. I just jumped onto Amazon and did a search on “how to write query letters” and about ten books popped up, and some of the ebooks were free. Here’s the link for the first free one I found, and it’s written by a New York literary agent in 2009. It wasn’t the book I was given, but it will hold the right kind of information in it. http://www.amazon.com/Write-Great-Query-Letter-ebook/dp/B002HRF7WK/

      I hope that helps. 🙂

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