Updated: Nov 4, 2022
So, you've finally completed your novel, and it's ready to send out into the world. You've written and revised, received constructive criticism from friends and family whose opinions you trust, and have reached a point where you can add no more value to your manuscript. It's the best thing you've written, and you know it. You're proud of it. And you want it published. So, what do you do?
You send it either to a literary agent, where you hope she'll offer to represent you and your work, or you self-publish, which means you'll have to do everything yourself before the finished product ever sees the light of day. Either way, there's work to do. If you're going the traditional route, you'll need a literary agent, and to get a literary agent, you'll need to write a query letter.
A query letter is a one-page document that you send literary agents to get them interested in your book. In essence, it's your pitch to the agent, and it's the first step in terms of contact between you and the agent. A good query letter can be the difference between whether the agent requests to see an excerpt of your work (normally 3 chapters or so, but it varies based on the agent's preference), or if they simply send a thanks but no thanks form letter back to you. Make sure you do your research on each and every one of the literary agents you're sending queries to. DO NOT send the same letter to every agent. Form letters are easy to spot, and anyway, you want to personalize the letter to each agent. What books/authors does the agent represent? How are the books/authors the agent represents similar to you book? Do you have a personal connection to the agent? Maybe you met and spoke to them at a conference? Were referred to them by someone? Let the agent know. Your goal is not only to sell the agent on the premise of your novel; it's to show them that you've done your homework and think he or she is the best person to represent your work. Literary agents know how nervous you are--and that's okay. But you also need to show that you're a professional. That'll stick out for them, and there'll be more of an opportunity for them to want to continue talking to you.
Query letters should include:
A cordial greeting--using either the agent's first name or Mr./Ms. [Last name],
The title & hook--what makes your novel special; make sure to use your writing style
A short synopsis about the novel--i.e., who it's about, the plot, conflict, etc.
A little about yourself and If you've had anything published, mention that--but don't list everything if it's a lot
A solid, cordial close where you thank the agent for their time
Your contact information
*Make sure you proofread the query letter multiple times. The last thing you want is to have a typo or misspelling when you're trying to pitch yourself as a great writer.
Below is a sample query letter that you can edit/personalize for your purposes. Remember, if you know the agent's first name, you can go that route as well. It's less formal, but it's more acceptable these days, especially if you have a prior connection to the agent.
Query Letter Template [Remove this section, and customize the letter to your novel, genre, word count, and so on].
[Your Name] [Address] [City, State, Zip]
[Agent’s Name] [Address] [City, State, Zip]
Dear Mr./Ms. [Agent’s Last Name]
It was a pleasure meeting you at the Midwestern Book Conference, in St. Louis, in January. I enjoyed our chat about the state of the publishing industry, and now that I’ve completed my novel, I thought to take you up on your kind suggestion to reach out. Per your request novel, I have included the first three chapters of THE LOST FOUNTAIN, my 95,000-word work of literary fiction. I have also included a synopsis.
THE LOST FOUNTAIN begins with a chance encounter in Brooklyn between Stuart Burns, an archaeologist, and his old history professor, Dr. Thatch. They catch up briefly, but it’s clear that the professor is in a rush, and on his way into the subway, the professor drops a folder. Stuart Burns picks the folder up, and is shocked by what he finds.
While the folder thrusts Stuart Burns into a mystery about what Dr. Thatch is seeking and why it’s so disturbing, it becomes clear that Stuart Burns has his own secrets that are just as disturbing, and potentially related to what Dr. Thatch is after.
I currently work in advertising, and this is my first novel.
I enclose the first three chapters, as well as a synopsis, for your review. I hope you enjoy the excerpt, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.
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If you still need some help and some more examples, here’s a link to “161 Examples of Successful Query Letters From Famous Authors” over at Queryletter.com: