I wrote last week about the need and purpose of query letters — to get an agent for your masterpiece. This time I have a good article by Robert Lee Brewer at Writer’s Digest, which explains a little more about the query concept and also gives good examples of query letters that were successful in snagging agents. The snagged agents also give feedback on what captured their interest, and the examples are across several genres to add different perspectives.
While you’re taking a look at the samples, always keep in mind that agents are humans just like some of the rest of us, and therefore have a pretty wide range of what might get their attention. They are also looking for different subjects, concepts, or styles of writing at different times. Sometimes they want something different from what they normally see…and some of them want to see the same format every time.
What this all means is that you have to research each agent before you send them a query. Look at their websites, their social media pages, interviews they’ve done, and articles they’ve written — whatever you can find. This does make it a very tedious process, but everything worthwhile takes time and work, and you are so much more likely to succeed if you do your homework.
But here’s another caution: the entire industry is dynamic and what works for you one day may not work the next day. Some agents put out their rules and likes and whims, and then accept a writer who gives them a query that breaks all the rules, simply because it piques their interest.
So learn all you can, polish your manuscript as shiny as it can get, and most of all, persevere. Some days you’re the bug…some days you’re the windshield. Research and perseverance make you more windshield.
Here’s Robert Lee Brewer with much wisdom:
The mission of your query letter is to convince an editor or agent that they want to invest time in you and your writing project. In that sense, a query letter is the first impression you make in what will hopefully blossom into a much longer professional relationship. No pressure.
In this post, I’ve attempted to share tips on what needs to go into a query letter and provide links to several queries (across several writing genres) that were successful.
What Goes in a Query Letter
For all the blood, sweat, and tears that go into query letters, it’s actually a pretty straightforward document that consists of an opening pitch (or hook), more (but not all) info on the project, and a little about you as the author. The order of these elements can differ, but I’m going to share the most common structure.
The Pitch: The pitch (or hook) is a concise statement that sums up the essential nature of your book. This concise statement is usually achieved in one or two sentences, and it gives your audience a sense of what the book is about and why they should get excited about it.
More Info: After a compelling pitch, many successful queries offer up a paragraph or three of evidence that supports that your book project is worthwhile, has an audience, and is worth their time. If your pitch doesn’t already include it, then this is a good place to include your book’s category (or genre) and word count.
About You: This is a concise statement sharing why you’re the perfect person to write this book. It could be that you have personal or professional experience that lines up with the subject of your book. It could be that you have good sales in the genre or an incredible author platform from a blog or YouTube channel.
However, avoid stretching the truth to make yourself seem more important. If all you have is an amazing book (and no other credentials), then just say something along the lines of, “This is my debut novel,” and leave it at that. If your pitch is on point, your manuscript will get to do the talking when they request more pages.
Example Successful Queries For Many Writing Genres
Of course, most writers know it’s better to show than tell (in most cases). So I’ve told you about query letters; now, I’m going to show you successful query letters—so you can see how others did it. Just find your category (or genre) below and click on the links to see successful examples.
Contemporary Fiction Query Letters
- Garth Stein’s The Art of Racing in the Rain, accepted by Jeff Kleinman of Folio Literary. From Kleinman: “First of all, putting both the words ‘Query’ and the title of the book on the subject line of an e-mail makes it clear why you’re writing—and it often keeps your e-mail from falling into the spam folder.”