The art of writing a query letter is similar to the art of writing a novel. The more you write, the better you’ll become. Because everyone has a different story, each query is going to sound different. Naturally, it’s difficult to come up with a query-writing formula. When I was writing my query letter for Chase, I studied query letters that worked (I highly recommend doing that–fill your brain with success). Here’s a link to some query letter ideas you can scroll through from Writer’s Digest. My journey also included an online “course” through Writer’s Digest University where an agent gave me feedback on my first ten pages. I highly recommend this because it can give you a good idea of your story’s strengths to mention in your query. You’ll need everything you can to help you stand out in today’s market. There’s also a class option for working with an agent on a query letter and other submission materials.
But, since we don’t all have $200+ sitting around to spare on Writer’s Digest courses, I’m going to show you my query letter and break it down into a formula for you–for free. This is what I learned:
(1) Dear ________,
(2) If Lauren could sit in front of you and tell you about her story, she’d begin by saying, “I fell in love with a man raised by Alicorns.” (3) I would like to introduce my novel, Chase, which takes a spin on a current young adult theme—falling in love with the paranormal (only not a vampire or werewolf in this case). (4) Chase is the story of Lauren, a horse-loving eighteen year old whose only connection to her absent father is her horse, Emblem. Due to financial strain, Lauren’s mother will sell Emblem in two weeks unless Lauren can catch a bright red horse with a ten thousand dollar reward… (and I’ve hidden the rest of the synopsis since my book isn’t out yet–I’m not going to spoil it for you!)
(5) I recently completed a weekend “boot camp” with an agent (Paula Munier) working through the first ten pages of my manuscript. Paula said that my writing was strong with an engaging voice, interesting premise, and an equally intriguing heroine. (6) This story, set in Virginia and the fantasy world Agalrae, runs about 50,000 words and follows a structure similar to Maggie Stiefvater’s The Scorpio Races. The target audience is young adult and falls under subgenres of urban fantasy and romance.
(7) I have taken two courses in creative writing and I have published nonfiction in Substance Abuse Across the Lifespan: A Biopsychosocial Approach and in Porsche eBreak blog articles. (8) Regarding marketing, I am actively promoting my work through social media and blogging, and I am willing to invest in additional marketing initiatives to increase my discoverability.
(9) As requested, I have included the first three pages of my work for review.
Thank you for your time.
So let’s break that down and talk about each numbered part:
- Do your research and know who you’re talking to.
Double and triple check that the agent’s/publisher’s name is spelled correctly.
- Immediately grab your audience’s attention.
You’re a writer–hook your reader in your letter like you would in your book, but be professional. I prefer to use story information for my hook, since my story is what I’m selling, but if there’s something stellar about you that’d help your book sell, you could mention that first.
- Now that you’ve got your reader’s attention, immediately cut to the chase. State the purpose for your letter and introduce your story and it’s title.
- This is the second most important part after the hook. The synopsis. I, like most writers, struggle with writing a synopsis. I am so thankful to Randy Ingermanson for sharing his Snowflake Method online. It’s a method for writing novels, but includes a little section on writing a synopsis. (I also highly recommend his book, “Writing Fiction for Dummies.”) I followed his example exactly, and I even left a little cliffhanger, and because of the next sentence, I’m not sure that was the wisest decision. TAKE NOTE: Most of the time, an agent isn’t going to want to be kept in the dark. Writing a query is the time to “spoil the story” for someone. They’ll need to know your story as best as they can so they can 1) get excited about it and 2) sell it! The synopsis should take up the bulk of your letter.
- Here’s where I chose to mention other praiseworthy selling points for my novel.
- You’ve given a synopsis of the story, now give the details.
Make sure you include the setting, target audience, genre, and word count at the bare minimum. I chose to include a title that I thought my story compared to so that I could show, “Hey, I’m a writer who does market research.”
- Unless you’re already a huge best-seller, here’s where you start mentioning yourself. At the END of the letter. Tell why you’re qualified to write a book. It can be any experience you think is relevant, but as always, stay professional. Now, you’re selling yourself.
- This is a huge point. How do you plan to market yourself? Do you have a platform already? I think that if you have something significant, it’s definitely worth mentioning in your query. If you have no idea what I’m talking about right now, click here for my Google search “why is marketing my writing important”.
- Mention any additional submission materials that were requested. This shows you’ve done your research
And end formally.
Okay, does your brain hurt, yet? Time for a commercial break!
Too cute, and that pony is a saint for not wailing that child in the face.
Anyway, back on track.
I think it’s also worth mentioning that, unless you’re a proven best-selling author, you should finish writing your novel before you send a query letter.
Now, you’ve birthed your query, and you’re ready to release it to the world. Send it out to as many agents/publishers you can find that you think will be a good fit for you. Then, prepare yourself for rejection. I’ve gotten so many rejection e-mails from agents–I still don’t have one–and that’s okay! You want to have someone behind you who’s really enthusiastic about your work, and that might take some time. So expect the rejection, but don’t see it as a bad thing. Instead, look at it as a step closer to finding the agent/publisher that’s meant for you. For example, one of my favorite authors (Ted Dekker) said it took him three years to find an agent, and he’s a best-seller!
Don’t give up. I promise, even when it feels like it, nothing you do on this writing journey will ever be wasted. Let this be your theme song while you’re waiting:
In the meantime, while you’re waiting weeks and months for rejection and (finally) acceptance, you can get your career as a novelist moving. Publishers are looking for two out of three big things for new writers.
1) An excellent, flawless manuscript.
2) A writer who has already built a following through social media, blogging, newsletters… whatever your creative niche is.
3) A writer with an agent. (And you’re already working on that part with the query letters you’re sending out.)
Now, while you’re waiting, it’s time to attack 1 and 2. Make your novel the very best it can be. Find some social media you like. If you don’t like Pinterest (or another form of social media), don’t use it. If you do, go for it! If you don’t enjoy what you’re doing, then you’re not going to keep doing it daily. Plan to spend at least 15 minuets a day interacting with users. That’ll all add up to a meaningful following that will help the world discover your book when it’s time for publishing.
Remember, if you keep going, this will all add up into something meaningful. Set your eyes on your goal and tell yourself that, even if you have to carve the words on a stone tablet, somehow, this book is going to happen. You can do this!
What are your tips for writing queries? Want some feedback before you send the query in? How do you handle rejection? Connect with community in the comments below.