How to Write a Query Letter to a Literary Agent

If you're going the traditional publishing route, meaning that you want to land a literary agent and want your novel pitched to big-NYC publishing houses, then you have to learn how to write a query letter.

This is probably even more important of a task than actually writing your novel. 

Why?  Because a query letter can make or break your chance at getting an agent or editor interested in your novel. If you don't peak their interest right away, then it won't matter how amazing your novel is.

There are four parts to a successful query letter: 

  1. The Intro/Hook
  2. The story (think back-cover blurb)
  3. Your credentials/accomplishments
  4. Call to action

The Intro/Hook

This is the opening paragraph in your query when you hint at what your novel is about and hook the agent/editor into wanting to read more. This is (some say) the most important piece of the query.  I would agree.  A good hook shows that you have a great handle on what your book is about and you know exactly where it fits into your niche.  Think about what it is you have to offer and what would make an agent/editor stop and take notice.

It's good practice to include the word count, genre, and title of your work in the opening paragraph. It also helps to offer if your work is similar to another author they either represent or might be aware of.

The Story

This is where you introduce the agent or editor to your story. It is usually two (but no more than three) paragraphs showing the plot, characters, and conflict. Keep it short and interesting. What is the theme of the novel? Who are the characters and what is their main struggle? If it's a romance novel, how does the romance either help or hinder the characters in achieving their goals? Did you summarize the story enough that it's intriguing without being confusing?

Summarizing an 80,000 word novel into two paragraphs can be a feat.  But if you know who your characters are, what their main goal is, and who/what is keeping them from it, then that's most of the battle. Agents and editors want to see that you recognize and can define your plot and conflict.

This is a great part of the query to think about what sets your story apart from others in its genre. Mention it. Sure, your story has to fit into a niche somewhere, but what is it that helps it stand out from just another romance novel?

Your Credentials/Accomplishments

This paragraph is where you'll speak about your experience and accomplishments. 

  • Did you final or win a writing contest? 
  • Do you belong to a local or national writing chapter? 
  • Did you work for a publishing house as an assistant editor?
  • Did you query this agent before with another project and they requested a partial or full? (This shows that they like your style and voice, the previous project just wasn't right for them, but the new project might be)

Don't be shy and don't be afraid to toot your own horn. Agents and editors want to know if your story resonated and/or generated interest with others. 

Call To Action

Invite the agent/editor to contact you if they'd like to read more. If you've been querying and have had interest from other agents, be sure to say that you have the partial or full MS out for consideration. (No need to say you're querying other agents. That's a given.) Again, if agents are requesting a partial or full of your MS it shows that your story is garnering interest from others and is worth taking a look. 


End the query thanking the agent profusely for their time. Make sure to include all of your social media links in your signature so they can see how serious you are about helping to promote your work. (This is of course IF the social media links you're including are up to date.)

Writing a query takes a lot of time and patience.  Most authors don't get it right on the first try. Even veteran authors have to write and rewrite their queries to get them just right.  That's why valuable critique partners or writing friends come in handy. You HAVE to have someone in the industry read through your letter to make sure it shines.  

You get one chance to make an impression -- make sure it's a great one.

Below is an example of a winning query I used for my debut novel, ON HER SIX (the original title was changed).

Dear Ms. NAME,

I am seeking representation for my 86,000 word single-title romantic suspense novel, ON HER SIX. This story has placed first in the Smoky Mountain Romance Writers Laurie Contest and the North Texas RWA Great Expectations Contest, and placed second in the Maryland Romance Writers Vixen Contest. It has also been requested in full by an editor at XXX Publishing House.


New neighbors are bad news according to Samantha Harper. Especially ones as suspicious and brooding as the one who just moved in next door. So when Sam learns of a new highly-addictive drug sweeping the city, threatening those she loves—and her neighbor seems to know everything about it—the aspiring cop in her takes action. Leading her elderly, all-female neighborhood watch in a stakeout to learn as much as they can about the new guy, the group instead sees more of their buff neighbor than they bargained for.


After his screw-up in South America, resulting in a demotion and loss of his team, all DEA agent Ash Cooper wants to do is lay low and survive this crappy surveillance assignment. But after a run-in with his annoying neighbor and a pack of meddling grannies, he realizes that’s going to be much harder than he planned. Doing all he can to keep the women at bay, Ash begins to repeat his past mistakes and does the one thing he swore he’d never do again—trust a beautiful woman.

I am an active member of Romance Writers of America, Maryland Romance Writers, as well as an online critique group. 


As stated on your submissions page, below you will find the first chapter and synopsis of my manuscript.


I look forward to hearing from you. Thank you for your time.

There you have it.  Now go out and send yours off! Good luck!!

*If you'd like to check out my publishing journey, from writing and sending out my query letter, to getting an agent, and releasing my first published novel. You can read that here


How To Land a Literary Agent to Represent You and Your Novel

Common questions most published authors get are, "How did you do it? Where did you start? How did you get your agent?" 

There are a ton of avenues for publishing once you've completed your novel. For me, I knew I wanted to go the traditional publishing route by finding an agent and having him/her pitch my manuscript to a publishing house. I didn't have enough experience in publishing to even attempt to know where to start with editing, publishing, and marketing my novel on my own. I needed a team of experts helping me. (That's not to say you can't have a team of experts helping you self-publish. I just knew I wanted to start my author journey with traditional publishing.)  Keep in mind that just because you land an agent doesn't automatically mean you'll get published, either. But it does increases your chances a lot. 

Agents are a great direct connection to the publishing world. They know what editors want and keep track of trends. 

There are lots of great ways to meet an agent and pitch to them. 

Some common methods are: 

  • Write a query letter
  • Pitch an agent at a conference
  • Enter a writing contest 
  • Be referred by another author

Pitching to agents can feel like a full-time job sometimes because of the time it takes to write and rewrite your query letter, make a list of which agents fit into your genre/interests, keep track of who you've sent letters to or spoken with, and who requested a partial or full of your MS.

Here are some steps to follow in your attempt at finding your perfect literary agent: 

Step 1:

Write your query letter

Make sure it's succinct, shows off your voice, and has a killer hook. Share it with your network of writer friends, your family, your mom--whoever.  Show it to SOMEONE so they can read it for typos, grammar, and also to see if it entices them to want to read your novel. If they aren't dying to check out your novel, then you still have some work to do.  It needs to draw them in and make them salivate to read more.

Step 2: Check out online resources like Query Tracker to help you find agents that represent the genre in which your write. 

Step 3: Make a list of all the agents, their contact information, authors they rep that are similar to your style, and how to contact them. I chose agents who ONLY accepted email queries.  Much faster to send and get a response back. Plus, in this digital age, I wanted someone up with the modern times.

Step 4: Prioritize your list of agents from OH MY GOSH YES! to THEY WOULD BE GOOD to THEY SEEM DECENT.

Step 5: Start testing the waters and send your query letter out. I chose 5 agents from each of my priority lists to start.  I gauged how well my query letter was based on the reaction I received back from them. If I received very few requests for a partial or full the first time I sent the letter out, I knew I had to go back to the drawing board. If I received some interest, I sent my letter out to 5 more agents on each priority list to test again. By the end of my list, I had a great response rate for partials or fulls.

Step 6: Keep track of the comments you're getting back, requests for partials or fulls, and rejections. It's not cool to resend your query to an agent if they've already responded once. Also, keep track when you sent your MS to agents so you can follow up.  Agents are busy, so don't send your MS out today and then expect a response back by next weekend. They need at least 4 weeks, some might ask for even longer. Once a reasonable amount of time has passed and you haven't heard anything, it's okay to follow up. Check out the agent's website to see if they list their anticipated response times. Most do.

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Step 7: If you get serious interest in your MS (and/or an agent would like to represent you), it's common courtesy to reach out to the agents who currently have your partial or full, and let them know so they can decide if they would like to have a chance to read it. Most will move your MS up in the queue and get to it quicker.  But DO NOT tell them you have interest or an offer from another agent if you really don't. That's definitely a NO-NO.

Step 8: Don't simply sign with an agent just because they offered representation. Make sure you and said agent are a great fit. Make sure you feel confident that they understand your desires for this business. Make sure they are the best-suited person to rep you and speak for you. 

Step 9: Ask questions to the prospective agent.

There are questions you can ask the offering agent(s) to help you decide if they are your best candidate: 

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  • What does the agent like best about your project?
  • Does the agent feel the project is ready for submission to publishers or will he/she require revisions?
  • If revisions are needed, are they small things or does he/she want a major plot or character development change?
  • Which publishing houses does the agent believe would be a good fit for your book? 
  • How many editors does he/she plan to pitch in the first round of submissions? (six or more at one time is average)
  • What is their communication strategy like? How often will he/she update you regarding the status of your submissions?
  • Is the agent interested in only this project? Or are they interested in your future books too?
  • Does the agency handle the sale of subsidiary rights (foreign, film, audio, translation)? 
  • What is their success rate? What projects have they successfully sold recently?
  • Can they offer referrals of current or previous clients that you can reach out to?

Step 10: Read and review the agent and author contract to make sure you can comply and agree with everything. There are standards of commission that agents earn, so check what the standard is in your market/genre. Most are 20% from what your publisher pays you.

Step 11: Once you've made your selection, be sure to reach out to the other agents you've queried and let them know that your project is no longer available for consideration. This is a SMALL industry. Don't be inconsiderate. 

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Step 12: Don't stop writing. Submitting your MS to publishers TAKES TIME.  Don't sit around waiting for word back. Keep your brain active and start working on another novel. It'll help you to pass the time quicker, plus it gives you a leg up if/when publishers want to see more work from you.

Step 13: Use your agent as a resource.  They are the expert when it comes to dealing with publishing houses. That's what you're paying him/her for. Get them involved in any hairy situation.

Step 14: Congratulations on your accomplishment!! Be proud of your hard work and that others are appreciating it.  Keep learning, keep honing your craft, and keep writing.

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*If you'd like to check out my publishing journey, from writing and sending out my query letter, to getting an agent, and releasing my first published novel. You can read that here