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:
- The Intro/Hook
- The story (think back-cover blurb)
- Your credentials/accomplishments
- Call to action
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.
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?
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.
<<NOTICE THAT I INCLUDED THE WORD COUNT, GENRE, AND TITLE IN THE OPENING SENTENCE. I ALSO WANTED TO SHOW RIGHT AWAY THAT THE STORY GOT A LOT OF ATTENTION FROM MY PEERS AND OTHER AGENTS/EDITORS IN THE INDUSTRY THROUGH CONTESTS.>>
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.
<<I WANTED TO SHOW WHAT WAS DIFFERENT ABOUT THIS ROMANTIC SUSPENSE AND SHOW THE QUIRKY, HUMOROUS SIDE TO IT BY MENTIONING THE ELDERLY NEIGHBORHOOD WATCH.>>
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.
<<IT'S A GOOD IDEA TO LIST ANY CREDENTIALS YOU HAVE SO AGENT/EDITOR KNOWS YOU'RE SERIOUS ABOUT YOUR WRITING CAREER.>>
As stated on your submissions page, below you will find the first chapter and synopsis of my manuscript.
<<SO IMPORTANT TO READ HOW AGENTS WANT YOU TO SUBMIT QUERIES TO THEM. SOME WANT ONLY THE QUERY LETTER, OTHERS WOULD LIKE A FEW PAGES OF YOUR MANUSCRIPT AND/OR SYNOPSIS.>>
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.