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How to Nail Your Query Letter by Rose Atkinson-Carter

Happy Wednesday Everyone! Today I’m excited to have Rose Atkinson-Carter, a writer with Reedsy, here to share her fantastic tips for nailing your query letter. I found her advice and examples very helpful. I hope you will too.

Now here’s Rose!

Query letters are sent to literary agents to assess their potential interest in representing your writing for publication. These agents receive hundreds of queries, but they only select a few authors for representation each year. That’s why mastering the art of crafting a compelling query letter is crucial for aspiring authors.

But don’t worry, you won’t be penning another epic. Although each literary agency has its own requirements, most query letters aren’t expected to be longer than 400 words. With that said, here are 5 necessary steps to nail your query letter and entice any literary agent.

Start with a strong “hook”

In the same way that most successful books start with a strong hook, your query letter needs to compel literary agents to keep reading! In addition to a greeting or salutation to your letter’s recipient, the beginning of your query letter should include a short description that gives agents an overview of your book’s concept.

Before expanding into a successful movie franchise, Michael Crichton’s novel Jurassic Park was an instant bestseller with a powerful and intriguing hook: 

An astonishing technique for recovering and cloning dinosaur DNA has been discovered. Now humankind’s most thrilling fantasies have come true. Creatures extinct for eons roam Jurassic Park with their awesome presence and profound mystery, and all the world can visit them—for a price. 

Until something goes wrong. . . . 

From this example, the literary agent immediately sees the unique premise of a park filled with dinosaurs and a deadly challenge to overcome. Your hook doesn't necessarily need to show danger or action, but it must be engaging. 

Some practical advice is to look at the short descriptions for movies on streaming platforms used to “hook” potential viewers as inspiration. This is arguably the most important element of your query letter, so make sure you do justice to your writing. 

Include a synopsis 

You’ve now hopefully “hooked” the agent, so it's time to pique their interest with a book synopsis. Think of this as an opportunity to reveal the important elements of:

      The plot

      The primary characters

      The conflicts and questions that drive your story 

You can find some inspiration by reading the blurbs of successful books in your genre to see how their authors introduce their writing effectively. 

Make comparisons to other titles 

Once you’ve written an engaging synopsis, you can make comparisons to similar titles and authors. This not only shows that you have an awareness of the market, but it could also make the agent think, “I like those books, maybe I’ll like this one, too.” Here are two ideas to start with:

      “For fans of”: this helps to show the potential of an existing audience.

      “X meets Y”: this shows how your book combines elements of other titles. 

Keep in mind that there are some comparisons worth avoiding in your letter:

      Outdated books. Market trends change so keep your comparisons current. Using Dickens as a comparison might be a little difficult!

      Chart-topping books. Your work may well become successful, but making comparisons to a franchise as huge as Harry Potter might not come across too well.

      Unknown books. If the comparisons are too niche, the agent might just get confused. 

Don’t forget to talk about yourself 

Following an overview of your book, you should write a short author bio to show all your writing-related accomplishments. This will give the agent a better idea of your publishing experience and potential. It's good practice to only stick to what’s relevant to your writing credentials — there's no need to discuss your dreams or your day job! 

Here are some examples that you might want to include:

      Have any of your books, short stories, poems, essays, etc. been published before?

      Have you won any awards or writing contests?

      Are you a graduate of a creative writing program?

      Have you attended any writing conferences or workshops? 

If you also have a substantial social media following, this is the ideal place to mention an existing audience that could help make your book successful. 

A simple one-line bio is fine 

Equally, many agents are open to debut authors and will mainly focus on the details about your story in your letter. So if you don’t have any particular writing experience yet, don’t worry! You could simply say something like: “I live in Timbuktu with my wife and two kids. This is my first novel.” 

Close with a “thank you” 

Don’t overcomplicate the ending of your query letter. You’re effectively writing a business email, so the best thing to do is to simply end with a formal salutation: 

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

Sincerely,

Your Name 

No need to try to organize a meeting or go into how excited you are at the idea of potentially working together. Just say your thanks and leave it there!

Double-check each agent’s requirements 

Once you’ve crafted a great letter, you’ll have to do some housekeeping to make sure it follows each agent’s submission guidelines. Otherwise, it could unfortunately be disregarded automatically. 

You should, of course, start with a self-proofread. But if you’d like more feedback, there are many editors and agents out there who offer query letter reviews. 

There are two main ways to send queries these days: online submission forms (e.g., QueryManager) and email. It’s common for authors to prepare their letter in a word processor like Microsoft Word and then copy and paste the text into the online form or the email body, depending on an agent’s requirements. Be sure to carefully check the submission requirements of each agent and tweak as needed — if an agent prefers receiving PDF files over Word documents, do as they say!

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If you’ve been struggling to put together a solid query letter that does justice to the quality of your work, then hopefully these tips have been helpful. Good luck and happy writing! 

Rose Atkinson-Carter is a writer with Reedsy, a marketplace that connects authors with the world’s best self-publishing resources and professionals like editors, designers, and ghostwriters. She lives in London. 

Upcoming Interviews, Guest Posts, and Blog Hops

Tomorrow, May 16th I'm participating in the Moms Rock Giveaway Hop

Monday, May 20th I have an agent spotlight interview with Caroline Trussell and a query critique giveaway

Saturday, June 1st I’m participating in the Berry Good Giveaway Hop

Wednesday, June 5th I have an interview with author June Hur and a giveaway of her YA historical A Crane Among Wolves and my IWSG post

Monday, June 10th I have an agent spotlight interview with Jenna Satterthwaite and a query critique giveaway

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I hope to see you tomorrow!

6 comments:

Natalie Aguirre said...

Thanks for sharing all your tips, Rose.

Kate Larkindale said...

Great tips, Rose!

Liz A. said...

Ah yes, the dreaded query letter. So hard to get right.

Jacqui said...

Good tips. I would love to nail a query letter--something I've never done!

Carol Baldwin said...

Hook. Book. Cook. All three are important. Good tips. No need to enter me but thanks for the post.

Angie Quantrell said...

Great tips! Thank you!