A query letter is a one-page document sent by a writer to his or her literary agent. Its primary purpose is to lure the agent’s interest in the manuscript. Since many writers are engaged in the same goal, a successful query letter makes for an outstanding pitch.
Each query does not have much time, or space, to capture the interest of the literary agent. Experienced agents get thousands of queries every year. This is why novice writers sweat over the challenge of writing a captivating query letter.
Creating a List of Prospective Agents
There are several resources that help writers locate agents that specialize in their genre. These include databases like the publishersmarketplace.com, literarymarketplace.com, the Association of Author Representatives, agentyuery.com, querytracker.net, and writersmarket.com. After finding potential agents, writers need to visit the agents’ websites to obtain submission guidelines, find out what types of books they are looking for; and whether they are still accepting submissions.
Following Submission Guidelines
Submission guidelines specify the acceptable method of submission, as well as what should be included in the query letter’s contents and/or attachments. Some elements do not change even when the contents vary according to the agent’s specifications, the work being pitched by the writer, and its genre.
Printed/Email Formats and Content
If the agent wants the material submitted by mail, then the letter should have the writer’s address, right justified, at the top of the page followed by the left justified agent’s name and address. If the letter is being submitted by email, the subject line should indicate it is a query and the signature should have the writer’s name, address and other contact information.
The agent should be addressed courteously; and, the main portion of a posted letter should not exceed five or 6 paragraphs. Emailed queries should not exceed 300 words because agents read and discard emails quickly.
The first paragraph should capture the agent’s interest. This is the paragraph where connection with the agent maybe personalized by for example mentioning authors represented by the agent, or any meeting with the agent, or knowing someone who knows the agent. It can include the word count of the book, its genre and title.
The following paragraphs should capture the agent’s interest by giving a vivid sense of the book. If query is about a nonfiction work, the writer should explain why the writer is qualified to write the book. If the book is a novel, then following agents on social media may provide useful information about whether the agent is the right fit for the book being pitched. Only requested attachments should be provided. The signature can include links to a personal website or blog.
Bottom line: agents want projects that publishers will accept. If you want to feel comfortable about your task, check online for examples that have worked. You can also improve the odds of being accepted by sending queries to many agents.