I’m sure you’ve all heard of query letters, but what are they? This post will talk about the best approach to writing query letters.
Know what a query letter is.
A query letter goes out to prospective editors in the creative industry. It’s your little sales pitch for your book – where you tell potential publishers about it, why it’s needed, and why it will benefit publishers to publish it.
Agents want to see if your idea has enough potential for them to take on as clients, so they need some indication that it might sell well enough for them to make money by representing it.
Query letters allow them to see if they like what they read (or don’t read) before deciding whether or not they want to represent you as an author.
A query letter is also called a cover letter or synopses. A brief letter is sent to an editor or literary agent to pitch your book idea.
It should explain the concept of your book, why it’s unique and how it will sell, and why you’re the best person to write it.
For example, if you’re writing a young adult novel about an orphan who runs away from her foster home with an older gentleman, there’s no need to explain why this book differs from every other YA novel.
Focus instead on how well-written your story is and why readers will enjoy reading it.
Query letters are typically no more than one page long and include basic information about the author and their credentials for writing this particular book.
Focus on the hook first.
The most important part of your query letter is the opening paragraph. This is where you introduce yourself and your book, so make sure it’s concise and compelling.
An excellent place to start is with a sentence or two that describes what makes your book unique and exciting — what’s known as the “hook.” This doesn’t have to be a big twist; it could just be something that sets your story apart from others in its genre.
You can use strong action verbs in your opening paragraph. For example, words like “flee” or “discover” are especially effective because they imply movement and activity, which makes them more appealing than static verbs like “was” or “did.”
Do your research.
Before you start writing, make sure you know what kind of book you want to write and who your target market is.
Research doesn’t mean regurgitating facts but showing how your experiences and interests have led you to write about this topic.
It also shows that you’re not just writing about what’s popular right now but instead have something new and exciting to offer the world.
It would be best if you also researched the publishing industry as a whole (e.g., what agents are looking for).
You can find out which genres are hot right now by reading trade magazines like Publishers Weekly or The Bookseller and checking out blogs from other authors who’ve already been published.
Share your story idea, but don’t give it all away.
Your query letter should hint at the overall plot of your novel or nonfiction book without giving away too much detail.
Instead, you can talk about why they should take the time to read your book:
- What makes it unique?
- What makes it different from other books in its genre?
- How does it add something new to the world of literature?
- Why would someone want to read this book?
Talk about why people would be interested in reading about your characters or plotlines, not just what happens in them, or else they’ll think it sounds like every other book in its genre.
Also, try not to get too detailed with plot points or characters in this first letter; save that information for when they request additional material from you later on down the line.
If you give away too much in your query letter, your editor might not feel compelled to read the rest. However, once the editor wants to read more about your idea, they will request the entire proposal from you — this is good news.
You should have prepared this ahead of time so that when an editor requests information about your project. This is to ensure that there won’t be any delay in getting it out there as quickly as possible.
Edit and follow the rules of etiquette.
In the world of business, there are many rules of etiquette that you need to follow.
Here are the rules of etiquette in creating query letters:
- Be polite. Don’t use the word “you” in your letter—instead, refer to the recipient as “Mr.” or “Ms.”
- Use their name in the greeting—for example, “Dear Ms. Jones….”
- Use correct grammar and spelling at all times.
- Only address one person per query letter; if you send a query letter to multiple people at the same company, ensure that each person gets a copy of your letter.
- Keep your query short and sweet—no more than two pages long unless otherwise instructed by the company you’re contacting.
If you want to become a professional writer, you need to publish compelling pieces of writing regularly. And the way to do that is through submitting query letters to agents and publishers.
Editors are bombarded with queries every day, so you need something that will grab their attention and make them want to read more.
You must put yourself out there and don’t know if anyone will like your writing. But it’s not impossible.
You’ll struggle to write query letters to agents and publishers as a writer. But, it doesn’t have to be that complicated though. Writing good query letters is not something that will happen overnight—in fact, it’s unlikely that you’ll succeed on your first try.
But, the first thing to know about query letters is that they’re not a one-size-fits-all communication if you want to create a query letter that will grab the attention of a publisher—and convince them that your book is worth publishing.
In addition, a sloppy query letter won’t get read. So be sure to check your spelling and grammar before submitting your query letter.