Writing Query Letters

By Last Updated: September 2, 2023Views: 2387

Query Letters for book-length manuscripts and/or agent representation

The last in our ‘How to Get Published’ series. This time the focus is on getting representation and writing a great query letter.

As always special thanks go out to David Hicks and Jacqueline Kharouf for compiling this information.

So, what’s the difference between querying for a literary agent and querying a small press?

  • Literary agent:
    A representative for your book to a big publishing house (think Knopf, or Random House, Penguin, etc.); these publication conglomerates will not accept manuscripts from unrepresented authors. However, your agent can promote your work for possible publication at these houses, which could include a contract for future books, book tours, and a Jonathan Franzen-type literary celebrity.
  • Small press:
    Any unrepresented author may query for publication at a small, independent press, which will still publish your book, but they won’t spend as much time promoting it.

The Query Letter

1) Write a pitch

As the opening line of your letter, this should get to the heart of your book in one succinct and/or enticing sentence.

2) Reference the agent of your query

Explain/describe why you are querying the agent to whom you are addressing this letter (i.e. maybe mention that you noticed he/she was in to fantasy literature and your manuscript also happens to be a rip-roaring adventure fantasy story set in the super-awesome land of Phantasmagoria, a world of magical rings and ring masters battling for the destiny of all of elf-kind.)

You can look for agents online, as well. We suggest two websites: Agentquery.com and querytracker.com. Agentquery.com seems to be the most comprehensive and searchable with a list of agents and statistics of their preferred subjects, whether or not they are accepting queries at this time, and a link to their full profiles (and home websites).

3) Explain/Describe your story

Include a brief overview of what your novel/memoir is all about, along with the appeal of such a work, the themes present throughout, etc.

4) Who are you?

List your many literary accolades: your street cred., publishing cred., and/or any super cool awards you may have received.

5) Outline how you might market this book

You could mention your Facebook fans, Twitter followers, and/or the typical market that would be attracted to a book of this caliber.

(for instance, David Hick’s book is set in Italy, so he mentioned selling/promoting his book in Italy, in case an agent had international connections).

After each of these steps, agents write back and sometimes give suggestions of why they cannot market your book; or they may even offer a critique of what you could improve, etc. Sometimes, they will ask to see the entire manuscript—but this doesn’t necessarily mean they will agree to publish it. Luckily, on average, your first book publication may take up to seven years (!).

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