How to Write a Query Letter: All Your Questions Answered
Query letters are the first step in submitting your book to a literary agent. If you'd like to write a successful query letter that will get your manuscript requested by an agent, this guide is for you. I’m sharing everything you need to know about writing a well-crafted query that will impress a literary agent and get your book closer to being in readers’ hands.
What is a Query Letter?
A query letter is a letter sent to a literary agent requesting the representation of your work in the publishing market. Its purpose is to introduce your book and stimulate interest in them taking you on as a client. They are concise and to-the-point pitches that should be tailored to the agent and the type of books they represent while still reflecting your unique writing style.
A successful query letter is essential to an aspiring author who wants to publish a book with a traditional publishing model. The point is to engage a literary agent who will work to connect you with potential publishers and ensure you land a successful book deal. However, some publishers do accept queries directly from authors without representation. Whether through a literary agent who will represent them or directly through the traditional publisher, query letters are the way you get your foot in the door.
What is in a Query Letter?
You only get one chance to make a first impression, and query letters are your first (and only) chance to let agents and editors know what you're capable of writing. A successful query letter will introduce your book, hook the reader, and make a case for why your book would be a great investment. You also want the agent to know about your author credentials and the book's competitive advantage in its genre.
A good query letter will captivate the agent by summarizing your story in a compelling way. In just a few sentences, you should be able to tell the agent why your book is a perfect fit for their client list and why they should take a look. If you can sell the agent on your story, they’ll feel confident in helping you sell it to readers. You should only send your query letter to literary agents who represent books similar to the one you are submitting.
Here are the four main elements that are to be included in a query letter:
Synopsis: the description of your story that reels in the agent
Main book details: the title, word count, and genre of your book.
Bio: your author credentials and relevant information about you
Closing: a brief conclusion and thank you to the agent
It is recommended to present the query in this order, starting with captivating the attention of the agent with a compelling hook about your book, then letting them know a bit about you, and then wrapping it up. Personalize your query letter where you can, drawing a connection to yourself or your book and the literary agent or the work they represent. Let them know you’ve done your research.
How Long Should a Query Letter Be?
A query letter should be no more than one page long. This means you have approximately 200-400 words to get your point across, though 250-350 words are generally where you should target your goals. Agents will not read long query letters, and there are no exceptions to this.
It might seem a bit overwhelming to condense your manuscript pitch into that little words, but that’s why these letters are so important to craft with intention. You’ve probably heard the phrase, “If I had more time, I’d have written a shorter letter.” It takes careful precision and intricate use of your craft to get your query letter down to a concise, marketable pitch. Take your time and rework your query letter multiple times. Consider a query letter critique from other writers and experts like Our Galaxy to help point out weaknesses you may have missed.
How Do You Format a Query Letter?
Think of this as a business letter. Stick to a standard Times New Roman font in size 12. It should be single-spaced, with a space between paragraphs. Include the date, your name, address, phone number, and email at the top. Try to keep your query letter to three main paragraphs, potentially a brief fourth one for your salutations.
Pay attention to sentence structure, and proofread your work multiple times to avoid typos and errors that could potentially cost you a follow-up with an agent. Anything that makes your letter less professional can cost you in the long run.
When Do You Start Sending Query Letters?
Query letters are most often sent after the completion of a manuscript when you’re ready to get your book in print. It generally takes about six months (sometimes longer/shorter) to hear back from an agent about the acceptance or rejection of your query. If they accept, they will most likely ask for more information from you, like pages of the manuscript itself and/or a book proposal.
However, some writers will query agents prior to the completion of their manuscripts, hoping to gain representation in the market for a traditional publisher who will take on the financial obligations of the book’s completion. To break this down a bit better, most traditional publishers offer advances; a signing bonus offered to authors upon signing a publishing contract and before the book is brought to print. Sometimes, authors may hope to gain representation to help offset the financial cost of completing the book.
How Do You Send a Query Letter?
Query letters are most often sent via email, but literary agents and publishers all have distinct guidelines for how they want to receive your work. If the agent or publisher doesn’t specify, most sources will also suggest not including your query letter as an attachment, but writing it directly in the email. I’ll be honest, I’m on the fence about this, and have seen it work both ways. But what I do know, is that agents and publishers can receive dozens of queries a day, and it’s best to keep it simple and direct unless otherwise instructed.
What To Do Before You Send a Query Letter?
Get organized. No, really, that’s it in a nutshell. There is a strategy for sending query letters, and without getting organized, the process is bound to become an overwhelming experience you couldn’t run farther from. Here are some suggestions we have before sending your query letters.
Do your research about the literary agent or publisher
It’s exceptionally important that you know about the literary agent or publisher you’re going to be querying. You want to be sure that they represent and publish books similar to yours so you know they’d even be interested in your book’s genre or themes. Do the necessary research about the authors they’ve worked with, familiarizing yourself with whether you think their author platform aligns with your aspirations. Without feeling confident that the literary agent or publisher is a mutual fit, it’s pointless to reach out.
Check agent/publisher submission guidelines
Literary agents and publishers all have unique submission guidelines. If those guidelines are not followed exactly, you can expect to receive a rejection or not hear back from them at all. Each query letter should be personalized to the specific literary agent or publisher, customized according to their requirements, and crafted to meet their standard of value in publishing.
Start a spreadsheet to keep track of potential agents or publishers
Begin a spreadsheet where you can keep a running list of all the agents you reach out to. Include things like their name, the company (if any) that they work for, their email address and contact information, their website/media links, and the type of work they publish. From there, you can make columns for when you reached out to that agent, what their response was, or when you should follow up next.
Send query letters in batches
Sending query letters in batches of around 4-8 at a time will give you the opportunity to be reaching a wider market while also being able to keep up with the process. You don’t want to query too many at a time, as that could confuse things and overload your workflow. However, because the process can take as long as it does, you don’t want to send just one at a time. That could take years. Aspiring Author has a great article that goes deeper into this.
Querying literary agents and publishers is no easy feat. The process is long, sometimes a bit daunting, and always a matter of staying on top of your game. Plus, there’s this new realm of having to get used to the inevitable rejection that comes along with it. There’s a great article published by Literary Hub called “Why You Should Aim for 100 Rejections a Year” that provides valuable insight into what the process is like for writers.
Our Galaxy Can Help You Query Your Book to Agents
Our Galaxy offers aspiring authors a query letter review that is a detailed evaluation of the query with recommendations to improve content, structure, and tone. With our actionable feedback, the goal is for you to feel confident sending out your query letters knowing you’re representing your book, and your authorhood, best. If you want to see some examples of query letter critiques from editors and agents, Reedsy has a valuable source.
So, aspiring authors, if you’re getting ready to query literary agents to publish a book and have a query letter draft, request more information to find out how to work with us to perfect your query letter and begin a successful querying experience.
Christine Weimer is an award-winning author, publisher, creative copywriter, and spoken-word artist from Queens, New York. She is honing all the guts and glory of motherhood while promoting and supporting women writers as the Editor-in-Chief of Our Galaxy Publishing. Christine is the author of three poetry collections; Tainted Lionheart, which won the Gold Medal Poetry Award for Readers’ Favorite 2021, I Got to Know Nature, and Claiming the Throne. Her most recent work is published in The Order of Us and Venus Rising anthologies and Sunflower Station Press literary magazine. She is also the Publishing Advisor for Gearing Towards Engineering Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting the importance of STEM education to today's youth.
Our Galaxy Publishing is a New York City-based, women-owned, and operated independent press with a nationwide team serving aspiring authors the tools to write and publish. Our seamless publishing experience focuses on action-based tools and resources to publish, exploration of all core storytelling elements, and empowering an entrepreneurial mindset. Whether seeking to self-publish a book or find a traditional publisher, work with us for book publishing, book editing, book marketing, and writing mentorship to publish a successful book.