Those dang query letters are important. They are my introduction to you and your work (unless I already know you). If I’m struggling through reading your query letter, I’m probably not going to keep scrolling down to read your manuscript. I’ll just cut my losses and reply with a pass. I know you don’t want to hear that. But it’s true.
A good query letter will do its job and pique my interest. It will invite and entice me to read your manuscript. It will put your work in a context. It will intrigue me and perhaps even make me want to Google you.
This is what I want to see in your query letter:
- that you take your writing seriously and professionally
- that you’ve done your homework and know what should be included in a query letter… and what should not.
- that you’re following my submission guidelines, which you can find many places, including on my agency website and here on the blog
- that you’re not being weird or cute in the query (except normal weirdness or cuteness) because a query is a business letter
- that you understand what an agent does and does not do (i.e. I don’t publish your book. You don’t hire me.)
The above are general things I want to see. I’m not getting specific, because I feel like I’ve talked about query letters a whole bunch here on the blog. Like here. Here. Here. And here (I got a lot of pushback on this one. People didn’t like my tone.)
Do you have questions about queries? I’m happy to answer questions!
And now, because I always put pictures in my posts, here’s a post of my new typewriter. I bought it this past weekend for no reason whatsoever at all except that one can’t have too many typewriters. Right?
A query letter is a business letter. Writing may be art but publishing is a business. As a writer you are the creator of a potentially sellable product. Being too weird or unprofessional in your query letter can lessen the chance that you will get your work noticed, published, on bookstore shelves, and into the hands of readers. It’s ok to have personality, be interesting and inventive and perhaps a bit funny. And it’s ok for your work to be weird. Just keep the weird out of your query letter. And remember to check for typos, as that’s part of being professional.
The whole point of a query letter is to get someone to read your manuscript. That means you don’t need to describe every little thing that happens in the plot, or name all the characters, or give away the big secret, or say how it all works out in the end. Unless giving away the big secret will be the thing in your letter that gets someone to read your manuscript… It’s way more important to write an enticing query letter than to spell everything out.
A query letter shouldn’t run longer than one typed page (even though it’s usually an email). Figure on double spaced, 12 point font, 1″ margins. Think 3 or 4 shortish paragraphs. An introductory paragraph with a pitch or a logline, a short synopsis (preferably without spoilers), and a bio with only relevant information. Don’t overthink this but do polish it to a high shine.
There are many places where you can get more detailed information about how to write a query, including lots of past posts on this blog. There are books on writing queries, workshops and breakout sessions at writing conferences, and more places online than I have time to link to. Just try a Google search. And good luck!