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Step-by-Step Guide to Sending Query Letters

Updated: Sep 14, 2023

Unless you’re planning on self-publishing, securing a literary agent is often a crucial step in getting your manuscript published traditionally and reaching a wider audience, and the first impression you make with an agent is through a query letter, which serves as a persuasive and concise introduction to your work. Crafting a compelling query letter can be the key to capturing the attention of literary agents and taking your writing career to the next level.

So, how do you write an effective query letter that stands out in a competitive publishing landscape?

The First Step is to Research and Personalize:

Before writing your query letter, it’s vital to research literary agents who are a good fit for your genre and style. Read their submission guidelines, explore their client list, and understand their preferences. Personalize your query by addressing the agent by name and demonstrating your familiarity with their work or recent successes. This attention to detail shows that you’ve done your homework and are not shot gunning query letters to Tom, Dick, and Harry out there hoping someone bites. Agents are inundated with query letters every day, so make yours stand out.

To Do That, Hook the Agent with a Strong Opening:

Begin your query letter with a compelling and concise opening that grabs the agent’s attention. Consider starting with a captivating hook, an intriguing question, or a powerful statement that conveys the essence of your story. Engage the agent from the first sentence to make them eager to read more. Remember that an agent will gauge whether you can write or not by the quality of your query letter.

Next, Summarize Your Book in a Succinct Pitch:

This is probably the hardest thing to do. But again, this is how an agent can tell whether you can write or not. Provide a concise and engaging summary of your book highlighting the main characters, central conflict, and unique aspects of your story. Keep the focus on the core elements that make your book stand out while avoiding unnecessary plot details or subplots. Aim to convey the essence of your book in a way that sparks curiosity and leaves the agent wanting to know more. Story sensei has a really helpful post on how to put together a chapter-by-chapter synopsis here.

Showcase Your Writing Credentials (if applicable):

If you have relevant writing credentials, such as previous publications, awards, or writing-related experiences, include them in your query letter. These credentials can bolster your credibility and demonstrate your commitment to your craft. However, if you’re a debut author, don’t worry—agents are often open to discovering fresh talent.

Proofread and Polish:

Before sending your query letter, meticulously proofread it for grammar, punctuation, and spelling errors. One misspelled word can be the kiss of death. A well-edited query letter reflects your professionalism and attention to detail, so consider seeking feedback from fellow writers or joining writing communities to fine-tune your letter.

Follow Submission Guidelines:

Be sure to adhere to the agent’s submission guidelines meticulously. Each agent may have specific preferences regarding query format, attachment requirements, and additional materials like sample chapters or a synopsis. Failing to follow these guidelines may lead to your query being disregarded.

Be Patient and Persistent:

After submitting your query letter, be prepared for a waiting period. Agents receive numerous queries, and it may take weeks or even months for them to respond. It’s frustrating, but agents are busy. If they aren’t, they’re not very good at what they do. While waiting, continue working on your writing, and consider querying other agents simultaneously. If you receive a rejection, remember that it’s a normal part of the publishing process. Keep refining your query letter, seeking feedback, and persistently pursuing your publishing goals.

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