For Writers: How to Write a Query Letter
As a fellow writer and now intern at North Star Editions, I've dealt with more than a few queries. I've written and rewritten my own as well as read too many to count. Trust me when I say I know writing a query can be difficult, but I also know how important they can be for the people that read them, a.k.a. the people who hold the future of your book in their hands!
Scary stuff, I know.
Lucky for you, I'm here to help! (As are many other people in the writing/publishing community, just so you know!)
As you probably know by now, a query is basically your first line of defense. It's the first thing that an agent, an intern, a publisher, etc. is going to read. It's where they get a feel for your book and its characters. As someone who now goes through that slush pile, let me tell you how important a query is: very. I'm still in the early stages of my internship so, even if your query needs some work, there's still a good chance that I'll at least start reading your manuscript. But, for people who have been in this business a lot longer than me, they may not take that extra step. I mean, do you know how many queries these people receive?! Trust me, it's a lot.
You want your query to stand out from the rest. You want your story to leap out of those few paragraphs you get and make whoever is reading it want to delve into your manuscript. Believe it or not, there is a pretty standard formula most people want when it comes to queries!
1. First of all, look at the agent/publisher's submission guidelines. Follow these guidelines. There is a reason that these people take the time to put them there! A lot of the time, it will tell you exactly what they want your query to include and the paragraph order they want this information in. Other times, it may just say attach your query. Read and do what they say. If they say paste it to the body of the email, don't attach it as a document. It's the little stuff, guys.
2. Use the standard Times New Roman font in size 12. A query should consist of: a short synopsis of your book (a few short paragraphs), a short bio of yourself that includes any writing achievements (previously published works, etc.), and your contact information. You should address the query directly to who you're sending it to (try to avoid Dear Agent).
3. The first line of your query should hook whoever is reading it. You're trying to make them want to read more of it, after all. Then, roll into your brief synopsis. Next, is the title of your book and it's length. Here is also where you can add comp titles. Comp titles can be books similar to yours, authors with a similar voice, or even a movie or show. You don't have to add comp titles, but they can be a good way to give the reader some extra knowledge about what they're getting into. After that comes a short bio about yourself, listing previous writing awards or publications. Don't feel bad if you don't have anything big to put there, it's not a big deal. Finally, tell them why you queried them, sign off, and don't forget your contact information. Include your name, email, and phone number. They have to be able to get back in touch with you!
4. There are exceptions to the above. If you're sending it to the exception, most of what number 3 says will still hold true, it may just be in a different order. Like I said in number 1, follow the individual guidelines laid out for you by whoever you're sending your query to. It's important that you can follow directions! Show them that you can.
There are plenty of examples of wonderful query letters that worked all over the internet, and that's what I modeled my own after. After reading more than a few in my internship, I noticed that the ones that made me want to keep reading had all of the above information in it, plus the additional guidelines wanted by North Star. The ones that I wasn't interested in didn't follow any sort of guideline and weren't thought out. Take your time with your query! It's important in the long run.
For your viewing pleasure, I will also paste my own query modeled after checking out many queries from around the internet and getting feedback on it from an agent at a conference.
Dear *Agent Name Here*:
For 17-year-old Bexley Sage, saving people from dying in their dreams is her new job.
After a party turns into a battle between good vs. evil, Bexley discovers her friends and family are all part of a secret organization spanning back hundreds of years, rightfully called Dream Keepers. She must now learn her place in this new, and dangerous, world of dreams because the Shadows are back and ready to take over the world.
The Shadows, a dastardly group of ex-Keepers, are hell-bent on one thing: bringing back their fallen leader and taking over the world that shunned them. Taking over someone’s mind in a dream is their way of doing just that.
When strange dreams turn into daytime visions, Bexley and her fellow team of Keepers must learn what is happening to their crumbling world as things continue to spiral. Shadows are growing in numbers, Bexley’s dreams warn of a terrible future, and there is a traitor in their midst that will stop at nothing to help the Shadows rise to power.
The Shadows That Bind Us is a contemporary fantasy young adult novel of 83,000 words, with series potential, that weaves in elements of Celtic mythology. It will appeal to readers of The Mortal Instruments and Ally Carter.
I graduated from Davis and Elkins College with a Bachelor’s in English and minor in Psychology; I now work as an editorial assistant for a scholarly journal and intern with North Star Editions. I have my own website, www.bethany-writes.com, where I post fiction, travel blogs, and blurbs. The Shadows That Bind Us is my first novel.
I queried you because of your interest in fantasy and YA and I think The Shadows That Bind Us would be a great fit.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
Do your query research, write and rewrite, and have people look it over. Make sure it represents your book to the best of its ability.
Most importantly, don't give up. Not every submission will bring in requests. Not every request will bring in an offer. As a writer, you must be diligent, hardworking, and stubborn! Don't give up on your dream of being published!
Is there a go-to "query template* you use when creating your query?
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