How to structure a query letter

August 25, 2009 at 5:21 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

As promised in my last post, I thought I’d give readers tips on how to draft a query letter. I hope it helps people!

You need to include the following:

  • The title of your manuscript
  • Your name
  • Your address, phone number, and email
  • The fundamentals of your book
  • A brief summary of your book
  • Word count
  • Genre
  • The intended market
  • A brief bio, including anything that might help sell your book

Generally, a query letter is structured like this:

Dear Agent,

I would like for you to consider my novel [‘TITLE’], a [WORD COUNT] [GENRE] [INTENDED MARKET].*

[BRIEF SUMMARY OF THE NOVEL. NO MORE THAN THREE SHORT PARAGRAPHS USUALLY].

[YOUR BIO]. [WHAT CAN HELP SELL YOUR BOOK]

I have included the first five pages below for your convenience. The full manuscript is ready for viewing at your request. Thank you for your time and I look forward to hearing your response!

[YOUR NAME]

[YOUR ADDRESS, NUMBER, EMAIL]

*Sometimes this section can go underneath the summary. Some authors/agents prefer it this way.

One of the most important things you have to remember when constructing a query is that agents get hundreds of queries. They can only take on so many authors. You have to stand out while equally providing the agent with all the information they need straight away. Your summary needs to be engaging, to the point, and explain your plot.

To give you an indication of how quickly agents have to make a decision based on your query, head over to Nathan Bransford’s blog, where he explains how many queries he gets and how much time he has to answer them.

Also, be sure to read agent guidelines. Sometimes they don’t want a sample of your writing attached (which is unlikely). Other times they may request ten pages, or even a chapter. They may also want a synopsis. So be sure to check.

And just in case you wondered how to write your summary, I have a few tips. This is my personal opinion. Please take this into account when reading.

  • Include what you have to and not what you want to. Usually, we have scenes in our book we love and think people would enjoy reading. Unless this scene is pivotal in explaining the book, keep it out.
  • End with a hook. This should be the plot of your book. What are your characters fighting for? What is the main problem your character faces. You don’t necessarily have to explain how it’s overcome in the query. That’s what the synopsis is for.
  • Start with information about your main character. Usually, full name and age are good starters. For example: Seventeen-year-old Michelle Craig…
  • Only include the characters that push the plot forward. And only mention other names when you really have to. No more than four names should be mentioned. It gets confusing and you don’t have the word count to be explaining who they all are.
  • Try and incoporate the ‘voice’ of your manuscript into the query. Often, queries can come off sounding very boring – like you’re reading a shopping list. Try and spice them up with the voice of your characters. This point is probably the hardest thing for queriers to master out of everything.

I hope that’s helped. If you have anything to add or any tips of your own, please feel free to comment below.

~Chanelle

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4 Comments »

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  1. Nicely done, Chan. =D I think you summed things up marvelously.

  2. This was very useful!
    *bookmarks post*

  3. Good post. If you’re looking for over good sources for query help, try http://evileditor.blogspot.com/ . There, people post their queries for critique. You get a quick feel of what works and what doesn’t in a query.

    I’d only add that the query should feel cohesive. If you mention 4 characters and what happens to them, you should explain how they all come together to form 1 book instead of 4 separate books. It should feel smooth, not jumbled.

    • EE was a total learning experience for me. I got my wonderful first beta from his site, who then taught me everything I know about constructing good prose, etc.
      But, given a choice, I don’t think I’ll be submitting any query on there again. *cringes*


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