Written by Emily Harstone August 17th, 2017

How to Write a Successful Query Letter

You have completed your first novel. You have edited it a number of times. Perhaps you have paid an editor to help you revise it.  You have already put a considerable amount of work into it, but it is not a book yet, it’s still a manuscript, not to be found in bookstores, but on your hard drive.

You have reached the turning point. Now the bulk of your work will go into getting your novel published. The first step towards being published is writing a query letter to a literary agent.

A query letter (sometimes referred to as a cover letter) is a single page cover letter introducing your book to an editor or a publisher that accepts unsolicited submissions. A literary agent is someone who will act on your behalf, dealing with publishers and promoting the authors work. However, sometimes an agent, even after taking you on as a client, will take a long time or be unable to place your work.  Direct submissions to publishers can really speed up turn around times.

How to Write a Query Letter that an Agent Will Read

When you write a query letter, always remember that it is similar to a cover letter on a job application. Be professional. Write in a formal style, even if that style is at odds with your novel. Make sure you edit it repeatedly for errors. Make sure it is typed and the font is easy to read. A standard font like Times New Romans works best.

Keep it short and sweet, don’t use language that is too flowery. The query letter should consist of three main paragraphs. The hook, the mini synopsis, and the author’s bio. If you particularly like an author that agent represents or a book that publisher published, it is appropriate to mention that in your letter.

Creating a Hook

The hook is a one sentence description of the book. It should be intelligent, intriguing, and concise.

Your hook should not be a rhetorical question.

An agent I knew handed me a small pile of query letters from authors that she rejected. Most of the letters she had not even bothered finishing to read. She asked me what they all had in common. By the third letter it was clear that they all started with rhetorical questions.

In one query letter every paragraph was composed entirely of rhetorical  questions.

It is best to focus on one aspect of your story in your hook, be it your main character, the location, or something else entirely. That is the best way to keep the sentence concise and maintain the agent’s interest.

Also make sure that the premise of your book sounds unique.  Agents and publishers are unlikely to follow up with an author whose book appears to be generic. Including specifics help make your manuscript stand out.

In the first paragraph you should also make the genre and the length of your manuscript clear.

Writing a Mini Synopsis that Will Appeal to Agents and Publishers

The mini synopsis is the second paragraph.  It is difficult to describe a novel in a paragraph. The key is to just focus on giving the agent an impression of what your novel is like, without getting bogged down by all the details.

Reading the back flaps of books may really help you figure out the best way to convey the basics of your book to your prospective literary agent.

Writing an Appealing Author’s Biography

The author’s bio is not a necessary part of the query letter. If you have not been published before, or do not hold a degree in creative writing, it is probably best not to include an author’s bio at all, unless your profession influences the subject of your books. For example, the author Kathy Reichs is a forensic scientist who writes novels about a forensic scientist who writes novels.


In the conclusion to your letter you should do two things.

The first is to thank the agent or editor for their time and consideration.  The second is to inform the agent that the full novel is available upon request.

Do not include the entire manuscript with the letter, instead most agents request the first three chapters of your manuscript. When submitting non-fiction, you should include an outline, table of contents, and a few chapters for their consideration.

Once you have written your query letter, edit it repeatedly. Keep refining it, even after you have started to submit it to agents.  Good luck with the submission process.



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