28th July 2020
7 Tips on Writing a Query Letter for Agents and Publishers
After months or even years of writing, you’re finally ready to share your manuscript with the world. But to get published, you will need to write some query letters (i.e., letters in which you try to sell your novel to literary agents or publishers). So, how does this work? And what should a query letter include? Our top seven tips include:
- Research agents and publishers who work in your genre.
- Start your letter by introducing yourself and providing basic information about your manuscript (e.g., the title, genre, and word count).
- Come up with a synopsis that will hook the reader.
- Set out your credentials (e.g., previous publications or writing awards).
- Personalize each letter to fit the recipient.
- Thank the reader and use an appropriate sign off.
- Proofread your query letter carefully before sending!
Check out the guide below for more on each of these points.
1. Research Agents and Publishers
Before you begin writing, think about who you will contact. Start by making a list of literary agents and publishers who work in your genre.
Next, check each recipient’s submission guidelines. These will set out the materials the agent or publisher needs to assess your manuscript, so make sure to follow them closely. If you don’t, your manuscript might be ignored!
In addition, it is best to focus on a few recipients at a time. If there are more in your list, you can contact them later if your first letters aren’t successful.
2. Introduce Yourself
It may be tempting to use a generic greeting such as “Dear Sir” or “To Whom It May Concern” in your query letter. But you are far more likely to get a response if you address each letter to the agent or publisher personally.
After this, in the first line proper, briefly introduce yourself, then give your manuscript’s title, genre and word count. If you have a personal connection to the recipient, you might want to mention this here, too. For instance:
Dear Miss Harris,
My name is Ann Smith. I am seeking representation for my 55,000-word legal thriller, A Dark Day. We met previously at the Hay Literary Festival in 2018 for the panel on crime writing, which is why I thought I would contact you with my manuscript.
3. The Synopsis
The main – and most important – part of any query letter is the synopsis. This is where you briefly explain your story, ideally in no more than 200 words, but you need to do it in a way that will hook the reader.
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Whatever your story, a good synopsis should introduce:
- The main character(s), but no more than two or three
- Key plot points (don’t worry about subplots)
- The central conflict that drives the story
However, don’t reveal too much! This part of your letter should explain just enough to tantalize the reader and leave them wanting more.
4. Set Out Your Credentials
After the synopsis, add a sentence or two about yourself. This might include:
- Whether this is your debut novel or whether you have been published before. If you have had something published, explain what and where.
- Any awards or relevant creative writing degrees you have.
- If you are a member of any professional writing organizations.
- Major writing conferences, workshops or events you’ve attended.
- If you have a notable public platform that would give you a ready-made audience (e.g., a popular blog or social media presence).
If none of the above apply to you, that’s fine. Keep it simple and say where you’re from, what you do, and what inspired you to write your manuscript.
5. Personalize Each Letter
So far, most of the things above will be the same in each letter you write. But rather than just using the same template letter every time, try to personalize each one with something specific to the recipient.
Show the recipient that you have researched them with a brief explanation of why you are sending your manuscript to them. This may include:
- Whether they have represented or published similar works.
- Something they said in public or an interview that made you think they would be interested in your writing (if so, quote the place or article).
- A contact or industry insider who suggested contacting them after reading or hearing about your manuscript (if so, name them).
6. Sign Off
To finish your query letter, thank the agent for their time, then use a suitable sign off (e.g., “Kind regards” or “Sincerely yours”). Make sure to add your contact details at the end of the letter or email, too, including your name, telephone number, and a link to your website if you have one.
7. Proofread Your Query Letter Carefully!
If your query letter is poorly written or contains a lot of typos, an agent or publisher may assume your manuscript is the same. As a result, thorough proofreading is essential to making a good first impression.
You may even want to seek outside assistance with this to be extra sure your writing is error free. And if you’d like an expert to check your query letter, we have proofreaders available 24/7.
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