Writing a Query Letter in 3 Easy Steps

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So your book is complete—it’s been copyedited, formatted, and torn apart some more; your characters are relatable, and your plot? Engaging! You’re ready to send it off to a literary agent. “But wait—where do I start?”

With the hook, of course. The beginning of your query letter should grab the agent immediately and tell him exactly why he would want to read your book. Do not think of this as a summary. Think of it as an ad campaign. Your objective is to get his attention—and fast.

Try a question. Perhaps start with a “what if?”

“What if you accidentally started the next Black Death?”

Maybe you have a nonfiction book:

“What if you could start your dream business in as little as two weeks?”

Whatever hook you use, it should do just that: hook the reader like a fish and keep him holding on for more.

Next up: the log line, which is a one-sentence summary that states the main conflict between the protagonist and antagonist of your book. Example:

“A man’s wife and children are brutally murdered, leaving him with only one son who survived. When his son is kidnapped, he must scale the depths of the ocean with a scatterbrained woman to bring his son home.”

That’s Finding Nemo. Now, that might be a little overkill, but it’s still a brief summary. Notice how I didn’t write an entire page to explain what the movie was about? I got straight the point.

If you need to, write a one-page summary to start off and then revise, revise, revise until it’s a couple of sentences.

Batter up! Here comes the pitch.

And spoiler alert: you will have to tell the agent the book’s secrets. They want to know what they’re getting in to. If you want to know how to write a perfect pitch, read the jacket copy description of any book—or perhaps the book in your genre. Your pitch should convey Alice Adams’s genius method of ABCDE: Action; Backstory; Development; Climax; End. Finito!

Finishing up: please, please edit it. If you’re worried about missing things, give it to an editor. Your book title (and subtitle if nonfiction) and name should be at the top in a header. Put your contact information at the end of your document. Format it nice and neat—break up sentences. This is still a formal letter, so make it look beautiful. Your query letter should be one page, single-space—no more, no less—and around 350 words.

Now, that wasn't so bad, was it?