February 18, 2014

How to Write a Query Letter

As a writer, you may write many queries and send them out to many different agents and/or editors. It is highly important for new writers to understand how to set up a query letter and what should go in one.

1. Use Times New Roman or Arial at a 12-point font.

2. Keep the margins at 1-inch and do not indent.

3. Single space between lines with one space between paragraphs.

4. For snail mail, in the top left-hand corner include the agent’s name, the agency’s name, and the address. In the top right-hand corner include the date.

5. Always address a specific agent/editor and make sure their name is spelled correctly.

6. Either the first paragraph or the paragraph before the bio: Give all the information about your manuscript: the title, which should be in CAPS, the genre (sub-genre), and the rounded word count. But this is not set in stone. I actually put this info, which is just one sentence, after the story/plot paragraphs, which I discuss next.

7. The second paragraph (or first) is dedicated to the story and can be stretched into three short paragraphs. Introduce the main character, the main conflict, and summarize the main points of the plot. Don’t tell everything, though. This is just meant to entice.

8. Writing these paragraphs is the hardest part. You can go about it in many different ways, and there’s no one right way to do it. But there is a format that can help you to figure out what to include.

Intro: Who is your main character?  
Inciting Incident: What happens to kick off the story?  
Goal: What is the main goal as a result of that incident? 
Conflict: What prevents your character from reaching that goal? 
Stakes: What could happen if your character fails?  
Choice: What choices does your character have (if any)?
9. The last paragraph is your bio. If you don’t have publishing credentials, do not stress about it. Talk about your book. Will it be part of a series? Are you working on or have the sequel finished? Mention any writing awards or contests you’ve won, classes you’ve taken, if you have your degree in English Literature, and any writing groups or associations you belong to. If you have publishing credentials list a few places that have published your work. This is also where you can mention your pen name if you use one.

10. Finally, close the letter by thanking the agent/editor for considering your novel.

11. At the very bottom, always include “Sincerely” with your name, address, email, and phone number; all the possible ways they can get in contact with you.

12. Keep the query letter to one page.

13. Spell check and read your query several times, even out loud to make sure it sounds good. Or let others read it and offer their opinion.

14. Include an SASE (self-addressed, stamped envelope) so the agent/editor can send you a reply. Then mail that sucker out!

15. If you are emailing a query everything above still applies, but you will have to copy and paste the query into the body of your email, as most publishers/agents will delete queries with email attachments.

16. For an e-query, make sure the subject line says, “Submission: The Title of Your Story” or “Query: The title of Your Story.”

17. Always read the submission guidelines on an agent’s  or publisher’s website for specifics. They may only accept e-queries or snail mail. Or they may tell you something specific to put in the subject line. Always follow their rules! And make sure the agent /editor you are sending to accepts your genre.
TIP: Create a professional email address.
Example: YourAuthorName@whatever.com 
You don’t want to send a business letter from SexyMama4eva@BadIdea.com

If you receive several rejections, rewrite your query letter and try a different approach. There are even people out there who critique and help to write query letters. If you need to, work with them.



  1. This sounds like a perfect query letter.
    I know I ought to do this instead of putting my work straight onto Amazon but I am hopeless at knowing how to use a 'hook', and do not very good at promoting myself or my work. However, I can see that if I don't bother I'll never get anywhere!

    1. Thanks, Fanny! Wanting to skip the query, and synopsis (which I'll be blogging about next week), is normal. I wish I could help by saying the best way to describe your book, etc. but every story is different. I haven't even found the right formula yet for my series. lol

      Best of luck to you, Fanny! :)

  2. Do agents still take snail mail queries? I thought they all moved to email queries. I haven't looked into it though, so I'm guessing you know better than I do. :)

    1. Surprisingly, a lot of agents ask for only snail mail queries. Odd right? I have two separate lists for queries. One is for agents who accept e-queries, and the other is for those agents who only accept queries through snail mail.

  3. great professional advice!
    spelling & submission requirements & brevity! keys!

    1. Yes, they are Tara. :) Thank you for your comment.

  4. Interesting post, Chrys. I am definitely bookmarking this one because I will be looking for agents to represent my adult writing once my summer schedule kicks in and hoping, my novel will be a bit more polished=) The best advice here, though, is paying attention to the guidelines! I'm sure many agents get annoyed when people submit work without reading the guidelines first. I'm also surprised about the snail mail. But then again, I have always been a fan of this type of submission. Odd, I know!

    1. Agents probably throw out or delete a ton of queries because they don't follow the guidelines. It is a must to pay attention to their rules!

      For some reason, I always feel more comfortable when I send out a query through snail mail than e-mail. I think it's because an email's format can change and I know exactly what my letter looks like when it's in print. And part of me still thinks snail mail is romantic. :)

      Best, best, best of luck to you, Gina, for when you start sending out queries! :D