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An Irresistible Query Letter



Want to avoid getting stuck on the bottom of the pile?  Of course you do! The trick is to make your pitch so ridiculously compelling and irresistible that the agent who reads it will simply have to know more.  And you can do this, right?  After all, you are a writer and you’re working with one of the best book editors in the business! 


Over the years, we have helped compose many, many queries and found that there are certain foolproof, time-tested guidelines that should be followed.  First, begin by asking yourself what a query letter actually is—what is its purpose?  That’s easy.  A query letter is a single-page attention-getter that provides the busy agent who reads it with just enough information about you and your book to spark his or her interest—and put you on top of that coveted “for further consideration” stack.


Agents generally receive hundreds of unsolicited pages of manuscripts and letters, which they are constantly attempting to sort through, looking for gold.  In other words, they are very busy, have seen and heard almost everything, and have little time or patience for anything approaching b-o-r-i-n-g.  So one of the first rules of thumb is to keep their state of mind in your mind when you compose your letter.  This will translate into keeping your letter short and to-the-point. 


Paragraph #1:  Your Hook

Your hook is meant to immediately capture attention and hold it.  It needs to be a concise tour de force example of your writing style, as well as a snappy synopsis of your subject matter.  This holds true whether your book is fiction or non-fiction.  Agents and publishers want to be able to quickly get a flavor of the bean, as well as assess whether your book fits their parameters.  Here are a couple of examples of effective one-sentence hooks:


Fiction:  The Bridges of Madison County
“When Robert Kincaid drives through the heat and dust of an Iowa summer and turns into Francesca Johnson's farm lane looking for directions, the world-class photographer and the Iowa farm wife are joined in an experience that will haunt them forever.”


Non-fiction:  Into Thin Air
“On assignment for Outside Magazine to report on the growing commercialization of the mountain, Krakauer, an accomplished climber, went to the Himalayas as a client of Rob Hall, the most respected high-altitude guide in the world, and barely made it back alive from the deadliest season in the history of Everest.” 

Paragraph # 2:  Your Synopsis


This is where you get to expand and really shine.  You will be explaining your narrative more fully, while at the same time, enticing your reader into wanting to know even more.  This is also the section where you’re allowed to talk about yourself, how you came to write the book, perhaps what inspired you, and what you have done (and written) previously.  This is not the place to be modest, but be careful to only include information that will help sell the book.  Keep the focus on the book and how impossibly incredible / powerful / meaningful it is.  


Paragraph # 3:   Your Closing

This is the section where you explain what you have included in your package (or email); for instance, an outline and/or table of contents and any endorsements (“In Praise of…” statements) that you may have collected.  Explain that the full manuscript is available upon request and be sure that your contact info is included in all of your papers and email attachments.  Lastly, express your appreciation for the agent’s time and consideration. 



Denver Book Editor | Boulder Book Editor