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?
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
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
Here are a couple of examples of effective one-sentence hooks:
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.”
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
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
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