How to Compose an Effective Query Letter.

Happy New Year from Ollie, James’ Old English Sheepdog, coming to you from snowy Vermont. Yeah, I know it’s already seven days into the year, but better late than never – right? So James wanted me to post something about writing this go round. Without further ado,…


The first thing to consider when writing a query letter is the salutation. This is where you will address the agent to whom you are sending the query. Begin with the word, “Dear,” followed by the agent’s name. Never address a query To Whom it May Concern. You are guaranteeing the query will end in the trash. It must always be to a specific agent.

Then consider the length of your query letter. Too short and it won’t say enough; too long and it will not be read. Think one page with four paragraphs, two short and two medium length. That is the basics. Now of what should those four paragraphs be comprised?

The first paragraph must be about the agent you have identified as the recipient of your query. The most likely way to get your query letter read is one of two ways: either the agent was recommended by someone or the agent represents other books in your genre. If neither of these applies, then why did you choose that particular agent? In your search was there something specific the agent said that registered with you? If so, tell the agent. If your novel is about dogs and the agent likes dogs, then say so. Remember, this first paragraph should be about the agent. Also, it should only be one sentence, two maximum.

Your second paragraph should be a snapshot of your novel. What is/are the salient point(s), what critical things should the agent know to wet their appetite. Some things to include are: who the protagonist is, the genre of your novel, the length in word count, and anything else you believe the agent should know such as the time and place of the story. Since this is the first instance in which the agent will be reading your writing, you need to make it as concise, yet exciting, as possible. If you’ve gotten the agent to read past the first paragraph, this second paragraph is where you need to hook them since this is about your novel you want them to represent.

As for the third paragraph, it should be your bio. Only include relevant information, such as a degree in creative writing, publications in reputable journals and magazines, previously published books and awards you’ve received for writing. Do not put in fluff about yourself or, say, your dog, unless your novel is about something you and/or your dog experienced. If you’ve hooked the agent to the point where they are reading your bio, fluff will easily disengage the potential agent. If you don’t have any impressive biographical material, then don’t say anything. If in your snapshot of the novel in the second paragraph you haven’t said what makes you the right person to have written your novel, you may do so here, especially if your bio is brief or nonexistent.

The final paragraph should be a short and sweet thank you and about how you are looking forward to hearing from the agent.

Under your signature, make sure and list any platform sites you would like the agent to visit, such as your author website (if you have one), your Facebook page, etc. This will help the agent understand that you are serious about your career as a writer. It will also let them see what you have to offer in terms of marketing yourself and the novel once it is published.

That’s all there is to it. However, as with your novel, you might want to show the query letter to other writers for their input. Remember to stick to the basics. The only time you should consider alternatives to this format is when an agent specifically requests different information within the query to them. Keep in mind that this is the rare agent.

Remember that this query letter will either be mailed (if so, it will need to be put on nice stationary and look professional – no colored paper) or included in the body of an email. Rarely will this be the only item the agent will request. Make a note of what else each agent wants to see. Some request a synopsis, while others may request up to the first three chapters or fifty pages of your novel. Send only what is requested. If they want to read the entire manuscript, they will contact you and ask for it.

Have you ever written a query letter? Did it follow the format James suggests? What experience do you have to share? You are welcome to let us know in the comment section. I always enjoy hearing from you, so please leave a comment on this blog post about this or anything at all.

In two weeks, James and I will address the basics of how to write a synopsis of your novel – that is unless I find something more fun to write about. Writing a synopsis is also easier than you might think, or so James tells me.

Until next time,
Short Stories - Author Webpage Help Needed
Sir Oliver of Skygate Farm (you can call me Ollie)

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All photos © James Stack 2017 unless otherwise indicated

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