If you want to grab the attention of a literary agent and/or publisher, writing a good query letter is just as important as writing your novel. That’s right—this one little page of information is as crucial as the thousands of words you spent months painstakingly crafting.

Why is the query letter so important? Because no one will even look at your first chapters if they aren’t first intrigued by your story’s summary. The query letter is what stands between you and seeing your novel gloriously displayed on the shelf of your local bookstore.

What is a Query Letter?

A query letter is what you send to literary agents or editors to see if they are interested in your book. Agents and publishers will include details on their websites about how to send them and what genres they represent. They’ll also include some guidelines, like whether to send chapter samples or not. Some publishers and agencies do not allow unsolicited queries, which means you shouldn’t send them a query letter unless they have expressly asked you to or you’ve been recommended to them by one of their current authors.

In one page and under 300 words, the query letter is your attempt to hook the editor into asking for more. Compressing your novel into a few paragraphs is no easy feat, which is why query writing is an art in itself!

How Do I Format a Query Letter?

The following is the standard for a query letter:

Paragraph 1: Salutations and hook. I always appreciate a note here about why you are querying me specifically. Then, include the title of the book, the genre, target readership (YA, Adult, etc.) and the word count. Shorter is better, because you want to move on to the book’s description as soon as possible.

Paragraph 2-3: One to two paragraphs that summarize your story. Imagine you are writing the copy that would appear on the back cover of the book. This needs to include information on the main character(s), what they want and why they can’t get it. Sneak in details about unique worldbuilding and I’ll be hooked. This section should capture the unique voice of your story. Whether you’ve written a humourous tale about an old, cranky wizard, or a serious story about an imprisoned orphan, capture that character voice here.

Paragraph 4: Information about you and any credentials related to writing.

You can vary from this slightly (end with the book’s details instead of begin with them; write several, shorter paragraphs for the summary, etc.) but this is the general format that agents and editors expect.

Tips for Writing a Great Query Letter

  • Do your research. If an agent asks for one sample chapter, don’t send them two. If a publisher only accepts email queries, don’t send them snail mail. If they specify that sample chapters should be pasted into the body of the email, don’t send them as attachments!
  • Do not say you’re the next J.K. Rowling, Douglas Adams, Patrick Rothfuss, etc. All this accomplishes is a sense of arrogance that isn’t exactly a turn-on for us editors. Let your writing speak for itself.
  • In relation to the previous point, if you want to compare your book to other works so we can get a sense of its genre, you could include something like, “It may appeal to fans of Mass Effect and Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game.” But if you do this, make sure you aren’t just tossing out famous titles to grab our attention. Your book should actually be reminiscent of those fandoms.
  • Every sentence should matter. Agents and editors often read hundreds of queries per week, so don’t wait till the end of the email to get to the important stuff! It should all stand out.
  • If we ask to see a chapter of your book with your query, don’t send a prologue; send Chapter One.
  • Include the editor’s/agent’s name in the salutation, and spell it correctly!

Stay tuned for future posts with the “querying” tag, in which I will include examples of well-written query letters. But for now, check out Livia Blackburne’s query for Midnight Thief, featured in Writer’s Digest.

If you’d like feedback on your query letter, we do query critiques in our writing group, The Mythmakers’ Guild. Consider joining our creative community through Patreon or by applying for the Emerging Writer Program.

Go forth and query!