What is a Query Letter?

A query letter is the first chance you will have to make an impression on an agent. Many agents will ask for only a query letter at first. If they like what they read, they will usually ask for a sample of your manuscript. There is a general structure to query letters that agents prefer. You do not have to follow it, but, like good writing, it is best to know the “rules” before breaking them.

Here are some guidelines when writing and submitting query letters to agents:

  • Fiction & Non-Fiction: You’ll need a query letter whether you’re submitting fiction or non-fiction.
  • Short & Precise: A query letter should be no more than one or two pages long and should grab an agent’s attention.
  • Simultaneous Submissions: Many agents prefer that you submit your query letter to only one agent at a time, then wait to hear back before moving on to the next agent. However, almost all agents understand that writers will—and do—submit to multiple agents simultaneously. If an agent specifies that he or she does not accept “simultaneous submissions,” you should not submit your query letter and/or manuscript sample elsewhere.
  • Be Up-front: When submitting to multiple agents simultaneously, let each of them know in your query letter that yours is not an exclusive submission.
  • Target Your Pitches: Avoid sending out large numbers of impersonal queries. Instead, only submit to the number of agents for whom you can create thoughtful, personalized queries. Between three and five simultaneous submissions is a good starting point.
  • Circle Back: If you sign with an agent while you have queries and/or manuscripts out with other agents, it is courtesy to let them know immediately.

A good query letter includes the following elements (in the following order):

  • An introduction. Explain why you are contacting a particular agent. Make it personal. Do you like the work of an author they represent? Is your style similar to an author they represent? Did you read an article where they were interviewed? Hear them speak at a writer’s conference?
  • A short book “pitch.” Summarize your novel or your non-fiction book proposal in one short paragraph. Include the word count of your manuscript and be sure to mention that it is finished.
  • Your credentials. Mention anything about yourself that might convince an agent that you have what it takes to write and sell a successful book. This might include your education, writing background, previous publications, unique insight or business experience that relates to your proposed book, and your “platform.”
  • Conclusion. Thank the agent for considering  your book. This is also the place to mention whether or not you are submitting the book to other agents. (Remember: Be sure the agent accepts "simultaneous submissions" before you do this!)

Check out these helpful examples of query letters for more ideas!