How to Craft a Compelling Query Letter

Your initial sales pitch to an agent will be in the form of a one-page query letter. The query letter is your opportunity to grab the agent’s attention and motivate him to ask for the book proposal or manuscript. The goal of the query is to intrigue the agent with your book idea or story and inspire the agent to consider representing you. The query letter is your one-page sales pitch. It must:

  • Show the agent that you are capable of quality writing.
  • Create excitement for your topic.
  • Be succinct. Provide the information in as few as words as possible.
  • Convey that you are a professional author who understands what an agent expects.

Small to mid-size agencies receive an average of 10,000 query letters each year. With a rejection rate of 99%, it is imperative that you carefully construct your query to receive a positive response. To achieve that, you must:

  1. Know your book idea well.
  2. Understand where your book fits in the marketplace.
  3. Recognize what you have to offer as the writer.

Components of the Query Letter

Query letters consist of four main components:

  • The opening hook.
  • The supporting details.
  • The writer’s qualifications.
  • The wrap-up.

Component 1: The Opening Hook

The first paragraph should do two things: establish a connection with the agent and establish the project.

Step 1: Establish a Connection with the Agent.

In the first sentence of the query letter, explain why you are contacting the particular agent. Possible connections might be:

  • You read a book the agent wrote or an interview in a magazine.
    “I recently read your interview in Writer’s Digest magazine, where I learned you enjoy good barbecue. Because of your culinary desires I thought you might be interested in my cookbook, GOURMET SOUTHERN GRILLING…”
  • You met the agent at a conference or literary event.
    “Thank you for speaking with me at Book Expo America last week about my business leadership book…”
  • The agent represents a similar author and genre.
    “I am a loyal Malcolm Gladwell fan. I could not put down his book Blink, and read the entire book in one day. When I learned you are his agent, I knew I wanted to query you about my own book....”
  • You discovered the agent’s listing in a directory.
    “I found your listing in the Guide to Literary Agents and feel I may be a good fit for the type of writing you represent…”
  • An associate, friend, or client referred you to the agent.
    “Your author-client, Jane Meadows, referred me to you. Jane is one of my business clients and is a great supporter of my personal investment book idea….”

Step 2: Establish the Project

In one sentence, briefly introduce the topic or genre, word-count and the title, so the agent has an understanding of the project.

 “HOW TO STAGE YOUR HOME TO SELL is a 65,000-word practical how-to book.”

Component 2: The Supporting Details

This section expands upon the topic. It may take one or two paragraphs. The supporting details include the theories that will be presented, the framework, who will read the book (the reader demographic), why the book is important or timely, and an overview of the content.

Component 3: The Writer’s Qualifications

The next paragraph explains why you are qualified to write the book. This section of the query letter provides an opportunity to impress the agent with your platform. You might mention the size of your blog readership, the number of speaking engagements you participate in each year, or that you host a popular weekly national radio program.

If you have educational degrees, career experience, or publishing credentials, you may include those in this paragraph. Memberships in organizations, articles you have written, a list of media experience, and any contests or awards you have won should be presented.   

Component 4: The Wrap-Up

The final sentence or two are used to thank the agent for reading your query and request permission to submit additional material. “Thank you for considering my book idea. May I send you my completed book proposal and two sample chapters?”