Literary Agents: The Query Letter

When trying to secure a literary agent, it is customary to begin with a query letter. What is a query letter? A query letter is a succinct and persuasive business letter in which you detail why you are reaching out, what your book is about, and why it is the right fit for the agent. Striking the perfect balance between flattery and persuasion can be tough. We’ve broken down the elements of the query letter below to help you tackle the process. 

Do the Research

The most important part of querying an agent is querying the right agent. Literary agents are an author’s advocate in the world of traditional publishing. An agent with experience in representing your book’s genre or audience group (i.e. YA) will have a better grasp of the market for your book and which editors to pitch your book to. The more strategic you are in choosing the agents you query, the more likely you are to be successful. 

Introductory Paragraph

Flattery is never a bad start. Let the agent know you are a fan of the work they represent. Cite a specific author or book represented by the agent that you feel has a similar audience to yours. This helps establish the relationship and shows you’ve done your research. It also indicates you have an awareness of the market and a strong grasp of your audience.

Body Paragraph

This is your sales pitch. In a clear, succinct manner, show why your book is compelling. This where you need to make the case for why your book is the next project this agent will want to represent. This is not the place to be generic or half-hearted, you need to be clear about what makes your book different and superior to every other book they could choose to represent. Study elevator pitches and examples of sales pitches for inspiration on the language and tone you should use. Remember that an agent is a salesman at heart, and they are more likely to take on your book if they can see how it can then be sold to an editor. 

Biography Paragraph

In no more than three sentences, provide some background information about yourself. Include education, past publications your work has appeared in, and list any relevant credentials. For example, if it is a nonfiction book about neuroscience, and you are a neurologist, be sure to include when and where you received your degree. Only include blogs, personal websites, and social media accounts if they are related to your content, you post regularly, and have 30,000+ followers. Agents want to know that authors have a platform upon which they can further build. If you have a platform, show it. Be confident and factual, but don’t oversell yourself.

Closing Paragraph

Tip: The writer’s community is full of people who have gone through this process and want to help other authors succeed. Once you have a draft of your letter, try posting it to Twitter or posting on a writer’s forum and asking for advice. While the trolls may appear, you may also get some helpful feedback or gain a valuable contact.

Keep this section short and sincere. Mention that you have included either a book proposal for nonfiction or sample chapters for fiction. If it is a work of fiction, indicate that you are able to send more chapters if they’re interested. Thank them for their time and consideration and end the letter. 

Writing your query letter can be a daunting process, especially given its importance. But if you buckle down, stick to the basics and exercise compelling, persuasive language, you are sure to have a winning query letter in no time. 

For more information on the importance of a literary agent, read the first installment in our literary agents series here!

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