My Twisted Writer Brain…

Everything You Wanted to Know About The Dreaded Query Letter

Oh Joy… The Query Letter

You’ve finished your book, its polished, edited, … a beauty by any standards… now it’s time to test the waters with agents. That’s where the query letter comes in.

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Why A Query Letter? Do You Have to?

You’ll only query if you’re attempting to publish traditionally. Most publishing houses require an agent to present them with manuscripts and don’t deal with authors directly. The agent acts as the go-between for the publisher and the writer.

The main way to get an agent is through the query process.

If you want to self publish, all of this is moot because you’re going Indie.

Know that once you publish that manuscript, it is very unlikely that it would then be traditionally published. There are always exceptions, but for the most part, it’s done so there’s no need to query something already published.

What if a Publisher Makes an Offer And You Don’t Have an Agent?

If you’ve completed a manuscript and a publisher is interested in taking on the project to publish, pay royalties, and assist in the marketing of your book, then it would be prudent to contact the agent of your choice and tell them you already have a deal and would like an agent to do the negotiations.

That’s what agents do.

They find a buyer and then negotiate the publication. They know the rights that need to be protected like foreign language rights, films rights etc. etc.

If you’re in that position, you’ve done all the heavy lifting and the agent can step in and assist with the contract.

This however, is not the norm, and writers must secure an agent in order to get their work submitted to a publishing house.

**Remember, in the publishing world the money flows to the writer–not the other way. At no time should you be paying a publisher to publish your book.

Before You Send Out That First Query

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One question that always creeps up is do I have to have a finished manuscript before I begin the query process?

Quick answer: Yes.

By the time you get to the query process, your manuscript should be completely written, edited, and polished. You should know the final word count and be ready to send it at a moments notice.

To query before you’ve finished is a waste of your time, and the agents.

You must be able to show a complete project. That’s your job as the author.

Enough said. Seriously. Finish first.

Most Writers Need to Find the Agent First if They Want to Publish Traditionally.

To query means to ask. That’s what you’re doing. A query letter is a one page “ask”. In that page you must somehow resonate with an agent in order to get the attention and have them request more information and chapters of your manuscript.

This is not easy and it’s not for the faint of heart.

Queries are often done via an online form that is impersonal and asks for a query letter, a bio, sometimes a synopsis, and even other random questions (once I was asked what book I read in my childhood that had the most impact on me–so is this a trick question? idk. My answer was James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl.)

The forms do allow you to cut and paste, but before you hit that send button, read them carefully–make sure you have the correct agent/agency names, and for goodness sake, do your homework. Don’t send your Rom-Com to an agent who only represents Horror and Sci-Fi.

Keep track of everything.

One tool that is very handy is Query Tracker . Query tracker is free and lists hundreds of agents. Enter the genre that you’re trying to get representation for and the tracker will provide the list.

From there, you must do your homework. Go to the website, check it out, which authors do they represent. The more information you have, the more personal you can make your query.

As an old school writer, I also keep a notebook with the names and agencies in case the agent isn’t listed in Query Tracker.

Your Query Letter: Make Sure You…

  • Address the letter to the Agent. Dear Ms. Smith for example.
  • Do not put “To Whom It May Concern” or “Dear Ma’am”, this shows a lack of homework on your part and no individualization.
  • Keep it tight. One page (around 500 words).
  • No fancy fonts, colors or smiley faces.
  • Check your grammar and spelling. Then check again.
  • Check the name again… seriously.
  • Let them know who you are as to the relevance of the manuscript.
  • Never lie or embellish.
  • Use Times New Roman (or Arial) 12 font. That is the industry standard.
  • Leave pix of your cat, grandchild, and everything else, off the letter.
  • Keep a record of all correspondence.

Things You Want to Include…

An Introduction

Who are you? Why are you writing to this agent?

Here’s an example:

Dear Ms. Smith,

My name is Faye Arcand and I am seeking representation for my 75, 000 word contemporary, YA Thriller, CAN YOU SEE ME.

So just in that first sentence I’ve told the agent:

  • my name
  • why I’m contacting them
  • my books name (capitalize in a query letter)
  • the genre
  • the sub-genre
  • word count

Simple. Straight forward and no fluff.

Connections? Mention them…

If you met the agent at a conference or started chatting with them because they were sitting beside you on a plane, by all means, remind them of the connection. That’s huge because there’s already been contact.

Don’t get wordy. Short, Specific, and Simple.

  • Don’t be vague.
  • Use strong and confident language.
  • Make sure your query is going to the right person.
  • Don’t mention your mom, your dreams, or ask for feedback.
  • Don’t ramble.
  • Always…always… have a CTA (Call to Action)
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Your Audience

You must be able to identify who your audience is for the book you’re pitching.

Think of it this way. The publisher needs to be able to identify the best part of the bookstore for your book. Does he place it in action or erotica?

Is it women’s fiction? Is it literary? Commercial? Perhaps it’s Up Market?

You also need to say who’s going to read your book.

Ask yourself who your writing style and story remind you of…

Perhaps readers who enjoy Jojo Moyes may enjoy your work because it’s similar. Or maybe those readers who really enjoyed The Handmaid’s Tale would also really enjoy your book, because…. tell us why.


Often an agent will want “comparables”. This can happen whether you’re pitching live to an agent at a conference or you’re querying online.

This is something you must think about and know how to answer.

Comparables are books that are already published but compare to your book in some way.

Often there are a couple of books that come into play because you want to pull inspiration from different factions.

First off, know how to describe your book, it’s genre, subgenre, and audience.

For Example: Let’s say your book is fiction, dystopian, suspense, and young adult.

What books have you read that have elements that are also in your story. Hunger Games?

Maybe it’s the Hunger Games crossed with The Vanishing Half because…your story, while dystopian in nature also deals with the splitting up of twins who need to then work through the system of government regulations in order to be reunited.

So here, the dystopian and government part is Hunger Games, and the voluntary separation of twins references, The Vanishing Half. (This is pretty far reaching and not very realistic but it gives you an idea of combining elements of existing literature to explain your own story.)

Make sure you’ve read the books with which you’re making the comparison. Don’t try and make it up. It always shows.

In a query letter you may indicate what the comparables are so the agent can get an immediate feel for the style. Remember, you’re not only comparing the story, but also the style, target audience, and popularity.

I prefer to think of these as reference inspirations, but it comes down to semantics.

What Do I Need to Know About the Agent and Agency?

It’s not just the genre preferences you need to know about the agent or agency. You want to really look and see who they are. Check these things.

  • How established is the agency?
  • Is there only one agent? Why?
  • make sure it’s not a vanity press (this could be an agent or publisher who charges money…that is not ok.)
  • What other writers are represented by the agency? or particular agent? There should be a clear listing available.
  • Is the agent an “associate agent”. This means they’re still learning and while they’re building their client list they may not have any publishing contacts or strong relationships within the industry. Sometime it takes an associate some time to find their footing.
  • What kind of books are they representing?
  • Have you read any of them?
  • If the agent lists her favorite books and they’re all middle-grade and you write dark adult fantasy… keep looking.
  • Where is the agent located? You can have an agent anywhere in the world, but they may ask why you’re querying so far away from home.
  • Google the agent.
  • Google the agency.
  • Are they current? Maybe they’re stuck in the 90’s?
  • Google the authors who are represented–are they selling? where do they fit on Amazon? NY Times Bestsellers?
  • Are they a literary service (ie: will assist with self publishing etc.) or are they a literary agency. All agents should be listed.
  • Look at the agent’s wishlist if it is available.
  • If you connect, don’t hesitate to ask questions.

Check it all. Make sure you’re not wasting your time or theirs. Also, it can be disappointing to get your hopes up and then learn it wasn’t a fit to begin with.

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The Hook…

It’s often said that a query letter needs to HOOK the agent. The problem with this is that it is extremely arbitrary. What you may think of as a hook, may not even resonate with an agent.

The query letter is a letter of introduction of your work, your style, and your abilities. All of those need to be on display while also selling and portraying the personality of the writer and the work.

Phew. Can you say that five time fast? Ugh.


  • Have fun. I’ve seen that suggestion on many agents sites in regards to the query letter, but again, it’s arbitrary… And what if you’re pitching a murder series–not a lot of fun there.
  • Be yourself. Again, arbitrary. You’re also told to be professional which may not be who you are.
  • Be passionate. Show that the work is important to you without saying that.
  • Polish a two to three line overview of the protagonist, the quest, and what obstacles they face. Make it exciting, deep, or real by using active, creative, and strong language that the reader wants to fly out the door to buy the book! Go.
  • Your hook should be around 300 words. If you’re way over that limit then you’re saying too much and will need to edit it down.
  • Try writing the hook at the beginning. Switch it up. What do you like better?
  • Don’t go into subplots or too many characters.
  • Study other book descriptions. Determine what you like about them.

In the “hook” the agent is looking for something different. Something fresh, exciting, and salable.

Your CTA

What is a Call to Action?

It’s the invitation for the reader to contact you.

At the end of your query letter you need to work out a phrase that works for you. For Example:

  • Thank you. I look forward to hearing from you.
  • Thank you for reading my letter. I can be reached anytime by email….
  • I appreciate your time and look forward to speaking to you about my project.

This is a must on any query letter.

Do not offer to visit or call them. The call is to come from their side, not yours. No one needs a stalker wannabe client showing up in New York to say “Hey!” So, resist the urge to invite them to dinner, cappuccino, or a fashion show. Keep it professional and distanced.

Everything can be done electronically, including meetings.

Make sure the CTA includes you name, email, website, and phone number. Or any combination of these. You know what’s best for you, right?

The Form Letter Rejection

Many say that a writer needs to celebrate the rejection… It means they’re in the game.

Well, I have an entire file dedicated to rejection letters and believe me, they never really get easier.

Rejection sucks. It can lead to doubt, imposter syndrome, and self sabotage.

All the research and trying to individualize a query letter takes a lot of time. So to receive a form letter a day later saying Thank you for your interest…blah blah blah… can be heartbreaking.

I mean, hey, did they even read it?

With each query sent out, there’s an element of hope attached. Writers are creatives, they’re dreamers, and constantly in their heads, and that’s why the system of querying can be totally and completely soul sucking.

While I understand the process and the many people vying for the attention of one person (ie: the agent), it’s hard to stand out in the crowd.

All you can do is accept the rejection letter for what it is, and move on.

Do not write to the agent, or agency, asking “why” or to say “thank you” … Move on. Leave it alone.

How Many Queries Are Enough?

I know one lady who’s queried over 100 agents and never received a request for further information or writing. It seems cruel to continue to flog the same thing over and over and over again.

Only you can decide when enough is enough.

Make sure after a few rejections you look at your query letter again and maybe tweak it a bit to make it stronger. Perhaps have someone else read it. Sometimes, it’s just the way it is.

The industry is quickly changing and authors/writers are no longer waiting around to be picked up by a traditional publisher. They self publish and never look back.

There’s a big, wide world out there and if you’re willing to work hard and do all the marketing, then indie may be the way for you to go.

The process of querying is exhausting and can be humiliating too. When you think about the archaic process of thousands of individuals all vying for the sweet attention of one person…. what are the odds that it’ll be you? me? the neighbor?

Maybe you send out the best query but they had a fight with their wife the night before and they’re in a mood. Everything in this process is based on human emotion. Remember that. Know that. Don’t take it personally.

If you can, go to a conference where they’re taking pitches and do a face to face pitch with an agent. All the same rules apply, but the experience is more personal.

Always wishing you the best. Go forth and conquer.

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Writing That Dang Query

Try and be yourself. Here’s a FREE QUERY TEMPLATE for a guide. Remember to make it your own.

Wishing you only the best of luck in the Query Quest!!


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6 thoughts on “Everything You Wanted to Know About The Dreaded Query Letter”

  1. Thanks again Faye! I always enjoy your posts including valuable information for writers. I’m grateful for your experience, wisdom and kindness in sharing. Good Luck to you and all the rest of us!

    1. Thanks for stopping by and reading Laurel. I’m glad this info is helpful to you. I love chatting about anything writing. 🥰 Thanks again.

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