If you’ve finished and edited your novel and have decided to take the plunge and start sending it off to publishers, you need to understand how to write an effective query letter.
Query letter writing should not be taken lightly. This is your initial contact with an editor or agent, and if you don’t take the time to write a well-thought out, interesting letter that not only follows their instructions but also shows off your book in the best light, you could be doing yourself a huge disservice, one that sees all your hard work go to waste.
So here is a step by step guide to help you!
Open on a high
First thing’s first, make sure you have bothered to find out the best person to send your novel to, that you address them correctly (Ms/Mrs/Mr, etc.), and that you spell their name right. After that, your first line needs to capture their attention. Have you been published before? If so, start with that – it will impress them and immediately makes you seem more attractive than someone completely new. Mention any recognition you’ve received for your work.
Of course, for many of us, this is not possible. So failing that, try to find a personal connection or mention a mutual contact.
Alternatively, just let them know you are seeking representation. Keep it short and factual with the title of your book, genre, and word count.
Start your sales pitch
Don’t be shy about giving your book some serious praise. If you sound uncertain or apologetic, a publisher isn’t going to be persuaded, so make sure that you sell your book but know how to capture the essence in a few sentences at most. Think about what makes your book different from others, what is unique, what is the hook? You need to make the person who receives your letter want to find out more about the story, and you only have a few lines to do it, so take your time to make them count. It really is worth spending hours, if not day getting this right.
Dive into your synopsis
Now you get a little more room actually to explain your book in detail. Different agents and publishers will have specifics on how they want the synopsis to be presented to them and how long it should be. It should serve to get the agent or editor extremely interested in your book, so make sure you give them interesting characters, a fast-paced and gripping plot, and an understanding of what drives the plot forward, the sacrifices that must be made and the obstacles the protagonists must overcome to reach their goals.
Tell them about yourself
At the end of your query letter, you can inject a bit of personality, let them know about you, what your interests are, how long you’ve been writing for and any relevant experience and credentials you have. The word relevant is criticalcritical here. If it doesn’t relate to your book then they won’t want to know that you have an extensive stamp collection or love to spend lazy summer afternoons fly fishing.
Show off your knowledge
Remind them why they want your book by doing some market research. Tell the editor who is going to buy your novel and why. If you can show that you’ve bothered to find a market for your book, and identify successful titles that are comparable this can work in your favor – however, it might be worth avoiding comparing your work to mega-bestsellers, super obscure books or ones which simply aren’t that similar.
Remember to personalize and proofread
It is essential that you proofread your letter and ensure that it is perfect from a grammar, spelling, punctuation, and formatting perspective. Also make sure that you personalize your message for each person you send it to, referencing their existing clients who you relate to can also earn you brownie points.
End your query letter simply and sincerely. Don’t go overboard or thank the editor too profusely in advance. Just sign off politely and say that you are looking forward to their response. Then the waiting begins!