How to Write a Query Letter


Queries differ between the US and UK, but here is the general structure I go with:

Dear Agent,

I am a British Author living in France seeking representation for my first novel XXX. This is a crossover mystery of around xxxx words, set in the Australian outback. I believe the story would appeal to backpackers, students and readers who like an element of mystery. It was inspired by a real event I heard on the news whilst in Australia.

Short synopsis of 1–2 SHORT paragraphs introducing:

the main character(s) and where/when they start the story;

the setting;

the main dilemma incurred after the first turning point and the ensuing story goal;

the main obstacle to that goal;

how they PROPOSE to tackle it;

what they risk losing (or what needs protecting/saving);

an idea of where the character arc starts and where it might lead (E.G. Suzie is an angry teenager out for revenge of her family's massacre>> Suzie must control her anger if she intends to resist the lure of the dark side of the force.)

A brief paragraph about yourself, your writing and publishing history, or anything that is pertinent to your ability to market yourself or suggest you are serious about your writing and a career as a novelist, such as:

- ‘I am very active in the backpacker community and have a gazillion followers on BackpackersRUs.com SM platform.’

- ‘This MS was long-listed in blah-blah comp.’

- ‘This is my first completed novel, but I have drafted and am revising three more.’

- ‘I’ve got a creative writing degree/taken classes with XXX reputable writer’s guild.’

- ‘Been to xxx pretentious retreat.’

(Or whatever.)

A brief paragraph as to why you think this agent is a good fit for you — i.e. ‘your titles are exactly the type of portfolio I am looking to sit alongside with’ (as in, because your MS is similar in taste/style, not because you want to say you have the same agent as J.K. Rowling), OR ‘I’ve read many of your titles and I think we’d be great together for xxx reason,’ OR I met you at xxx lit fest and you said you were interested to see my MS/you gave a talk that really resonated with me about xxx.’ Or anything else that shows you are seriously considering who would best represent your interests and you feel you could work with.

I look forward to hearing from you.

All the best,

Me! :D

Obviously, no emojis nor !s.

A couple of explanations: I used the opening line to convey my residence and mentioned my trip to Australia so the agent knows upfront I live overseas but also to show I’ve travelled quite a bit and so have some insights to the market I aim to target. You might need to put something like: 'I work for Ferrari and my novel is set in the racing pits of the Monaco Grand Prix', but you don’t have to, so don’t get too screwy about doing the same.

I have identified my target market (backpackers and students; people who like mysteries). This might not be an entirely correct identification, but it shows I have considered who might buy the book, even if it is off-par.

The synopsis at this stage does NOT need to explain exactly what happens in your book nor how the main dilemma is resolved, it simply needs to explain the set up, the dilemma, the obstacle and the proposed method of overcoming it so the agent can gauge what kind of character shoulders the story, that the premise is interesting enough to intrigue, that the plot will potentially stand up — the emotional arc, too — the stakes of the story have been considered for the purpose of narrative tension. All this to let them know you are confident in your skills as a story teller. But most importantly, your aim is for them to WANT to read more by having to solicit the sample chapters from you (and then hopefully the full MS), so giving away the ending might dampen that.

If they ask for your sample chapters and accompanying synopsis, that is the time to provide full disclosure on the plot and the story arc. Basically, get them on the hook first, as with any reader.

Don’t do anything too quirky or weird, even if you think it makes you sound unique — don’t run the risk of sounding like a fruitcake. Your book synopsis should sell the idea for you. You want to sound like someone they can work with for the next ten or twenty years. And don’t mention cats, unless you keep a pet lion and its relevant to your book. And don’t boast that your MS will be the best thing they'll read this year — that’s just tacky and likely not true. And don’t admit to stalking them!! (Joke — just don’t stalk them.)

I think that’s about it. If I have anything more to add I’ll come back.

Good luck — let us know how you go!

Charlie


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