Ah yes, the query letter. Feared and dreaded by every writer, it’s the magical key to unlocking the door that leads you to a literary agent. There’s a lot of information available on how to query a literary agent, and most of it is useful. Today, we’re going to look at a few pro tips for how to query an agent and unlock that door.
First, only submit a query letter to an agent you’ve done some research on. Know their name and use it in your letter. Mention a previous book that the agent worked on that you enjoyed, too. Here’s an example: “I enjoyed Jon Acuff's Soundtracks. I saw your name in the acknowledgments section at the back of the book.” Mentioning past projects is a small thing that goes a long way with agents, and it lets us know you’ve done your homework.
A query letter should do two things really well: be brief and specific. It needs to be no more than a page long. You’ve only got a couple of paragraphs to make an impression. Start by using that first paragraph to introduce yourself and any relevant information, like writing awards, previous publications, and related studies. Don’t mention the pets you own, unless it relates to the topic of your book. Remember: This is limited space, use it wisely.
Next, I want you to explain your project to me. I want to hear the title and a short synopsis. If you’re having trouble keeping this to a paragraph, your book idea may need more finessing. Short and concise book ideas are the way to go. It shows us, as agents, that you’ve honed this idea and are ready to share it with us. If you’re sending us a query letter for nonfiction, tell us what problem it solves. We want to hear about themes, what audience it is for, and how it is different from other books on the same topic. If you’re pitching fiction, give the agent a brief plot synopsis, along with comparable titles for your book.
“You’ve only got a couple of paragraphs to make an impression - don’t waste them.”
Your query letter is starting to come together. You’ve done your research and have a great list of agents to send it to. You’ve included relevant info and a tight synopsis. Now, to sign off. Finish your query letter by asking if the agent would care to review the proposal, and thank them for their time and consideration. Always thank them. Even if they send you back a rejection, don’t try to plead your case. Thank them for their time and move on.
But wait, what if I don’t have a proposal? We’ve got you covered. The Essential Book Proposal is an 11-module video course that gives you the inside scoop on every element your proposal needs to catch the attention of agents and editors. We walk you step-by-step through each section of a book proposal and show you what it is, why you need it, and how to make it awesome. We use examples from actual book proposals we have worked on that have received significant advances as inspiration and instruction for you.
Querying an agent isn’t hard as long as you know what to do and how to do it. Follow these steps and you’ll be on your way to landing an agent.
Have you done “The Essential Book Proposal” course? If not, now’s the time to learn what it is, why you need it, and how to make it awesome. Learn the Indispensable Secrets to Writing a Stand-Out Book Proposal that Agents and Editors Crave.