How To Write A Query

Friday, March 19, 2010

I’m not really and expert on query-writing. I only sent out three queries, but I also had a personal recommendation (from those three queries I received two offers of representation). The agent I have now didn’t actually see my query.

But I do have a reasonably good idea of how to write a query. And I’m here to say: Don’t get yourself too worked up over it, okay? If you have absolutely no idea how to write a query, here is a super simple guide. Remember: literary agents are not the enemy!

Here’s the general structure of a query:

Dear [agent’s name],

Make sure you get their name right. Don’t address it to Mrs Smith if the agent is a man. Spell it correctly!

I’m seeking representation for my [word count] [genre] [title of book].

My line was: ‘I’m seeking representation for my 50,000 word, contemporary YA novel, THESE BONES.’ You could also say, ‘My contemporary YA, THESE BONES, is compete at 50,000 words’. HINT: The ‘complete’ bit is very important. Your book must be well and truly finished.


Not totally necessary, but a good idea to include. Something like ‘I chose to query you because of your excellent blog’... or something like that. If you love one of their author’s work, and think your own work is similar to that, say so. Let them know that you’re not sending this same email to every lit agent in existence and just changing the name at the top. But keep it simple and brief, okay? This is not the most important bit.

[your pitch]

But this is the most important bit! This is something I write before I start a book, so this bit was always easiest for me. Write something that you would imagine on the back cover of your book – something that tells you enough about the story to intrigue you without giving too much away. Try writing it in under 250 words. Don’t be nonspecific. Don’t tell the agent the book will make them a million dollars. Just sell your story. If you don’t have a writer’s group (I don’t!), try workshopping it on Absolute Write, or the YA Lit Chat forums. Have other people read it. Ask yourself: If I were an agent, would I want to read this? If I were a reader in a bookstore, would I pick this book up? Don’t give everything away, or be too mysterious. Supply enough info to intrigue the reader.

[your bio line]

Keep it short and sweet. If you’re querying an agent in another country, make sure you mention your country. It’s up to you if you want to mention writing prizes you’ve won, or writing qualifications you have. If you haven’t won any prizes or studied Creative Writing, guess what? It really doesn’t matter. This part of the query isn’t as important as your pitch. Agents don’t take you on because you’re qualified and you won an award for a short story. They take you on if they love your book and they think they can sell it.

I look forward to your response. You can contact me on [phone number].

[your name]

[the first page of your manuscript]

This is something I included even if the agent didn’t ask for it. If you’re going to do this, make sure you first page is as strong as it can be.


And that’s it! How to write a query. Let me know if I missed anything.

If you’re sending your query by snail mail, include a SASE. This is a self-addressed and stamped envelope, so they can post you a response.

Length should be no more than one page, single spaced.

Formatting should be 12-point Times New Roman, black. No pictures, fancy colours, or funny fonts, okay? But you already know that.

Feel free to ask questions in the comments! And if you have tips or things I've missed, share those as well!
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