Tips and tricks for effective query letters

I received this question from Ryan on LinkedIn:

Before I get to answering the questions, let’s take a second to explain what a query letter is.

What's a query letter?

Technically there’s no one-size-fits-all strategy to query letters. For starters, different agents may want different things. Further more, the kind of query letter you’re writing will impact your query’s structure and what details you need to include. Pitching a novel to an agent is different than pitching an article to an editor.

That said, there are a few common elements regardless of what kind of query you’re writing. With that in mind, here are some tips and general best practices:

7 tips for writing query letters

  • Just like writing cover letters when applying for jobs, you need to address your query letter with the name of your intended recipient. Tailor it to them when you can (e.g reference other works/writers they’ve repped that you enjoy, identify things from their MWL that your idea hits, mention if you’ve met before at a conference/event, etc.)
  • Remember: agents and editors are ridiculously busy, so keep your query letter concise. Your letter shouldn’t be more than one typed page.
  • Whether it’s a story or an article idea, make sure your pitch is clear and interesting. Include a great hook/lead to pique the reader’s interest. Don’t be vague, convoluted, or cocky. No one has time for that.
  • Don’t forget your metadata! Title, word count, genre, and comp titles should be included up front when querying books. If you’re pitching an article, include the approximate word count.
  • Limit personal/biographical information and keep what you do include relevant to the pitch itself (i.e. do mention if you’ve been published before, won any awards for your writing, etc. There’s no need to tell them where you went to school, your GPA, where you live, your hobbies, and so on.)
  • ALWAYS FOLLOW THE AGENT/EDITOR’S SUBMISSION GUIDELINES OR SUFFER THE CONSEQUENCES! This information is usually listen on the website of the literary agency the person works with. Do your homework!
  • Finally: don’t be a dick. Sorry to break it to you, but you’re not God’s gift to the written word. Don’t be rude or demeaning to agents lest you find yourself blacklisted (because, yes, agents talk to one another).

If you’re looking for examples, I highly recommend checking out the 2019 Writer’s Market guidebook (Robert Lee Brewer). It includes samples of good and bad query letters for fiction, short stories, nonfiction book and magazines. Also be sure to check out Query Shark!

Have any of your own tips for writing effective query letters? Tell me all about it in the comments!

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