I’m beyond excited that my blog post on Query Letter Tips & Tricks marks one month since Path To Publication launched! We are all so happy that our project to help out querying authors has gotten so much love over the past month. And that all of you are finding the content here helpful. Thank you for following us during our first month of content. We’re so excited to bring you even more content, so here’s to a successful month two of Path To Publication which is all about querying!
When I first started querying literary agents, I had absolutely no idea where to get started on writing a query letter. All I knew was I had a novel of over 60,000 words that I somehow needed to condense into a mere 250 to 350 words. Not only that, but I would also have to hook literary agents into reading more of my novel with those 250 to 350 words. Sounds easy, right? Wrong.
It’s easy to think that after being in the query trenches with three novels, I would be a pro at writing the elusive query letter. But the truth is, I still haven’t mastered the query letter. My query letter always goes through several revisions before it even gets sent out for the first time. Then my query letter goes through even more revisions as I start to see if it’s hooking literary agents. The most important thing to remember when writing a query letter is that there is no such thing as a perfect query letter. Much like novel manuscripts, there’s always something that can be improved in a query letter. Instead of striving for perfection, strive to present the novel to literary agents in the most compelling way possible.
Here are a few tips and tricks I’ve discovered while writing query letters for the three different novels I’ve queried.
- Main Character & Problems/Stakes/Goal: If anyone has read my Crafting Twitter Pitches blog post, you know how important these elements are to a Twitter pitch. Read through that blog post if you can, and then expand on those three elements in your query letter. Try to identify all three elements in your query letter. If one of these elements is missing, add it because they are the basic building blocks to a query letter too.
- Back Covers: Looking for examples of summarizing your novel in 250 to 350 words? Look no further than the back cover summaries on your favorite novels. A query letter is basically the hypothetical back cover summary of your novel.
- Query Letter Examples: Try looking at your favorite author’s official website. Some authors post their successful query letters as examples for other writers to learn from or as part of “how I got my agent” posts. There are also plenty of examples of successful query letters with quick Google searches. For example, literary agent, Eric Smith, has several successful query letters from his clients posted on his website as examples for querying authors.
- Community: Do as much research as you can on the agents you’re querying. Aside from the initial research you do on agency websites and QueryTracker, ask your friends in the Writing Community on Twitter about agents. There’s a reason it’s called a community. We build each other up through the rejections, celebrate through the wins, and we protect each other from potential schmagents. I’ll say that I’ve had Writing Community friends steer me away from potential schmagents and I’m grateful that they did because a schmagent is always worse than no agent at all! I can’t tell you how important it is to find writing friends. I’m always so lucky to be supported with so much love with every success and failure that comes with querying from my writing friends. It took me a while to find the people I truly connected with, but I finally did after about a year in the query trenches! Shout out to my The Story Of Us friends. I have no idea how I found all of you, but it seems fitting that I formed a group of Swifties who write YA/Adult Contemporary/Romance and I’m grateful to have connected with all of you.
- Mistakes: I have definitely misspelled an agent’s name before and then promptly apologized in a follow up message once I realized my mistake. Sometimes you copy five pages of your novel into the email when you need to copy ten pages or forget to add your pages. When you’re querying, it’s important to follow an agent’s submission guidelines but if you make a mistake, just remember that it’s not the end of the world. Most agents understand that we’re all human and make mistakes, so don’t fret over the small mistakes! Focus on hooking agents with the novel you spent so much time pouring your heart and soul into and if you make a mistake, follow up politely and fix the mistake.
- Comps: Finding the right comparison titles for a novel might seem impossible. The pieces of advice I have on finding the right comps are to read voraciously in your genre and age category, take some time to watch a movie or tv show that has a similar premise to your novel, listen to songs with the same vibe as your novel, browse Goodreads, visit your local bookstore online or in person. There’s a whole world of stories to explore, if you do the proper research you will find more than enough potential comps for your novel. Agents always give the advice of keeping novel comps to titles released within the last five years. This shows agents that you’re keeping an eye on the latest releases in your age category and genre and actively researching what titles your novel could potentially sit next to in a bookstore. That’s not to say that a slightly older comp won’t work in some cases. I think there’s definitely a lot more potential to use an older movie, tv show, or song because as Taylor Swift says, they “never go out of style.” If a comp works so perfectly with your novel that you feel you have to use it, go with that feeling even if it wasn’t released in the last five years. You never know what might hook a literary agent. Some of my comps have been older and have gotten me requests. So, while the five year rule is a good one, don’t overlook some wonderful potential comps because they’re a little older!
- Manuscript Wishlist: When querying literary agents, manuscript wishlists are your best friend. Agents post their manuscript wishlists in many different places. Browse their Twitter feeds for #MSWL, read their agency websites and their personal websites, and browse the official manuscript wishlist site. Find agents who represent your genre and age category, but more importantly look through and see if they love a comp you’re using or are looking for specific things in their queries. Some agents list tropes they love or which genres they’re looking to acquire more of. I can’t tell you how many times I got an immediate request because I intensely researched and paid attention to manuscript wishlists before submitting to agents.
- Hooks: Use the hooks from your successful Twitter pitches during events like PitMad and DVpit in your query letter. I always use my successful Twitter pitches to edit my query letter. I do this by finding key descriptive phrases in my pitches and editing my query letter to use them. For example, rather than saying my main character is an eighteen year old girl in my query letter, I describe her as a theater greek. This gives my character more personality and it’s a better hook in a short Twitter pitch and a query letter than just saying she’s an eighteen year old girl.
- QueryTracker: QueryTracker is your second best friend when querying. This is where you get estimates for an agent’s response time and a brief overview of experiences other people have had while querying them. And as the title suggests, this is a great tool to track queries once you start submitting them, that way you’ll know how long an agent has had your query, your partial, or your full manuscript.
- Voice: Voice is so hard to nail down in a novel, let alone in a query letter. But try to see if you can incorporate some of the voice in your novel in your query letter. I’m not saying to write your query letter in the point of view of your character because that’s a huge query faux pas. But find a way to bring a unique element of your novel into your query letter. For example, the novel I’m querying is set at theater camp, so I included theater puns in the stakes part of my query. This added some of the messy theater kid voice I have in my novel into my query letter.
How has your query letter writing been going? Do you have any tips and tricks you use in your query letters? Comment any questions you might have about query letters below.
Reem is a young adult contemporary/romantic comedy author from the Maldives. She has lived in various corners of the world, including New York, Tokyo, California, and Kuala Lumpur throughout her life. She loves writing heartfelt stories filled with love and friendship. She is a 2021 graduate from the Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing at The New School.