So, writing a query letter to an agent is awful. If you’ve never had to write one, count yourself lucky. There are a million industry rules and secrets to crafting a successful query letter, and if you make even a single faux pas, all your efforts might be for naught.
Now every agent and agency is different (which is the first hurdle). You have to follow their instructions, so whatever I tell you after this, always keep that simple rule in mind.
My successful query (that got me several full requests, and eventually landed me an agent and a book deal) took me some time to create, and I believe I’ve boiled down the three main ingredients that made it so successful.
- Show the agent you’re professional and that you’ve done your homework.
My successful query started with this sentence: I noticed you represented the novel [Book Title Here] and thought you would be the perfect agent for my noir-style thriller, VICE CITY.
With this, they know you’re informed, you’ve done your research, and they know this letter isn’t 100% copy-n-pasted. (I mean, the rest of it will be, but this puts them in a good mood).
If you don’t know how to find out who represents whom, I suggest going to the query tracker directory, or subscribing to publishers marketplace (which is super awesome, by the way, couldn’t recommend it enough).
- Make sure the characters are at the center of the story.
What do I mean by that? Well, I mean when you write your query, make sure you talk about the personality and goals of your main characters. You might think this is a no-brainer, but some people get wrapped up in the events of the story and sometimes forget to add character detail.
Here are the following paragraphs (straight from my query) that explain my novel:
Miles Devonport joined the Vice family mob to make money. Not because he wants a huge pile of dough, but because he wants to support his younger brother and keep him off the streets. Unfortunately for Miles, his brother enlists with the Cobras, a street gang encroaching on the Vice family’s territory. Using his money for bail, Miles rescues his brother from jail on several occasions… which gets the mob thinking he’s a mole for the police.
Nicholas Pierce joined the Vice family mob twenty years ago to get off the streets. He became the family’s head enforcer—the hatchet man they send to handle all their difficult problems, including police moles. Pierce interrogates Miles thinking he’s seen everything, but Miles’ altruistic motives catch him off-guard.
Impressed by Miles’ moxie and willingness to shoulder the responsibility of a younger brother, Pierce decides to take him under his wing and help him with his problems. The act of mercy and understanding sparks something in both men and, as their friendship develops, Pierce decides he wants out of the mob life for good.
But nobody leaves in the middle of a turf-war without getting branded a traitor. And the Vice family has a way of dealing with traitors.
All problems and plot points are told by how the characters interact with them. You can see how this query and the blurb to my novel are rather similar–both focus in on the characters and how they deal with the problem.
- End with all pertinent information as succinctly as possible.
Here are the last two lines of my query:
VICE CITY is complete at 80,000 words and has series potential. I have included the first three chapters and a synopsis in the body of this email.
Thank them before signing your name, and you’re done.
This is a no-nonsense query that puts your best foot forward. I admit, this is an outline (and the paragraphs about your novel are the meat and potatoes that showcase your writing) but sometimes even knowing where to begin can be difficult. I hope that, by providing a basic road map, I have at least helped out someone that was struggling to get their ideas into query format.
If you have any questions, or want me to look at a query you’re tossing around, don’t hesitate to hit me–I’m always willing to help other authors achieve their dreams. :3