Everything you need to know about writing a query 3

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PART THREE: Everything else

Wrapping up the series with an annotated sample query! Feel free to ask questions in the comments.

[Your contact info: name, street address, phone number and email address (include email address even if sending snail mail; the agent may request pages by email. If sending an email query, move your contact info to the bottom]

[The date (spell out the month)]

[The agent's contact info: their name, their agency's name, their agency's street adress. If sending an e-query, do not include date of agent contact info.]

Dear Mr. Snuffleupagus, [use accurate spelling and designation in the salutation. If querying a woman and unsure of marital status, just include her full name: “Dear Sally Snuffleupagus,”]

[Jump right into your hook. In high school, you learned to start a business letter with an introduction and a short explanation of the letter’s purpose. Forget that. Literary agents get dozens or hundreds of queries daily; they don’t need to read “My name is X and I was wondering if you’d be interested in representing my book.”]

[Summarize your book’s stats: title, word count (taken from your word processor and rounded to the nearest 500), genre, if it’s a first novel, and if it is part of a series. It’ll look something like:] Crime Time is an 80,000-word crime drama, and my first novel. It is the first in a trilogy, but can stand alone.

[If you’re querying this specific agent for a particular reason, like you talked to them at a writers’ conference, are a regular reader of their blog, or a fan of another author they represent, say so. Also mention whatever qualifies you to write the book, like an English degree, or any publishing credits or writing awards. Don’t bring up self-published work unless you sold a heck of a lot of copies. Briefly mention any life experience related to the subject of your book, like if your book is a crime drama and you’re a police officer, or if it’s about special needs children and your son has Down Syndrome. Otherwise your personal life is irrelevant.][List any materials you’re including with the query – NO MORE AND NO LESS than what is outlined in the agent’s submission guidelines (these can usually be found on the agent’s website, in Writer’s Market, or on AgentQuery.com). If it’s a snail mail query, include an SASE (self-addressed, stamped envelope – so the agent can respond without copying your address and paying postage).]

 Thank you for your time and consideration. [or craft your own thanks]

Sincerely,

[Your signature (if snail mail)]

[Your Name]

Remember: the query must stand on the strength of your story alone. No fancy paper, weird fonts, illustrations, or writing the query from a character’s perspective.

BONUS TIP: a goofy email address like writergirl15 or lollipopsandbazookas can kill your professional image. You can get a secondary email address based on your real name (like john.smith or jsmith) free through a webmail provider like Yahoo or Gmail.

Learn about writing a hook and read sample hooks.

About Stephanie Orges

Stephanie is an award-winning copywriter, aspiring novelist, and barely passable ukulele player. Here, she offers writing prompts, tips, and moderate-to-deep philosophical discussions. You can also find her on and Pinterest.
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16 Comments

  1. So helpful! Actually I was wondering if you would critique my hook for my book, Kota. It probably needs some spit and polish but I’ve got a start.

    “A slave girl and her companion run away from a cruel master and in the process set off a chain of political events that soon entangle them in world changing plots.”

    • This is a good start – good and short! It shows you have a good grip on the big picture. But try to be a little more specific – use a more descriptive term for her companion (like his profession/position), and tell me more about the politics – what specific events did their running away set off? Try to focus on conflict > choice. What is the central conflict for your heroine, and what ultimate choice does she have to make?

      I know, it’s next to impossible to strike the perfect balance between specific AND short – but I also know you can do it. : )

      • Okay. So one, the companion is another slave…how to add specification there I’m not sure. Two, if the actual trilogy is centered around those political events and they are the reason I’m writing a trilogy of books not a single book, how am I supposed to squish that in? This may turn into a nearly impossible task. :P

        Take 2 (Probably too long now.)
        A slave girl and her companion run away from a cruel master and in the process set off a chain of political events that soon entangle her in the struggle for a new kind of freedom and force her to choose between love and the sacrifice that she knows is needed to do what’s right.

        • Closer! It’s not too long yet – remember, you can go to three or four sentences in the expanded hook (mine is actually five sentence; about 150 words).

          You could just say “two slaves,” or if her friend is the love interest you mention later, just say “a slave girl.” Don’t worry about what happens in books 2 and 3. Maybe try mentioning one specific result of her running away. More specific than “political events.” For instance, if you were writing the hook to Lord of the Rings, you wouldn’t say Frodo has to destroy the ring to prevent horrible world-changing ramifications. You would say he has to destroy it or its creator, an evil lord, will be able to take over the world and destroy all that is good. So what happened when she ran away? Does her absence cause a chain reaction in her master’s life, or does she get mixed up in something with the new people she meets?

          So it will look something like: A slave girl escaping a cruel master unwittingly runs into [specific thing]. Soon, a chain of politics and [deception? betrayal?] entangle her in a struggle for a new kind of freedom, and force her to choose between the man she loves and the sacrifice she knows is right [I like your new ending, but get a little more specific here, too; who does her sacrifice affect? Is it to save a town, a country, the whole world?].

          ^That’s not it, of course, but it’s just to give you an idea. “Nearly impossible” is the perfect description for hook writing; it took me four or five years to get mine where I wanted it. But it CAN be done – so don’t be discouraged!

      • Wow, this may take me forever.

        I think part of the problem is that I’m currently rearranging a couple of key things that used to be set in stone. Maybe I should work that out first.

  2. Thank you for sharing your expertise with us.

  3. Linked here off your comments on Find An Outlet. Glad I did, have followed you and am looking forward to learning more of the nuts and bolts of breaking in.

  4. I’m glad to know I’m FINALLY doing this right. Great example to compare to!

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