The bones of a query letter

It has been a couple years since I last posted on here, and while I ponder a lengthier, more self-indulgent post on all the major life changes I’ve undergone from then to now (the best of which is that I’m engaged to the amazing Carolina Valdez Miller), I thought I’d break the ice with something more appropriate to my readership (based on site traffic, I appear to have one).

So, here’s what I use when I put together a pitch letter of my own to send to a publisher (we agents write a fair number of these). I made a file with a skeleton so that I always have something to reference. I’ll go over differences between this and a query letter from an author to an agent below:

Skeleton of Pitch to Editor

______________________________________________________________________

[Date]

[Editor]

[House]

Dear [lucky editor],

[Something unique about author], [TITLE] is a [genre] [mention comp titles, usually]

[Big hook][1-2 plot paragraphs]

[Author background paragraph]

[Closer, with another big hook]

[Call to arms]

Best,

[Agent]

______________________________________________________________________

Three things to remember:

1. Capture the tone of the book.

2. Have one or two catchy lines that don’t feel contrived.

3. Always Be Closing (no, really!) — The idea, though, isn’t so much a hard sell as it is that you should feel like you’re continually stoking the fire throughout the letter.

Seems simple, yeah? The devil is of course in the details. The hooks that are referenced in the brackets can’t be too hokey; the comparisons can’t be too obvious (it’s Harry Potter meets Lord of the Rings!).

If you’re an author querying an agent (and, let’s face it, most people reading this either are now or will be at some point), there are a couple things that don’t fly:

  1. When it comes to self-description, it doesn’t work to be too adjectival. I may be able to talk to an editor about how the epic fantasy novel I’m submitting is a brilliant debut, something that could shake up the genre, but it doesn’t sit right to most agents to read a description like that from an author.
  2. If you are querying with an unpublished work of fiction, it’s best not to mention that it has been “professionally edited.” This raises a red flag for most, as we’re trying to find authors who can get a good book nearly there themselves.

I expect I’ll come in to revise and expand this post over time, so if you find the post useful, you may wish to bookmark it for future reference.

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4 thoughts on “The bones of a query letter

  1. I was just talking to someone about agent acceptance stats and was like, hey, I bet that post is still on top of Eddie’s blog. Should be easy to find. Nope. It’s post #2 now. Surprise!

    Seriously, though, this is useful stuff. I’ll have to pass it to querying friends.

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