Is there anything that causes more writerly angst than the query letter? So many writers can write wonderful 4,000 word essays and novels and book-length memoirs. But for some reason, these same talented writers lose sleep over the 1-page query letter they need to write to sell their work.
It can really help to think about a query letter broken down into three essential parts. In fact, three paragraphs will often accomplish what you need to do in your query. Whether you’re writing a query letter for a magazine or a full-length novel, the anatomy of the query is essentially the same.
Here are the 3 essential parts of a query:
1. The Hook: The first paragraph is where you really need to grab the editor or agent’s attention. A common problem I’ve noticed is writers want to use this most valuable real estate in their query to introduce themselves. The first paragraph isn’t the right spot for your bio.
Cut to the chase. Even though it may seem awkward, delve directly into the heart of your subject matter. If you’re writing a magazine query, write the first paragraph of your query much like you’d craft the lead of a feature. If you’re writing a book query, the intro is like an elevator pitch. Who is the protagonist? What is the story’s central conflict? Now hone your hook into one exquisitely crafted paragraph.
2. The Details: The second paragraph is where you offer the details of the piece of work you’re trying to sell. If it’s nonfiction, is it an essay or a reported piece? If it’s fiction, what genre? How many words approximately? How is it—or will it be— structured? What would you compare it to?
3. Your Bio: Your third and final paragraph is where you want to work in a brief bio as its relevant to the work you’re trying to sell. If you’ve published before, where? Include other information such as your profession or honors and awards if it’s pertinent to the subject matter you’re writing about. And if you’re writing nonfiction, it’s helpful to include details about your expertise and platform. Just make sure to keep it brief and relevant. Include the best way to contact you and, of course, thank the agent or editor for their time.
The Editor Unleashed forum now has a spot called “Query Letters that Worked” where our members are posting their own successful query letters. So register for the forum and check it out!
Need some expert help with writing query letters? I’m offering a Query Writing Workshop beginning March 16. You can get all of the details and sign up here.