Based on everything that I’ve read and heard from other authors, here’s what I’ve learned about how to write a great query letter….
1. Start with the essentials. Don’t forget to include the most important information early on in the letter! That includes the tentative book title, word count, genre and target audience. An agent wants to know that these things are a good fit before he or she reads any further. Then…
2. Grab an agent’s attention. Forget the bland, “I am contacting you today seeking representation….” That’s boring, and it’s true of everyone. So, early on in your letter, include an outstanding quote from the book, a tantalizing question that the book raises, or an endorsement. Make sure the agent gest an immediate feel for your characters, your voice, and your story.
3. Show your professionalism. Make it clear in your letter that you’re not just a wanna-be writer. You’re a professional writer. Explain what you’ve already published, the writer’s conferences you’ve attended, and whatever other work makes it clear that you’re not just some Joe Schmoe who wrote a book.
4. Compare your book to others in your genre. This is yet another area in which you can really show how savvy you are. Explain which other books in your genre are similar to yours, and how and why yours is different. If there’s a way to also work in an explanation about why your book would be especially popular in the upcoming years (i.e. the Presidential election), make sure to do so.
5. Keep it brief. Like anyone else scouring through hundreds of letters, an agent is probably not going to read every word in your query letter. So limit the length to one page at most, and make sure the strongest elements stand out.
6. Tailor it to each individual agent. Again, think of it like a resume. Each job is different. So is each agent. Research what other authors he or she has represented before, discuss how you found him or her, and why you think you’d be a good fit for one another. If the agent has a blog, make sure to read it before drafting the letter, and reference it in the query.
7. Show off your marketing talents. In today’s world of book publishing, marketing a book is the responsibility of the author … until you’re a best-seller of course. With that in mind, you’ll get a huge leg up on the competition if you explicitly state in the query letter what you’ve already done — and what you plan to do — to market the book. That means including a link to your author website, mentioning the number of followers you’ve already built on Twitter, highlighting your blog and/or Facebook presence, etc….
Follow these seven guidelines and you’ll greatly increase your chances of getting a call from an agent. After all, writing a great book isn’t necessarily what makes an author a bestseller. Getting that book picked up by the right people is just as important.