How to write a Query Letter for A Novel: A 5-Step Guide

You have written your book, edited it, proofread it and gotten it read by beta readers. And the time has come to get it published. Here is, now, the point comes where you have to make a proposition to a literary agent that they sell your book. And how does that happen? By knowing and understanding- How to write a query letter for a novel to a literary agent.

What is a Query Letter?

Before we know how to write a query letter for a novel, we must be aware of what a query letter is. A Query Letter is a business letter to a literary agent requesting them to read and represent your novel to the top publishers of the genre of your book.

Query Letter is basically a note to ‘seduce’ an agent into reading a few chapters of your book and ultimately requesting the manuscript to represent it.

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A well written, carefully crafted query letter pitches you in with an agent who will if impressed, represent your book to the publishers because most of the publishers do not accept ‘unsolicited submissions’.

An impressive query letter only lands you requests for manuscripts, which means that your story has to be equally impressive.

How NOT to write a Query Letter

We, now, know what a query letter is, what its purpose is and how important it is. And from the definition of it, we can estimate how imperative it is to write a perfect query letter. And this necessity becomes daunting to many of us new writers. Before I give you the sure-fire tips on how to write a query letter for a novel, take a look at how NOT to write one:

  1. Long query letters. (Long enough to come off as an anthology)
  2. CC’d to dozens of other agents in the same query letter (Avoid that, really.)
  3. Do NOT misspell the agent’s name and do NOT assume the gender of the agent.
  4. Do NOT write query letters for the genre Fantasy fiction to an agent of the genre Non-Fiction and Autobiographies.
  5. Avoid typos; take the help of spellcheck apps before mailing that letter. (This is obvious.)
  6. Do NOT claim that YOUR book is a genius work and super-duper deserves to be represented. (It’s certainly going to put the agent’s mood off)
  7. Do NOT offer sexual favors in return for the request of your manuscript. (Seriously, avoid that. Yes, people do so.)
  8. Do NOT sulk about your life story and how you had to move mountains to write that novel and how they have to represent it! (Come on, no-one gets to the top by wailing about their problems)
  9. Do NOT frame your book as the only work of art that is going to be talked about by the President of the US. (We are not Shakespeare.)

I am sure you have had a good laugh reading at how writers do make the mistake of composing a query letter which includes the above mentioned. Despite all the razzmatazz, a query letter is not as big of a task as it is assumed to be. Instead, a Query Letter is a simple business letter to an agent that includes personalized (but not too personal) pleasantries to the agent, a short description of your book, the word count, the genre and a polite request to request your full manuscript.

How to Write a Query Letter for a Novel.

The following is the list of the steps a writer must consider while querying a literary agent:

  1. Completed and Polished Manuscript.
  2. Research about the literary agents
  3. Research and Read the Query Letter Examples
  4. Pitch your Ground
  5. Frame a Query Letter

We are going to delve deeper into these steps on How to write a Query Letter for a novel to a literary agent.

Completed and Polished Manuscript

Usually, it takes months for the agents to respond to a query letter, for obvious reasons- The agents get hundreds of query letters every day or simply, your query letter did not impress them. Considering the former reason, many writers send out the query letters to the literary agents before they have a complete manuscript thinking that they’d be done by the time the agent responds.

Now, what if the agent responds right away? What if your manuscript is not finished or edited and proofread by then? What if, amidst rushing to complete it, it does not come out as awesome as it is in your head?

To avoid that glitch, the writers must have their completed, polished and beta-reviewed manuscript ready at the agent’s disposal.

Research about the Literary Agents

Before you research on how to write a query letter for a novel, you must research the agents who are fit for your book. Find out who represents the novels of your genre. And address them individually as opposed to CC’ing various other literary agents in the same letter.

Other than this, research the agents so that you know whom you will be sending out your query letter to. In the world of people with unisex names, you would not want to dispirit the female agent with Dear Mr. Dash. This enables you to personalize your query letter and shows that you, indeed, have done your research.

Submission Guidelines! Every literary agent seeking new authors has different submission guidelines. While you research about them, find out how they accept the submissions, read them carefully. Do they accept complete manuscript submissions in the beginning? Do they accept the first 2 chapters of your novel at first? Find it all out in the submission guidelines.

Finding a literary agent who is reputed and renowned needs to be researched. Because, well, we live in a world full of con artists and scammers and you would not want your book to be in the wrong hands. So, do your research well in finding a literary agent for your precious baby.

Research and Read the Query Letter Examples

Now that your book is finished, you have researched the literary agents and made a list of whom you will approach, it’s time to learn how to actually write a query letter for a novel.

A Query Letter is not supposed to be the whole descriptive summary of your book. Just think of a Blurb while putting in the description of your book. Put in the element of specificity instead of summarising it.

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Stating the title, the genre, the word count, the no. of chapters enclosed, is important information to be disclosed in the query letter.

List all the credentials you have, ranging from a literary award you have received, your connection with agents or publishers, whether you have met the agent at a book launch before, your previously published works. You can and you must include all these credentials in the query letter.

how to write a query letter for a novel
how to write a query letter for a novel

Pitch your Ground

As writers wishing to go for traditional publishing and finding a literary agent, we find ourselves in a fix of how to write a query letter for a novel. Once we go through the necessary steps needed to write one, we require to sharpen our ground of requesting skills, writing skills and convincing skills.

How to write a query letter for a novel
How to write a query letter for a novel

You can go through another 3-ground formula which covers:

  1. One-sentence Ground: A one-sentence opening line which should be about the conflict/ the quest/ the obstacle the protagonist is to face and overcome.
  2. Brief Description Ground: A description that is not a detailed summary but a 100-200 word expansion of the one-sentence ground (just like the blurb, yes!). In this, you can pitch in the setting of the story, the protagonist’s characteristics, the conflicts or obstacles that will set him on the journey to the ultimate goal.
  3. Pitching-in Ground: Write like you are conversing with them, shed the shyness while you talk about (in writing, of course) your precious creation, be engaging and precise.

Now, the last and most important step is to execute what you have researched and planned. The answer to ‘How to write a query letter for a novel’ will only be a confident step away!

Frame a Query Letter for your Novel

Now that you have familiarised yourself with the essentials of a query letter, take a look at how to write a query letter for a novel; how to frame a query letter for the literary agents seeking new authors.

Keep in mind the three-part formula while framing a query letter:

  1. Introductory Part
  2. Description of your Book
  3. Paragraph about yourself and your credentials (if any)

Introductory Part

This is the part where you show the literary agents that you have written this letter after thorough research. In this paragraph, you tell him/her/them why you are putting a query letter. And in this part alone, you will tell them about the book in terms of word count.

For example: “Enclosed is my 80,000 words novel.” or “My 40-pages book proposal” (in case of non-fiction)

You can include in this paragraph the information about how you did your research:

For example:

  • You looked up the agent on a well-known writing workshop’s website.
  • You heard of them from a fellow author.
  • You met them at a book launch.
  • The Agent accepts the submissions of the books of the same genre you have written.

As you begin the query letter, write the correct spelling of the literary agent, know the gender before you address them with Ms. or Mr. Give a two-line space after the paragraph. Be conversational, but do not overdo it. Keep it precise and succinct.

Description of your Book

In this part, we write from 100 words to 250 words describing our story in the manner of summarised specificity. Take a look at the example:

Query Letter for INK (A YA Urban Fantasy set in Japan) by Amanda Sun.

“When her mom dies, sixteen-year-old Katie never expects to end up living in Shizuoka with her English-teaching aunt. It’s bad enough that she can’t read or write much Japanese, but when Katie stumbles into the middle of an ugly breakup, put her on the radar of Yuu Tomohiro, her new school’s arrogant and gorgeous kendo star. After his bullying provokes her to spy on him, she discovers his secret passion for drawing, and that his badass attitude is mainly reserved for his kendo matches.”

We understand that the book is your baby and it is hard for you to leave out something and keep something. You can always approach a fellow writer who has read and beta-reviewed your book to give you a verbal short description of what your book is about. It then becomes easy for you to write it in a query letter while making it more compelling to read.

It is not necessary that you have to put everything in one and only one paragraph. There is no hard and fast rule to use only one paragraph for the brief description of your book. While writing a query letter, you can write up to 3 short paragraphs including in it the conflicts of the protagonist and how he/she sets off to overcome them.

Paragraph about yourself and the credentials (if any)

This is the part where you can flaunt (but just a tad bit) about yourself; that literary award you won for a story, Reader’s Digest Magazine publishing an article from you, the previous novel(s) or novella(s) or book(s) you have gotten published, your connection with the literary agent, or how you won a scholarship for a said story to the best writing workshop, etc.

Put these credentials to use and pitch them right in the query letter, but not in with an arrogant tone (The agents sense it and leave the query letter aside.) Be yourself, be confident in your query letter.

It is recommendable that you send out your query letter to various literary agents who represent the same genre novels. But remember not to CC them in one letter. Send it out individually.

What happens now

You have sent out your query letter to as much as 10 literary agents and while you wait for their response, there are a couple of things you would like to understand:

  1. Rejection is not a failure.
  2. Maintain professionalism.
  3. Keep your calm.

It takes months for the literary agents to come to your query letter because they get hundreds of them a day. It does not mean that yours has been rejected. Bearing in mind the time it is going to take, keep your manuscript polished and ready. The ultimate purpose of your query letter is a request for your full-fledged manuscript. And learn ways to market your book.

1 thought on “How to write a Query Letter for A Novel: A 5-Step Guide”

  1. Pingback: 5 Literary Agents Share 9 Tips on Writing Successful Query Letters | OakWords

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