Greetings from Jackie M. Johnson!
How do you get your new book idea across to a literary agent so he or she gets it, loves it and sells it to a publisher? It all starts with a well-crafted query letter.
What is a query letter?
A query letter is a brief (one page) cover letter that you send to a literary agent to introduce yourself and your book idea. It’s short and to the point. But, it must also be well-written so an agent will not only read it, but also be moved to action.
Why do I need a query letter?
Your goal is to motivate a literary agent—in a single page—to want to know more and eventually sell your idea to a publisher. Creating a good query letter is essential because agents receive thousands of them every year. Wading through the stack, whether on paper or on email takes time and effort; only the best ideas get through.
When I was the submissions coordinator at Alive Communications, I read more than 200 fiction and nonfiction queries per month. Sadly, the majority of them were either poorly written or unclear about the topic. Or, it was obvious that the writer had not done his or her research to know the specific genres of literature that our literary agency was accepting at that time.
What goes into a query letter?
Rachelle Gardner is a literary agent and an avid blogger about topics of interest to writers. She advises that queries should include these three basic elements:
- something about the book
- something about you
- the first 3 to 5 (or so) pages of the manuscript pasted into the email.
For non-fiction writers, Gardner advises “include some information about yourself, specifically why YOU are the correct person to write this book. What are your qualifications? Are you a published author? What’s the most important thing I need to know about your platform?"
For fiction writers, she says, “Don’t worry about platform. If you have commercially published fiction before, tell a bit about your publishing history. If not, don’t worry about this part of the letter, just say you’re a first-time novelist.”
Tips to improve query letters
How do you make your query letter stand out so it gets read—and gets an agent to take action? Here are five important considerations:
- Target your query to an agent who represents the genre you want to write. See the Christian Writer’s Market Guide for a list of agents in the CBA market.
- Read the submission guidelines. While there are general rules for query letters, find out what your specific literary agent is looking for (the genre and the submission guidelines).
- Craft your content. Write to motivate and to inform. Write succinctly and clearly. You only have one page to get your ideas across.
- Review your presentation – How does the letter look? Have you proofread it for correct spelling and grammar? Do you have complete and correct contact information so the agent can readily contact you?
- Send the letter, not the manuscript. Remember, a query letter is a letter. Don’t send the entire manuscript until the agent asks for it.
In your query letter, be clear, be concise and be convincing. Ask yourself: Why should the agent want to read my book? Then convey your idea with passion.
Jackie M. Johnson is an author and freelance writer in Colorado. Her books include: "Power Prayers for Women," "When Love Ends and the Ice Cream Carton Is Empty," and "Powerful Prayers for Challenging Times." Visit her encouragement blog, A New Day Cafe or website for more information.