A query letter is a 3-4 paragraph introduction to your work. You will enclose this letter (or use it in the body of your email) with your manuscript when you're sending it to literary agents and publishers.
Here's one way to think of it: you know how you send a cover letter along with your resume when you apply for jobs? Consider your query letter to be your book's cover letter.
Writing a good query letter is considered a critical element of the publishing process. So you want to make sure you get it right. If that's too much pressure, you can hire someone to write your query letter. (Kraken will do this for you for about $60-$75 bucks.) But we also think you can do it yourself!
The formula below is based on a three-paragraph cover letter, and is ONLY a guide. You should make your own determinations about what makes the most sense for your individual project.
Include a greeting. I'm a pretty informal writer, so I usually say 'good morning,' 'good afternoon,' or 'good evening,' depending on what time I plan to send my note.
ALWAYS confirm the spelling of a person's name before you send. You're sure you have it right? Check it again. Nothing will turn someone off faster than getting their name wrong.
If there isn't a specific name attached to your inquiry, I don't recommend "To whom it may concern." Instead, get as specific as you can. "Dear editor," or "To the editing team at Blank Books" is a more modern approach.
The first paragraph of your query letter should include:
1. The title and word count of your book
2. The genre of your book
3. A brief description of the book's major themes ("a book about overcoming obstacles," "a book about friendship")
3. One or two examples of books in a similar vein (by other authors)
Now move on to the heart of the letter. This paragraph should be a summary of your book, including the major characters, the problems or challenges they will face, and the themes of your work. Imagine how you would describe your book to a stranger at a cocktail party. High-level, direct, and reasonably short.
This is the place to tell the reader about yourself. Some subjects might include:
- Why you wrote this book
- What qualifies you to write this book (If the book is a Victorian era romance, have you studied Victorian culture? If the book is for children, are you a teacher, parent, scholar in children's lit?)
- Why you are writing anything at all
- Where you learned how to write
- Why it matters to you
You should also include any social media or marketing experience you have, as well as the size of your target audience, if you know it. These things can help a publisher (or literary agent) assess how well your book might sell.
Make sure your contact info is included in your submission; if not in your cover letter, then in your manuscript itself, or in the signature on your email. You want to make sure the agent or editor knows how to reach you.
Some high-quality samples here. Also included are the outcomes each writer received based on sending out their letters.
This site includes a lot of details, as well as some great samples.
This former literary agent breaks down the anatomy of a query letter, line by line. Super helpful!