Fiction Writing Made Easy

#142. How To Write A Query Letter That Get Requests

May 14, 2024 Savannah Gilbo Episode 142
#142. How To Write A Query Letter That Get Requests
Fiction Writing Made Easy
More Info
Fiction Writing Made Easy
#142. How To Write A Query Letter That Get Requests
May 14, 2024 Episode 142
Savannah Gilbo

“I recommend working on your query letter as soon as you feel good enough about the overall shape of your story.” - Savannah Gilbo

Agents and editors must sort through hundreds of query letters to find an outstanding story. So, how do you write a query letter that catches their attention and makes them want to read more? Tune into this episode to learn how to write a query letter that works! Here’s a preview of what’s included:

[01:31] What are query letters, and why are they important?

[03:46] How to write a query letter.

[14:49] How to troubleshoot your query letter if it’s too long or not working.

[18:02] Final thoughts and episode recap

Rate + Review + Follow on Apple Podcasts

"I love the Fiction Writing Made Easy podcast!" ← If that sounds like you, please consider rating and reviewing this show! Your rating and review will help other writers find this podcast, and they're also super fun for me to read. Just click here, scroll all the way to the bottom, tap five stars to rate the show, and then select "Write a Review." Be sure to let me know your favorite episodes, too! 

Also, if you haven't done so already, make sure you're following the podcast! I'll be adding a bunch of bonus episodes to the feed, and if you're not following the show, there's a good chance you'll miss them. Click here to follow now!

Links Mentioned In This Episode:

Interested in becoming a book coach? Author Accelerator has a free quiz you can take that tells you if you're a good fit for a career in book coaching. Click here to take the quiz and to learn more about Author Accelerator's Book Coach Certification program! 

Support the Show.

Looking for a transcript? If you’re listening on Apple Podcasts or Spotify, scroll down below the episode player until you see the transcript.

Fiction Writing Made Easy +
Become a supporter of the show!
Starting at $3/month
Support
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

“I recommend working on your query letter as soon as you feel good enough about the overall shape of your story.” - Savannah Gilbo

Agents and editors must sort through hundreds of query letters to find an outstanding story. So, how do you write a query letter that catches their attention and makes them want to read more? Tune into this episode to learn how to write a query letter that works! Here’s a preview of what’s included:

[01:31] What are query letters, and why are they important?

[03:46] How to write a query letter.

[14:49] How to troubleshoot your query letter if it’s too long or not working.

[18:02] Final thoughts and episode recap

Rate + Review + Follow on Apple Podcasts

"I love the Fiction Writing Made Easy podcast!" ← If that sounds like you, please consider rating and reviewing this show! Your rating and review will help other writers find this podcast, and they're also super fun for me to read. Just click here, scroll all the way to the bottom, tap five stars to rate the show, and then select "Write a Review." Be sure to let me know your favorite episodes, too! 

Also, if you haven't done so already, make sure you're following the podcast! I'll be adding a bunch of bonus episodes to the feed, and if you're not following the show, there's a good chance you'll miss them. Click here to follow now!

Links Mentioned In This Episode:

Interested in becoming a book coach? Author Accelerator has a free quiz you can take that tells you if you're a good fit for a career in book coaching. Click here to take the quiz and to learn more about Author Accelerator's Book Coach Certification program! 

Support the Show.

Looking for a transcript? If you’re listening on Apple Podcasts or Spotify, scroll down below the episode player until you see the transcript.

Speaker 1:

One really important thing to pay attention to when constructing this section is the personalization factor, aka what sets you and your book apart from the large majority of writers who don't do their homework. When querying, when researching which agents to query, or when sending out your query letters, make sure you always have a specific reason for choosing each of the agents that you query. This is important because it shows agents and editors that you've done your homework and that you're not just blasting out query letters hoping that something good's going to come from it. Welcome to the Fiction Writing Made Easy podcast. My name is Savannah Gilbo and I'm here to help you write a story that works. I want to prove to you that writing a novel doesn't have to be overwhelming, so each week, I'll bring you a brand new episode with simple, actionable and step-by-step strategies that you can implement in your writing right away. So whether you're brand new to writing or more of a seasoned author looking to improve your craft, this podcast is for you. So pick up a pen and let's get started. In today's episode, we're going to talk about how to craft a query letter that works, so we're going to walk through the key components you need to write your query letter, some things to look out for once you're finished writing it, and so much more. Really, this episode is about helping you put your best foot forward when it comes time to query, so that you can get more responses from agents and editors alike. But before we dig into all the juicy details, let's make sure we're on the same page about what a query letter is and why it's so important. So what is a query letter? Well, a query letter is a one-page document usually it's about 300 to 500 words that writers send to literary agents or editors as a way to introduce themselves and their work. Ideally, it's because of this query letter that agents or editors will fall in love with the writer's work and then ask to read their entire manuscript and possibly even offer that writer representation on their route to publishing. Now, query letters are really, really important because agents receive hundreds of query letters per month, sometimes even more than that. So the bigger the agency or the more established that agent is, the more queries they receive, and they can sometimes get as many as 2,000 or more queries per month. So this means that agent will have to sort through and read dozens of queries at once, looking for a query letter and a story that stands out. This is why it's so important to write the best query letter possible, if you do decide to query agents.

Speaker 1:

Now, before we get into how to write a query letter, let's talk about how to know when you're ready to query, and the answer to this is pretty simple. In most cases, you are ready to query when you have a finished, polished manuscript that you feel pretty confident about. So, to reiterate, before you start querying, you do need to have a finished manuscript. Now, there are a few exceptions to this, but in general, you do want to be completely done. This does not mean that you have to go through the entire editing process, though, usually just working with a developmental editor and or getting some beta reader feedback and then incorporating that feedback into revisions. Usually, that's going to be just fine for most writers. Now, with all of that being said, you can always start writing your query letter whenever you want, so I actually recommend working on your query letter as soon as you feel good enough about the overall shape of your story. Now, why is that? Well, just like your story is going to go through multiple rounds of revisions, so too will your query letter, and the sooner you start crafting your query letter, the more time you'll have to work on it and then eventually perfect it as well. So that's what a query letter is and why it's so important.

Speaker 1:

Now let's dig into the key ingredients you'll need to craft the kind of query letter that gets requests from agents and editors. When it comes to crafting a query letter, there are three main sections to the query letter that we need to gather ingredients for. So the first section is the section that has all of your key book information, so things like your title, your genre, the word count of your manuscript and comp titles. We'll go through this in more detail in a second. The second section is going to include your book description. So this is that short synopsis or that summary of your story that reads kind of like back cover copy. And then, finally, in the third section, you're going to need your author bio. So, again, we're going to dig into this throughout the episode, but there's really three main sections and then kind of important ingredients or elements that go into each section. Now, at some point you're also going to need information about the agents that you're going to query, including their submission guidelines, which are really important, but for now, we're just going to focus on creating those three sections and gathering all of the key ingredients to create those three sections.

Speaker 1:

So let's go ahead and dive into that first section of your query letter, and that first section or that opening paragraph of your query is all about including the key information or that metadata for your book query is all about including the key information or that metadata for your book, but in a more personal and conversational way. So here are the key ingredients that you'll want to have handy to compose this opening paragraph. You're going to need the name of the agent you're querying, a specific reason why you're querying them, two to three comp titles ideally that were published in the last three to five years. The genre and category your book fits into, your story's working title and word count, rounded up to an even number and a compelling logline. So a framework that I like to use for this is something like when conflict happens to protagonist, they must overcome specific conflict to complete their stake or quest. So I know that probably sounds weird when I'm reading it. I will have it in the blog post that goes along with this episode if you would like to copy and paste and use it as a framework for your logline and, just to be super clear, these are ingredients that will go in that first paragraph, right? So you will need to, you know, look at examples of queries that work and kind of just see how all the ingredients fit together and then probably reword it and rewrite it a few times to get it to sound right.

Speaker 1:

Now, one really important thing to pay attention to when constructing this section is the personalization factor, aka what sets you and your book apart from the large majority of writers who don't do their homework. When querying, when researching which agents to query, or when sending out your query letters. Make sure you always have a specific reason for choosing each of the agents that you query. This is important because it shows agents and editors that you've done your homework and that you're not just blasting out query letters hoping that something good's going to come from it. So, to help you personalize your queries, I wanted to share three of my favorite frameworks that can help you get some of this information in.

Speaker 1:

So number one sounds something like this you mentioned on Instagram an interest in dark academia, so my book, you know, insert your title might be of special interest to you because X, y, z. Reason Number two could be something like this I'm seeking representation for my novel. Insert your book title here a work of young adult fiction, complete at 90,000 words for readers of. Insert your comp titles here. And then, finally, number three could sound something like this I noticed on manuscript wishlist you're looking for stories that are a combination of Gilmore Girls and dark academia. So I'm submitting my book into your book title here. Now again, I know these sound weird when I'm reading them to you, but if you would like to reference them or copy and paste them, they are in the blog post that goes along with this episode, which will be linked in the show notes.

Speaker 1:

Now a quick note on genre and comp titles. Your genre and comp titles, or comparative titles, help put your book into context for agents. This information tells them that you understand where your book fits in the current marketplace, which is really important. If you think that your story doesn't have comp titles or that it doesn't fit in the genres or categories that are already established in the traditional publishing world, then that is a big problem and in almost every case, sending out queries without clear comps or without genre information will result in an immediate rejection for your book, which I know that you don't want so, again, this all comes back to just doing your homework and, you know, enlisting the help of other writers or a book coach or a developmental editor if you need it. So, yes, all of this to say that opening paragraph is a big deal, but I don't want that to intimidate. You. Just start by gathering all of the information I mentioned earlier and then get it down on paper. You can massage this section, or this opening, for as long as it takes until you're ready to query. Now let's move on to section two.

Speaker 1:

The next section of your query letter is where you'll include a two to three paragraph narrative description of your story. That should read like back cover copy. So it's not a full play by play synopsis, but it does need to answer questions like who is your story about and what makes them unique? What is your protagonist trying to get, achieve or overcome? So what's their goal? Who or what is standing in the way of them achieving their goals? So what's the conflict? What's at risk if they don't achieve their goals, in other words, what's at stake? And then, where and when does your story take place? Ideally, you want to aim for a balance of plot and character here. So agents should have an idea of why readers will care about your protagonist and also what the main conflict is that's getting in their way, and the reason for this is they're just looking to see. Does this story have all the ingredients needed to keep readers turning the page? And we all know that that's what conflict is right, so we want to make sure that's crystal clear in our query letters.

Speaker 1:

Now you don't need to give away the ending of your story, but you do want to make sure that you give agents and editors enough context. So please don't be vague. This is one of the biggest mistakes I see in query letters that don't work. So you want to keep this section tight into the point and focus on your main character's story versus any side characters or subplots, story versus any side characters or subplots. If you're writing a story with multiple point of view characters, you do want to make sure to include both storylines in some capacity, but this doesn't mean that you should write two to three times more words just because you have more than one point of view character. So instead, focus on what brings those characters together and their individual storylines together, not necessarily what sets them apart, and if you keep this in mind, that should help you keep this narrative summary nice and tight and, of course, when in doubt, look at the back cover copy of books in your genre that have multiple point of view characters to see how other authors have handled it, and you'll probably be fine. Okay, so that's section two, a two to three paragraph narrative description of your book. That should read like back cover copy.

Speaker 1:

Now, moving on to section number three, this is where your author bio comes in. So your author bio could include anything like where you live, your profession, any organizations you belong to, any awards that you've won, publishing credentials, if you have them, special research that you've done that relates to your book, or links to your social media or your website. So it doesn't have to include all of that, but it can include that if it's relevant and if you think it's of interest to the agent. If you don't have any of the above, so things like publishing credentials or awards or anything like that, I want you to know that that's very normal and it's not something that should stress you out or make you believe that you don't have a chance at landing an agent. So it is 100% fine to write. This is my debut novel and just leave it at that, okay. So the key here is to choose details that are going to be meaningful and maybe even perhaps charming and that will help you make a connection to that agent or editor that you're querying. So don't put random details in your author bio just to fill up space or because you feel like you have to, especially if this is your debut novel and you feel like maybe you don't have enough credentials or anything like that.

Speaker 1:

Ok now, some specific things to not include in your query letter that I have actually seen writers include are your many years of effort and dedication, so you don't need to include that. You don't need to include how you started writing or what gave you the idea for this book. You don't need to include any images or attachments unless their submission guidelines specifically ask for it for some reason. You don't need to tell them how much your friends and family love your draft. You don't need to tell them how much your friends and family love your draft. You don't need to tell them how much your friends and family love your book or how many times you've been rejected by other agents. You don't need to say that you've worked with editors or coaches or had any kind of editing on your book, and you don't want to name drop or include any quotes of praise from people in the industry or your friends and family or anything like that, and the reason is because these things just don't matter to the agents you're querying and they're not going to help your story get noticed. So just keep it simple and remember that you want your story to be the focus of the query letter.

Speaker 1:

Including too much stuff, especially if it's not meaningful and relevant to that agent or your story, is just going to make it feel cluttered. So now that we've talked through those three sections that you'll want to include in your query letter, let's talk about how to close your query letter, because this is really important too. When it comes to closing your query letter, just keep it simple and be professional, so you can literally write something like thank you for your consideration, I look forward to hearing from you, and leave it at that. Of course, include your name and your email address and maybe even a phone number if you want to, but really the key here is just be simple and professional. If you have a series of books in mind, you can mention that in your closing. So something like this is the first book in a planned series or whatever, but you don't have to mention that. You also don't have to state that you are querying other agents, unless the agent you're querying has it in their submission guidelines that they want you to state that. Okay, so just some things to keep in mind.

Speaker 1:

If you want to see some examples of successful queries, you can go to two different websites to see some examples of successful queries. You can go to two different websites to see some examples of query letters that work. So one of them is Query Shark and the other is Query Tracker, and I will link to both of those in the show notes. Okay, so let's say that you've written a query letter and you're like okay, this is done, but now it's a little long, so maybe it's more than the three to 500 words that I mentioned earlier, or maybe it's just not quite working and you're not sure what to do. I wanted to give you five questions.

Speaker 1:

There are some key questions that you can ask to help yourself troubleshoot and improve your query letter. So number one is do you feel like you're over explaining yourself to get the point across? And if you are, you probably just need to zoom out a little bit. Number two are you doing more convincing the agent to like and pick up your story rather than pitching your story? And if you find this to be the case, just remember what the purpose of a query letter is. So it is a pitching tool and we don't want to, you know, come off overly desperate when we're trying so hard to convince an agent that this is the book they have to have. Right, we want our pitch to speak for itself. Number three are you talking about the story rather than telling it in narrative summary? So we do want it to read like a narrative summary, again, like that cover copy of a book.

Speaker 1:

If you don't know what I mean, go to Amazon and read the descriptions of like five to 10 books and you'll see what I mean. Number four have you mentioned more than three characters by name? And if you have, really we just want to drill down or zoom out under that one protagonist or, you know, maybe one to two protagonists if you have more than one point of view character. Number five do you get into minor plot points or subplots that don't affect the choices that the protagonist makes? And if so, just consider do you really need to mention them, right? We don't need to include everything in the query. It's impossible to include everything in 300 to 500 words, right? So just make sure you're focusing on that main storyline and again, just on your protagonist journey, and you should be good to go.

Speaker 1:

I find that usually at least one of these questions will help you pinpoint which areas of your query can be improved. Most of the queries that I review need editing in that second section that describes the book like back cover copy. So when in doubt, if something's not working, look to that section and maybe even get a second or third set of eyes on your query, because this will help you see things more objectively and other people are really good at asking us questions if something's not clear or, you know, just seeing things in a different way than we do. Okay, so now you might be wondering well, what happens after we're done and we send out the query letter, right? Well, once you send out your queries, just be prepared to wait. It is a waiting game, okay, and in many cases, agents are going to list their expected response time in their submission guidelines, so you will wanna make sure to look at those closely. And then, after that stated response time has passed, it is perfectly fine to follow up with an agent using the same method as your original query. So usually this is going to be email, right. But if no expected response time is given in those submission guidelines, then it's pretty standard to wait about one month to follow up and then, if you still don't hear back from them, it's probably safe to assume it's pretty standard to wait about one month to follow up and then, if you still don't hear back from them, it's probably safe to assume it's a rejection and you can just move on with your other queries. Okay, so I will probably do another few episodes about the querying process.

Speaker 1:

Today's episode was just focused on how to write a query that works and how to write a query that's not going to be an instant, no right. So let me recap some of the key points we talked about before I let you go. Key point number one is that a query letter is a one-page document, usually about 300 to 500 words, that writers send to literary agents or editors as a way to introduce themselves and their work. It's going to include three main sections. So section one is all about your book, that key book info or that metadata that puts your book into context in the marketplace. Section number two is your book description, so that short synopsis that reads like back cover copy. And then section number three is your author bio.

Speaker 1:

Key point number two is that personalizing your query letter is key. So remember this shows agents and editors that you've done your homework with the intention of finding the right fit for you in your book and that you're not just blasting out query letters hoping that something will work. And finally, key point number three is that it is very appropriate to follow up with an agent if you haven't heard back from them, but just remember to read and follow their submission guidelines to see when exactly you should expect to hear from them and when in doubt. It's usually safe to wait about a month to check in. If you don't hear back from them after that, it's probably safe to assume it's a rejection.

Speaker 1:

Okay, so some final parting words of wisdom.

Speaker 1:

Obviously, after composing the first draft or the first few drafts of your query, just like your manuscript right you want to reread and edit your query and get as many eyes on it as possible so that it's as polished as possible, so you can definitely have trusted beta readers, or even a developmental editor or book coach, review it so that you can make sure you're putting your best foot forward.

Speaker 1:

If you include the elements we talked about in today's episode and you do your homework, do your agent research, then your query letter should be one that stands out of the pile and hopefully gets you a lot of requests. So that's it for today's episode. Thank you so much for tuning in and for showing your support. If you're an Apple user, I'd really appreciate it if you took a few seconds to leave a rating and a review. Your ratings and reviews tell Apple that this is a podcast that's worth listening to and, in turn, your reviews will help get this podcast in front of more fiction writers, just like you. As always, I'll be back next week with a brand new episode full of actionable tips, tools and strategies to help you become a better writer and craft a story you're proud of. Until then, happy writing.

Crafting a Successful Query Letter
Crafting a Successful Query Letter
Crafting a Successful Query Letter
Perfecting Your Query Letter