One way to structure a query letter
There are many different ways to write a query letter. The one thing to ALWAYS remember is to follow agency guidelines. If they tell you to shuffle everything around, then do it! But most agencies aren’t very specific about the actual structure of the query letter you send to them, and that is when a template like this will come in handy.
However you choose to write your letter, this template will give you a good idea of the weighting of each section. Ideally, your letter will fit onto a page of A4, and at least half of that will be taken up with talking about your story. That is what agents are (at least initially) the most interested in. They are looking for stories to fall in love with.
- Keep it short and snappy – this is one or two sentences that give a flavour and peak interest
- Make your hook specific – your story might be about fairy tales but what makes it different?
- This is not a summary – you don’t have to introduce many characters or delve far into the story
- Be wary of asking too many questions – just one is enough
- This is the biggest section of your letter – one or two paragraphs detailing a bit more about your story, setting and characters
- Leave the agent wanting more – you don’t need to include all the details but tell enough to give them a clear picture
- Be specific about stakes – agents will want to know what unique consequences there will be if everything goes wrong
- Ask why – justify your character’s actions. Simply saying that Fred is going to find a pink pearl isn’t very compelling, but saying Fred is going to find the pink pearl BECAUSE it will save his wife is much better
- Find examples (and copy them!) – dig out your favourite books and see how their blurbs are set out. These are written to entice readers and are exactly the kind of thing you’ll want to replicate
- Things agents need to know – your word count, genre, age group, themes, etc. You could also mention anything you like about the agency/agent here, plus if your story has series potential
- Lay it out simply – this section doesn’t need to take up too much room. One mistake people (ME) have made is making too much of a priority of this stuff and not enough of making their story sound like the most exciting thing ever
- Include comparison titles (if you can) – I could chat for quite some time about comparison titles (I may well do this at some point – watch out for it!) BUT the main things to remember are:
- Reflect the feel of your book
- They can be books, films, albums, artwork… get creative!
- Don’t go too old or too big (so try not to compare your book to Wind in the Willows or The Hunger Games)
- Keep the information relevant – your relationship with your agent will be personal, but the thing they are primarily interested in is your story writing ability. In your letter, it’s more important to detail your writing-related achievements than detail your many other hobbies (although throwing one in is a great way to inject a little bit of personality!)
- Always mention pets – who doesn’t love them?!
- Mention competitions you’ve won/short listed – but stick to ones about this story and make sure they are well known. In my first query letter, which will remain confined forever to the deepest bowels of my laptop, I mentioned winning a competition at my local book fayre. I can only imagine how underwhelmed agents were by this. Unless your local book fayre is the Winchester Writer’s Festival or such-like, it’s probably not worth a mention (although you should ALWAYS give yourself a pat on the back for any competition won)
- Don’t be shy – agents are being very open at the moment about craving own voices stories so mention if you are BAME, have a disability, are LGBTQ+, or are from any other group currently underrepresented in publishing. However, only share these things if you are comfortable doing so. Own voices is incredible, but no one has a right to personal information about you.
And that’s it!
Query letters can be tough, but once you’ve got a template you’re happy with it is so much easier. Play around, draft and redraft, until you have something that makes your story shine.
I wrote my query letter to this template – you can see all these sections in action (and read some more general tips about query letters) here.
I also offer a query package editing service, which you can read more about here.