Writing an Effective Query Letter

This award winning biography written by Paul Wayne and Mark Graham Communications

Everyone has an opinion as to what makes for a good query letter or cover letter when you’re submitting your book to a literary agent and/or publisher.  One thing most people agree upon is that your query or cover letter is the first thing an agent or editor sees, so it needs to be crafted with care and reflective of your writing style.

When we are consulting with clients at Mark Graham Communications, one of elements that we stress is that the query or cover letter– as important as it is – should NOT leave you feeling intimidated. Moreover, it should not be over-thought. Follow the rules, but let your skill have a free hand.

In our opinion, short and sweet is better than long and laborious. We favor a couple of paragraphs or in the area of 150 words, enough to convey your message without putting the agent or editor off.

Speaking of the editor or agent in question, always personalize your letter. Do some research and address the letter to a specific person, not to the agency in question or the publishing house and certainly not to: To Whom It May Concern.

Next point: familiarize yourself with the submission guidelines of the agency or publishing house and adhere to them.  What do these guidelines look like? Here’s a generic but relatively accurate list:

  • Address your letter using the Editor or Agent’s name
  • Always give them an accurate word count
  • Share your title
  • Make sure you tell them the genre of your book
  • Give a brief, but appealing description of your piece
  • If you have been published before, let them know
  • If you are submitting your book simultaneous to other agents or editors, it is considered appropriate to say so. (Not all agents or editors accept simultaneous submissions, so be aware of this from your research.)
  • Don’t forget to give your name, address, and phone.

Let’s give an example:

Dear Fuller Literary Agency,

Attached is a sample chapter of my first novel. While I am not a published author, I am excited to share my work with you and appreciate your consideration.

I am the CEO of my own company, but am excited to start my second novel, also an international thriller.

I look forward to hearing from you.

With Regards,

Allen Smith

Mr. Smith fails on a number of levels that are clearly obvious. He did not personalize his greeting. He didn’t share the title of his book nor a description. He also failed to provide a word count.  Lastly, he did not tell the agent what he was seeking: in this case, representation.

Let’s try again:

Dear Ms. Arnold:

I am seeking representation for my international thriller, Where the Money Lies, a story of extortion in the British monarchy and the death of a King. Given your agency’s list of outstanding fiction writers, I believe Where the Money Lies is an extremely good fit.

The manuscript, at 94,000 words, is attached here. The book has not been submitted elsewhere, and I am extremely grateful for your consideration.

Thank you so much.

Best Regards,

Allen Smith

While both of these letters can and should be expanded, you can clearly see the difference that a bit more creativity and personalization brings. The next step is presenting a wonderfully written manuscript and starting in on your next endeavor.