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How to Best Write a Query Letter to a Literary Agent

If you are a writer with a finished manuscript or even if you're just halfway through it, the best way to get your work out and be signed for publication is by having a literary agent to represent you. A literary agent can help you find the right publisher and assist you in ironing out crucial details, such as the contract, terms of sale, royalty share, and licensing deals, if applicable.

But getting an agent isn't as easy as picking anyone you like and expecting this person to agree right away—far from it. In fact, getting the services of a literary agent requires that you do ample research, show due diligence in your output, and most importantly, write really compelling work.

For a literary agent to agree to represent you and your work, you first need to write a query letter. This is a letter you write to an agent of your choice requesting representation and detailing who you are and what your work is all about.

The importance of a query letter cannot be overstated. A poorly written query letter can spell the end of your chance to be represented by your preferred literary agent. But when done right, it could open the doors to great opportunities for you and your work.

So how should you best write a query letter to a literary agent? Here are some key pointers to remember:

Show that you did your research. Indicate how you came across the literary agent and make sure that you have all the required attachments.

Provide a thorough summary of your work. Make the literary agent care about your story. Highlight the central conflict, as well as the characters and what makes them memorable. Come up with a great summary because this is often what spells the difference between acceptance or rejection.

Indicate necessary details about your work. Among the things that you can include in your query are the final word count, number of chapters, genre, and similarity in tone or theme to other works by different writers.

Identify who you are. Let the literary agent know pertinent credentials about yourself. In your letter, include the title of publications where your works have previously appeared. You may also want to touch on your educational background and job experiences, if necessary.

Keep it short and sweet. Your query letter need not be overly verbose. Go straight to the point and refrain from launching into a heavily worded query that can otherwise still be shortened.

Attach a snippet of your work. Each query letter should come with a sample of your work. This normally covers three chapters' worth of the manuscript, or about 50 pages of your work.

And lastly, indicate your contact information. The use of email is increasingly becoming the norm in sending query letters. But if you're mailing a hard copy, make sure you include a self-addressed stamped envelope that can be used by the literary agent in sending out his or her feedback.