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How To Write The Perfect Query Letter

I have written many query letters while I was searching for a publisher and later a producer for my film work. I have tried and tested many versions of a query letter and the following is a checklist I use in my query letters today, and so far it has been the most successful in getting positive responses from publishers and producers alike.

Remember, the publisher receives hundreds if not thousands of query letters or emails every day. So yours must instantly grab their attention.

A friendly greeting using their name is essential. Do not use ‘To whom it may concern’. This screams that you are sending out blanket generic queries to everyone in the directory. If you are a fan of any other writer they have published, mention it. Eg. ‘I am a huge fan of Joe Bloggs and his novel Blah Blah inspired me to...’  It shows that you have done your research and your query is tailored just for their company. Your first line should be as follows: ‘I am seeking representation for my novel,'  and here you include the title, genre and word count. This must be included in the first sentence. If you have already been published previously, mention it. If you have met them at a networking event, mention it. If you have read something they have written, tell them why their words inspired them. If you have been referred by a published writer or agent, mention it. Include a brief bio, just one or two sentences of your previous writing experience. If you have none of these, then just get straight into a brief summary of the plot; in other words your byline.  

Having an eye-catching byline is a must. It can be difficult to summarise the complexities of your novel in one or two sentences. But a byline must simply describe the main characters, summarise the main problems they must overcome and who or what occurs to prevent them doing so. Don’t give away the cliff-hanger; leave the publisher wanting more. This is called ‘the hook’ and must convince the publisher to want your novel above everyone else’s they have received that day. Just as your book must capture your readers’ attention within the first few pages, your query letter must do the same. Ask yourself the following questions. What aspect of my story is different? How have I told my story in a unique way? Are my characters intriguing?

Next comes a brief synopsis of around 100 words. Here you include a description of the major characters, the plot outline and the main questions or conflicts that drive your story forward. Remember to leave a question unanswered eg. Does Joanne reveal who the killer is before she is the next victim? Include what the protagonist stands to win or lose if the conflict is not resolved.

Keep your sentences short and to the point. Do not compare your novel to past masterpieces. Do not tell them you have written the next War and Peace. Do not use the old cliché: ‘I would describe my book as Harry Potter meets Twilight’. This is a lazy approach and most publishers hate it.

Write your query letter in the style of your book. If the genre is comedy, then throw some humour into the query letter.

Finally, follow the submission guidelines.

Read your letter to check for spellings mistakes and grammar.


Written by Readers’ Favorite Reviewer Lesley Jones


As a former acquisition editor and a current literary agent, I don't agree with everything written here. I, and others, like to be drawn into the story before learning about the author. Often, it's a compelling line or two from the book or a brief summary of the challenges faced by the main character. Eg: "Jennifer saw the car speeding toward them. Blinded by headlights and fear, she froze. A shrilling scream broke her trance, and when she looked down, she saw James on the ground, blood-covered and lifeless.

Blinded by the light (title in italics) is a 67,000 word fiction mystery thriller that takes readers on an adventure through the eye of protagonist Jennifer Fields and her longtime boyfriend James Pearson. Set in modern times, this adult novel is similar to John Doe's Hit and Run (title in italics).

I am the author of several books, including blah, blah, blah and blah, blah, blah..." Then close. You can also add how you learned about that particular agent. (I met you at a conference. I saw you featured in Writers Digest, etc.) It's not necessary to say how you learned about a publisher.

I don't know what you mean by "eye-catching byline." A byline is your name or your pseudonym.

I disagree with you about not giving away a cliffhanger if there is one. Publishers and agents don't like guessing games. They need to know exactly what they are dealing with. No publisher or agent wants to waste time reading a manuscript blindly. I know of none who wants surprises. Be upfront. Leave no question unanswered in your query. In fact, if you open with a question, be sure to answer it before closing. Keep queries to one page.