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The Query/Pitch Letter

Querying a publisher or literary agent takes a little bit more finesse than writing a blurb, synopsis, or even an entire book. Literary agents and publishers often require a query letter long before they decide if they will request part or all of your manuscript. But, first things first-- the query letter has to draw their attention. I can tell you from personal experience that writing synopses and query letters are a lot harder than writing a blurb about your book, mostly because it can be difficult to take a full-length novel and break it down to key highlights and spoilers without the character-driven details and twists. It becomes a whole lot more complex to make that synopsis shine alongside the other information some agents expect in the query. Although necessary to acquire a literary agent (and some small publishing houses will expect this, too), query letters vary in form. This is where you will want to pay attention to the guidelines on the agency’s website and follow them to the letter. What if you don’t know who you’re going to query yet? It’s a great idea to have a good portion already prepared, and then you can tweak it to suit the future agents’ tastes. 

Under normal circumstances, writers write their work from front to back. However, I have discovered that some things have to be written from the center point, then open out so that it unfolds in a manner that will work out well for both the writer and the agent. The reason for this petal method is simple. Quite a few agents out there want things like a log line, a tagline, a setting, and several other tidbits of information before they even glance at the synopsis. 

I usually start with the synopsis (with or without the ending spoiler, depending on which agent I am querying). With that out of the way, I add the logline, which is a short sentence or two of roughly thirty words that dramatize the basis of your story. This might also be used later to draw the reader’s attention to advertisements during the marketing phase. Above the logline, I will create a space to place my tagline. The tagline is a much shorter, more vivid dramatization than the logline, and this is done with a single sentence, much like a quick but effective slogan. If you are uncertain how to develop a log line or tagline, reference your synopsis. Think about which highlight stands out and encompasses the main idea of your story. This will help you figure out what works best for your book. With those out of the way, move up another space and quickly write a short paragraph describing the story's setting. At the top, place your contact information and a brief introduction of yourself and your work. Make sure to add the word count, genre, and any trigger warnings found in the manuscript. 

With the information about your book out of the way, you should always make sure that you personalize the query for each agent. I typically briefly explain where I found their contact info and guidelines just in case they differ from one website listing to another (this does happen sometimes). Then I let the agent know why I think they would be a good agent to work with. Finally, I close by thanking the agent for their time and adding my name to the bottom. There are different places to find guides online that will help you set up a query letter, synopsis, blurb, and all the fun things that go with them. However, this method helped me fill in the blanks of the initial information so that it made sense to the prospective agents and me as I wrote it. 

Written by Readers’ Favorite Reviewer Amy Raines