Every writer seeking traditional publication will submit their project to agents and/or editors at some point. Writing that submission email can be stressful. You want to get it right, right? In this post, I break down the parts of a query letter and talk you through each one. At the end, I’ve included a sample query letter, plus links for even more information about writing the query and putting together a successful submission package.
The email you’ll send to an editor or agent along with your sample pages (or, in the case of a picture book, your full manuscript) is called a “query letter.” The query letter delivers the hook that’ll make the agent/editor sit up and take notice; presents the distinguishing themes, conflict, and characters or other details; and presents your credentials as a writer—or any other pertinent information, like how your expertise at restoring WWII tanks led you to write that WWII historical YA thriller. The letter does all this in three paragraphs. (Okay, sometimes four.)
IMPORTANT: A successful query letter’s goal is NOT to summarize your book, or even to inform the agent/editor who reads it. The goal is to drive that agent/editor to the manuscript you’re submitting.
The core structure of three-paragraph letter has you leading with a hook (also called a logline or an elevator pitch), then swooping in with a pitch that’s meant to provoke action (that action being reading the manuscript/sample pages), and then closing with the business stuff—the word count, your credentials, etc.
In more detail:
- PARAGRAPH 1 states the hook for your manuscript and indicates why you chose that editor or agents. Intrigue them with your concept in a nutshell. Perhaps include a notable item about you or the manuscript, such as a conference WIP award.
- PARAGRAPH 2 expands on the themes and general journey of the main character, and positions the project in the marketplace. Some mini-summary, but just enough to set the stage for the statement of conflict and to convey the core universal themes. Stress the elements that make this appealing to your target reader and that fit into the genre, and the fresh angle on the topic. Be concise! There’s plenty of room for detail in your synopsis, which most agents and editors require as part of the submission package.
- PARAGRAPH 3 is the closing. It’s your time to toot your horn, stating your credentials, citing your writing history or pertinent facts about why you’re right to tell this particular tale. If you’ve self-published this or other books, mention that here. Include the word count and any writing group membership.
- SOMETIMES YOU NEED AN EXTRA MIDDLE PARAGRAPH: This is for unique information the editor/agent may not know but should know in order to understand a special market need or audience potential for the book. Example: stats about the decreasing age for the onset of puberty in girls for a pitch about a puberty-related book for girls ages seven through ten. (Warning: Avoid being too ambitious about marketing. This isn’t the time to get into that.) If you’ve got comparative titles, mention those here. You don’t NEED “comps,” though. Agents and publishers who require comps will note it in their submission guidelines, posted on their websites. This extra paragraph usually sits nicely between the second paragraph and the closing credentials paragraph of the query letter.
I hope this quick explainer has been helpful to you. I dedicate an entire chapter of Writing Young Adult Fiction For Dummies to the nuts and bolts of writing a great query letter, along with crafting and polishing all the pieces of a strong submission package and putting together your list of agents and publishers. That chapters includes a step-by-step for writing a hook/logline.
~ Writing Young Adult Fiction For Dummies covers every aspect of publishing, from idea to promoting your published book. Click here for some quick tips from the book for creating a youthful narrative voice, writing convincing teen dialogue, and evaluating character and plot.~
Below is an example of a query letter, with all the above pieces in place. I wish you the best in your quest for representation and/or publication. Happy writing!
EXAMPLE QUERY LETTER…
What do you give a girl who has everything? Camo, KP, and an education in real life. In my contemporary YA novel Party Girl Goes A.W.O.L., a spoiled teen parties one time too many and gets shipped off to her grandfather’s iron-fisted alma mater: George S. Patton Military Academy. Given your deep list of contemporary YA authors, I’d like to send you Roxy’s story.
Seventeen-year-old Roxy Monroe is spoiled rotten. She’s got hot clothes, a hot car, and of course the hottest guy at school. When her constant partying threatens her chances of graduating high school, she’s sentenced to the only school her parents think can tame her: a hardcore military academy. Now Roxy’s life is Reveille at daybreak, forced marches, and classmates who think camouflage is cool and stuck-up party girls are good for just one thing—pranks. Roxy vows to break out or die trying. But when her rules-crazy roommate gets caught up in the breakout and risks everything for Roxy’s safety, Roxy sees the human beyond the uniform—and takes a hard look at herself. Celebrating friendship and the ability to find common ground, Party Girl Goes A.W.O.L. offers a lighthearted, girl-power spin to the popular rich-girl-comeuppance tale.
I have an MFA in writing from X and have taught high school English for ten years. Party Girl Goes A.W.O.L. would be my debut novel. I’m a member of SCBWI. The manuscript is complete at 80,000 words. Thank you for your consideration.
A. A. Author
Phone number, Email address
*Alternate third paragraph if you’re previously self-published: I’ve self-published two young adult novels featuring strong females. I’d very much like to grow my career with a publisher and hope you see potential in Party Girl Goes A.W.O.L. to do that. At 80,000 words, Party Girl Goes A.W.O.L. can stand alone or be developed into a series. Thank you for your consideration.