Write A Query Letter That Sells!
- by Marilyn Henderson
Are agents saying, "No thanks," to your query letters? Or worse,
are they ignoring them?
It may not be your novel but how you describe it that's keeping
your manuscript unread.
When you finish your novel and have revised, edited and polished
it, you reach a new challenge on your path to becoming a selling
author. Now you need to convince someone you have never met to read
your manuscript and believe it will sell to a publisher. And you
have only a one-page letter in which to do this.
The biggest mistake writers make in drafting a query letter is not
realizing the letter is an important sales tool. It must sell the
agent on the idea that he wants to represent your novel. An agent
works on commission. He doesn't earn anything unless he sells your
book. Your query letter gives him his first impression of you and
your work. The impression you need to make is, "This story will
You knew the audience your novel was aimed at before you began
writing, now your query is aimed at someone who receives hundreds
of letters like yours. Unless yours makes him sit up and take
notice, it's already on its way to the rejection pile.
Marketers know you have only three to eight seconds to capture the
attention of a prospect. That means the opening sentences of your
query letter must hook the agent into reading more. How do you do
1. Don't waste your opening lines introducing yourself. This isn't
a social contact. Your name will only be important if he wants to
read your manuscript.
2. Start with a hook. What excited you about your original idea
that made you develop it into a novel? Express that idea or theme
in one sentence, then turn it into a provocative question that
makes the agent want to learn more. Open your query with that
question, then create a second sentence that steers his thinking in
the direction you want it to go. Don't answer the question, just
give him an angle to consider.
3. Now tell him what your story is about. Do this in one or two
short paragraphs. Write the description in broad strokes rather
than details of the plot. Describe your storyline, not the story
itself. Concentrate on building the emotion you want the agent to
4. Write a description, not hype. Don't use adjectives and adverbs
instead of facts. The agent knows the difference. Saying your book
is terrifying is hype; saying a stalker's persistence terrifies the
heroine is fact.
5. Don't sound like an eager amateur by comparing yourself or the
book to writers or books on the bestseller list. He's read too many
similar boasts. He has no reason to believe your book is a winner
unless you convince him by getting him to read the manuscript.
6. Don't tell him details of how the story ends. If you present a
dramatic picture that leaves him eager to read the manuscript,
anticipating the finale will add to his excitement.
7. Close your letter stating the length of your manuscript, your
background or special qualifications that give you expertise in the
subject matter of the story, and any writing credits you have. Then
ask if he would be willing to read your manuscript and thank him
for his consideration.
Sign it and enclose a SASE for his convenience. If he specifies
wanting sample pages, enclose them and a SASE of the proper size.
8. Creating an impression of professionalism is vital. Don't be
cute or try to be clever. Don't enclose gimmicks--pens, keychains,
candy or anything you think will impress him. It won't, and he'll
know you're an amateur.
9. Don't call the agent to find out if he got your letter. Don't
e-mail him unless asked to do so.
10. Most agents respond within three to four weeks to a query. If
you don't hear in that time, a polite, brief inquiry asking if he
is considering your request is in order.
When an agent rejects your query, it means the description of your
book didn't intrigue him enough to ask for the manuscript or sample
chapters. That's a big responsibility to put on one brief letter,
so it's up to you to make your query convince him your manuscript
© 2006 Marilyn Henderson. All rights reserved.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Marilyn Henderson chose writing as a second career so she could
work from home. She had no idea how hard it was to make that first
sale then keep selling, but she soon learned the difference between
writing a novel she hoped would sell and what agents and editors
really want. Now after more than 60 novels published, she mentors
writers and shares that expertise with writers who want to build
careers or make those first sales. Contact Marilyn at