This is what people ask me about most. And this exact phrase, how to write a query letter, ranks high on search engines.
I think it’s worth asking ourselves why writers struggle with this so much. I mean, for goodness sakes, there are thousands upon thousands of articles on the Internet telling people how to write query letters. And it’s not like one person says one thing and another person says something else and the answers vary so broadly that writers simply can’t understand what advice they should follow.
So why do writers struggle with writing query letters? You’re all intelligent. You’ve managed to finish a book and revise it and polish it up. So how can you not know how to write a query letter?
I think we need to talk about why you need a query letter. Once you get why you will see that how is not that hard. Query letters are not some mysterious things. There is no pixie dust that can sprinkle on them to make them convince an agent to represent you. No “love potion number 9.”
So ask the right question, dear writer.
Why do I need to write a query letter?
Now you’re on the right track. I’ve come up with several reasons—too many for one post. So here is the first reason you need to write a query letter. More will follow.
1) You need to write a query letter to introduce yourself
When you meet people, you shake their hands (in the US, anyway), and you introduce yourself. When you want to meet an agent, you need to write a query letter to introduce yourself.
Now that why should give us a couple of hows.
If you want to make a good impression when you introduce yourself, look at your query letter this way:
Your query letter is your handshake
You don’t want spinach in your teeth when you shake my hand, and you don’t want giant typos and poor grammar in the first paragraph when you query me. We all know that, right? You don’t want to call me Jane when my name is Sally. I don’t really care, but you will be embarrassed. So try to get my name right. So far, nothing new here.
But what about this? What’s your body language tell people when you shake their hands? Is your query letter a firm handshake or does it feel weak and insecure? Is your palm sweaty?
Why are you writing this query letter? To introduce yourself and your book in a way that makes you appear to be someone I want to hang out with. Someone who is not insane, who is not needy, who is not dumb, who is not arrogant, who is not clueless about publishing.
To put it positively, you want my first impression of you, from your query letter, to be, “Here is a person who understands publishing, who understands that I’m busy, who will not demand that I pay attention to her, who is confident but not arrogant, who is happy and well-adjusted, and who has a good sense of humor and doesn’t take herself too seriously.”
Your query letter should be dressed for success
The clothes you’re wearing? They are not that important to me. We agents talk about not sending queries written in pink ink with glitter, and I suppose nowadays that would translate to: Don’t send me a query with neon green marquees that travel across the top of the email saying,
But these days people don’t insist that you wear a suit and tie to work. Some offices want slacks and a nice shirt with a collar. Others are OK with clean jeans, as long there are no holes. Many businesses want you to take the rings out of your nose and lips, and some won’t hire people with facial tattoos.
So, to be safe? Don’t go with comic sans. Times New Roman is always good. Twelve-point font always works well. These are standard. But if you want to deviate a bit—put on a bowtie to stand out from the crowd—I don’t think anyone really cares if you use Georgia instead of Times or even if you go with Calibri. All that really matters is that the font is easy to read (so no fonts that look like messy handwriting) and that it’s clean and pleasing to the eye. When we are looking at a hundred queries a day, you want us to feel rested when we look at yours, not overwhelmed.
Okay, more on this another day. Now it’s your turn to tell me. Why do you think writers struggle so much with query letters?