5 Agent-Approved Query Letter Examples
A great query letter — one that gets an agent to request your manuscript — is one that both checks all the boxes and is unique to you, your book, and the agent in question. To give you an idea of what this might look like, we’re sharing some query letter examples, which we polished up with the expert help of a handful of editors on the Reedsy marketplace.
If you want to see how the sausage gets made and learn more about the editors who helped us out, check out their full query letter critiques, which show how they approach a query letter.
Science-Fiction query letter
This sci-fi query letter checks a lot of the boxes you want in a query letter: it includes current and contemporary comp titles, to help the agent place the novel within the market, while also indicating a familiarity with the agent’s catalogue by including mention of one of their previous projects. It also makes good use of the author’s bookish bona fides.
Dear Mr. Osbourne,
I am writing to seek representation for my 120,000-word science fiction novel, ELYSIUM DYING. It concerns a not-so-distant future that has been ravaged not only by mass infertility but also by an alien invasion that threatens to wipe out all existing life. The novel’s first contact arc is similar to your client Russell Fleming’s approach in THE BLUE ABYSS, which has been of particular inspiration to me, with moments reminiscent of Jeff VanderMeer’s horror-infused ANNIHILATION.
Sixteen-year-old Hazel Windrow is one of the youngest people alive since the Peruvian flu struck fifteen years ago, killing 50% of Earth’s population and leaving the rest infertile. Extinction appears inevitable, and humanity now faces the fresh blow of it happening much sooner than anticipated — with the arrival of an alien colony seemingly determined to tear whatever’s left of the planet’s crumbling cities apart.
As her entire neighborhood scrambles to put as much space between themselves and the creatures as possible, only Hazel (herself a devotee of classic science fiction) sees the connection between the disease and the invasion, and suspects that the aliens are not as malevolent as they seem. Since the city’s electrical grid was wiped out by the aliens’ arrival, she has no way of communicating her theory to the higher-ups. So she sets off from her native Boston, headed for Washington, D.C. — but when she arrives, she’s confronted not by the remains of the government, but the aliens themselves, who have taken over the Pentagon and the White House.
While Hazel’s theory proves correct and she tries to spread the vital truth about the flu, she’s accused of being a traitor to her species and a mouthpiece for the aliens. Now she must convince the skeptics to cooperate before the aliens’ patience runs out, or else these new arrivals will attempt a far more drastic plan to force humanity’s hand.
I have an MFA from Temple University, where I studied under Nebula Award-winner Samuel R. Delany. I have also won several short fiction contests hosted by the SFWA, and recently compiled those works into an anthology entitled THE FALL OF DAWN, which I self-published under the pseudonym Jocelyn Rice.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
Following Lindsay Ribar’s advice, the query gives a strong sense of the novel’s story and stakes, which is especially important in genre fiction: agents receive a lot of queries, and don’t have time to follow up every vaguely intriguing synopsis! You’re much better off being explicit when describing the plot.
Nonfiction query letter
This nonfiction query is an example of the use of a “hook” to open a query: according to editor Jon Michael Darga during feedback, “it's intriguing, carries significance, and we want to know more. I've no idea what priming is, but now I want to know!”
Dear Ms Brown,
As a university undergraduate, I sat down in a crowded lecture theatre one afternoon, and received my first ever introduction to a concept that would transform my career, my relationships, and my entire way of living: priming.
This psychological phenomenon is as powerful as it is simple. In short, exposure to a certain stimulus can influence the way a person reacts to a subsequent stimulus. At a simple level, this can be extremely innocuous: if I’ve just spoken about my pet Labrador, and then present you with the letters O, D, and G, you’re more likely to spell “dog” with them than “god”. But this principle can have incredibly profound implications on your mindset, your decision-making, and your overall happiness.
In PRIMED FOR ERROR, my 70,000-word scientific self-help book, I lead my readers through the story of how I used priming as a tool to access memories and alter my “impostor” mindset, rocket-boosting my academic career. I’ll also show them how priming myself for healthy, positive communication saved my struggling marriage, as well as teaching them how they can apply the principles of priming in their own lives. Weaving together 200 years of psychological research with my own experiences (and those of famous proponents of the method, including Nobel prize-winners and Hollywood A-Listers), I cover broad ground with enough specificity and hard scientific evidence to reassure readers they’re in safe hands.
I actually listened to your excellent panel at the 2020 UK Nonfic Pick conference, where you discussed the porousness of the self-help and popular science genres and how you’re looking for more books that straddle that line, and I believe PRIMED FOR ERROR strikes that balance in an innovative way, through the incorporation of elements of memoir and personal anecdote within a wider scientific framework.
Beyond my personal experience using the principles of priming, I have a PhD in behavioral psychology from Marlowe University, where I have experience lecturing undergraduate and postgraduate students in areas related to this topic. My hope is to bring my academic and teaching backgrounds together to present robust science in an accessible way, similar to Daniel Kahneman’s THINKING, FAST AND SLOW. I’m also a great admirer of your client Marcus Hardy’s latest release BALANCING THE DECK, as his approach to popular science is informed by both highly personal and rigorous historical lenses, a holistic methodology I adopt in my own teaching and writing.
PRIMED FOR ERROR has been a years-long passion project, and I am excited to finally be bringing it out into the world. I’ve attached the complete manuscript for your consideration, and I thank you for your time.
All the best,
The query also makes clear to the agent what materials the author has available (here, the complete manuscript), something which is especially important when querying with a nonfiction title, where you could be submitting either a book proposal or a full manuscript. This helps the agent know where you’re at in your writing journey straight away.
Memoir query letter
This letter also makes use of a brief hook, before moving swiftly into the meat and potatoes of the query - the necessary details about the book that the agent really wants to know, including word count, genre, title.
Dear Mr Carter,
In my thirty years as a foster mother, I had one rule: no teenagers. I was certain that I couldn’t meet the unique challenges of caring for older children. Then, one November night, along came an emergency placement—fifteen-year-old Kay.
In my 100,000-word memoir HIDDEN PARENT, I discuss the shift in my relationship with parenthood, love, and family which Kay precipitated. Upon her arrival, we argued constantly, with neither of us knowing how to navigate this strange new family dynamic. It began to seem that our situation was untenable — but we were stuck with one another. Our struggles were only exacerbated by the bemused scepticism of my own family and friends who, aware of my longstanding no-teens rule, were certain our little unit wouldn’t last.
But as we became comfortable with one another, the growing bond between us opened my eyes to an entirely new type of foster family. I realized that what made me a parent wasn’t a child being reliant on me, but a child trusting me enough to let me into their life. It’s this realization, and the bumpy road that led me there, which I explore with equal parts humor and sensitivity in HIDDEN PARENT, my first book.
Alongside the hundreds of thousands of families adopting or fostering within the US every year, I feel my story will resonate with a broad audience of parents, both biological and non-biological, who at times doubt whether they can handle a child’s emotional needs. As a blogger who writes regularly about my experiences parenting, I have already built up a community of 3,000 regular readers who are attached to my story, and seeking guidance for their own journeys. Wanting to connect even further with this audience is another reason why I wrote this book, an accessible resource for those struggling with the “big questions” of parenthood.
My book is thematically complementary to several works in your catalogue, such as David Lower’s FOUND FAMILY, touching on similar ideas of family as an ever-evolving and flexible entity, which you can nurture even without biological relation. I also know that you count Evie Gray among your roster of clients, whose newest title MIDDLE YEARS resonated deeply with my experiences, and while my book takes a more personal approach to the topic as a narrative memoir, I would be honored to find myself in such company.
I thank you for your consideration.
Following Kimberley Lim’s advice, the query includes an indication of the book’s tone when it points out that it’s a good-humored reflection on the topic. This helps the agent get a real feel for the work and the reading experience, beyond the general subject matter.
Mentioning a particular target audience is also good: agents already know that readers outside of the target market could enjoy a book, so this goes without saying. But by being specific, and focusing only on those they are actually writing for (here, parents), the author gives the agent insight into the commercial potential and a possible marketing angle for the book.
Thriller query letter
This query is a great example of efficiency, according to agent Andy Ross. The synopsis brings out the concept quickly, leaving space in the letter for other important information, such as background on the writer and their author platform.
Dear Ms. Brooks,
I am seeking representation for my 100,000 word psychological thriller, THE WOMAN IN THE BLACK SALOON, my debut novel.
THE WOMAN IN THE BLACK SALOON begins with a terrible death: a cattle rancher strangled by his own lasso. But when the forensics come back clean, the police have no leads whatsoever. Flash forward to one year later, and the strange murder not only remains unsolved, but the bad publicity surrounding it has destroyed the town’s tourist economy.
Enter Jesse Foster, proprietor and sole remaining bartender at the Lone Star Saloon. Once a thriving local business and tourist attraction, Lone Star has dried up with the rest of the town — and Jesse is sick and tired of waiting for things to get better. Taking matters into his own hands, he soon discovers what the police have been hiding from the public, and realizes that he himself may hold the key to this terrifying case: a faint memory of a mysterious woman in his bar, just hours before that rancher was brutally throttled.
This story has all the dark small-town secrets of a Gillian Flynn novel with a distinctive southwestern spin — it's about a small town in Texas that’s turned upside down by a twisted, Western-inspired murder. It should appeal widely to fans of all kinds of suspense, from classic murder mystery to contemporary thriller.
I’ve also already started promoting it to my own fans — I’ve had several crime fiction short stories published, and run a true-crime blog called “Crime Time with Detective Jay” that gets about 500 unique viewers a month. This novel was actually inspired by a case I wrote about on the blog (though I won’t say which one).
My very best,
The inclusion of metrics in the form of blog hits is helpful for an agent, and definitely adds value to an otherwise unknown author’s query. Knowing that an author has a pre-existing platform can be a helpful tool for agents when trying to figure out the potential reach of a project, so include any social media or blog following you might have.
Romance query letter
Following feedback from Marsha Zinberg, this letter was edited to make sure its tone was suitable for a query, selling the story without veering into pulpy back cover copy. It also gives insight into the other works in the authors’ catalogue and their authorial credentials.
Dear Ms. Montgomery,
I’m seeking representation for my 80,000-word historical romance novel, FIRE AND SILK: a forbidden romance that unfolds against the backdrop of the American Revolution. This book is a sequel to my previous novel, Midnight Rose, which was shortlisted for the RWA Katie Fforde Debut Romantic Novel Award last year.
The fiery half of FIRE AND SILK, blacksmith Joseph Ramsey, has never been interested in ladyfolk — nor does he have time to pursue them, working from dusk till dawn to fulfill his commissions and covertly supply the Continental Army with weapons. Elizabeth Davis is a high-born woman who approaches Joe with a strange request: a gun with which to kill her fiancé, a charismatic and influential general in the Continental Army who commands a garrison key to the region’s defence.
If he fulfils the mysterious young woman’s request, it would mortally wound the revolutionary effort. But her beauty, sparkling wit, and tragic air prove difficult to resist, and so Joe is torn between his until-now unwavering duty to the cause, and his passion for Elizabeth. As the connection between the blacksmith and the lady heats up, Joe finds himself caught in the crossfire...
Early readers have noted echoes of Alyssa Cole and HAMILTON while bestselling author Tamara Jones has described my current draft as “unexpectedly gripping and achingly sensual”. I have spent the past year researching the Revolutionary War while completing an MA in American History from Ashland University, so readers will not be disappointed by the historical rigor.
In addition to being a finalist for the RWA award, I have published several short stories with HarperCollins’ Escape Publishing, which received several strong editorial reviews. I am also currently working on the next standalone installment in my “Revolutionary Lovers'' series, entitled A TOUCH OF FANCY, with completion expected within the next six months. This one, set in eighteenth-century France, bears some thematic resemblance to the writings of your client Claudette Sauvageot, whose work I admire.
Thank you very much for your consideration, Ms. Montgomery. I look forward to hearing from you.
While it shares information about other titles in the series, this query wisely doesn’t try to query an entire series at once: this tactic is unlikely to get authors very far, and is against standard query letter protocol. Instead, writers should focus on querying for one title, while mentioning any other works that would be relevant to the agent, as the author has done here.
Your query letter will be just as unique as your book, but we hope that getting a sneak peek into the query review process and looking over our examples has provided you with some insight into the best practices and pitfalls of writing a query. Be sure to check out the rest of this series for more tips on writing a fiction query letter and choosing those all-important comp titles!