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Posted on Apr 27, 2021

6 Query Letter Examples, Analyzed by Real Agents & Editors

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, along with expert analysis from editors on the Reedsy marketplace.

The editors in this article are just a few of the Reedsy professionals offering query letter reviews, an affordable service that provides detailed feedback on an author’s query. Much like they would with their real-life clients, they have provided suggestions for improving six fictional (but plausible) query letters.

Science-Fiction query letter 

query letter example | an illustration of an astronaut on the surface of another planetTo review our query of a teen-centric science fiction novel, we turned to Lindsay Ribar, a former literary agent with Sanford J. Greenburger Associates who is now a freelance editor specializing in speculative fiction, YA and queer fiction.

Original query

Dear Mr. Osbourne,

 

I am writing to seek representation for my 120,000-word science fiction novel, Elysium Dying. It concerns a dystopian society1 in 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. You might think of it as P.D. James’ Children of Men meets Orson Scott Card’s Speaker for the Dead2,3.

Lindsay's notes:

1. Strike “dystopian society.” Even if there are dystopian elements in your book, (a) they aren’t apparent in the synopsis below, and (b) dystopian fiction is so played out at this point that many agents are reluctant to take on new projects with that label. You don’t want to risk turning an agent off in the very first paragraph of your query, especially with a description that doesn’t seem terribly accurate.

2. These are excellent comp titles; however, the purpose of using comps in a query is to show the agent where your book could fit into the current marketplace. Neither of these books is current! Can you replace at least one (or, ideally, both) of these comps with titles that were published within the last five years?

3. See that paragraph near the end where you mention why you’re querying this agent in particular? Shorten it as much as you can (see suggestion below for how to do so), and add it to the end of this paragraph. Or, if you prefer, you can even use The Blue Abyss as one of your comps, and cut the “here’s why I’m querying you” bit entirely, since it will already be apparent.

Sixteen-year-old Hazel Windrow is one of the youngest people alive4 since the Peruvian flu struck fifteen years ago, killing 50% of Earth’s population and leaving the rest infertile. Having more or less come to terms with their inevitable extinction5, humanity now faces the double-whammy6 of it happening much sooner than anticipated — with the arrival of an alien colony determined to kill everyone in sight7.

4. Where does Hazel live? If the big road trip takes her to DC, it’s helpful to know where she’s starting! There’s a big difference between traveling to DC from Seattle and, say, traveling to DC from Baltimore.

5. Strike “Having more or less come to terms with their inevitable extinction.” You’d need to do a lot of explaining to sell me on the idea that that would be humanity’s response to a crisis like this, and I don’t think the explanation is worth the word count it would require.

6. I don’t think “double-whammy” works here, as these events happen sixteen years apart.

7. Can we get a little bit more about these alien invaders? A hint of nuance, perhaps, or more of a focus on what they have already done rather than what they are “determined” to do? If all we know is that they are “determined to kill everyone in sight,” I have a hard time buying that Hazel somehow sees them as not malevolent in the next paragraph.

In all the chaos8, only Hazel (herself a devotee of classic science fiction) sees the connection between the disease and the invasion, and knows9 that the aliens are not as malevolent as they seem. But with power lines down10, she has no way of communicating her theory to the higher-ups… and no reason to think they’d believe her, anyway. So she sets off for Washington, D.C. — not to confront the government, but the aliens themselves11, who have taken over the Pentagon and the White House12.

8. Can you use language more specific than “the chaos”? You gave yourself this little intro clause to set the scene for us, so use it. Give us a hint of what Hazel’s world looks like.

9. You use the word “knows” in one sentence, but “theory” in the next. Might it be more accurate to say that she “suspects” in that first sentence?

10. The phrase “But with the power lines down” calls to mind a scenario where a storm has just hit Hazel’s town and she’s still waiting for the power company to deal with the fallout. If you’re talking about something bigger in scope, which I suspect you are, clarify that.

11. You’ve got a mismatched goals situation here! You imply in the second sentence that she wants to “communicate her theory to the higher-ups,” but in the third sentence, her goal is to confront the aliens. Which is it? If she trades one goal for the other, can we get a sense of why?

12. In that very last sentence, can we get a clearer sense of what’s at stake? What is Hazel’s goal? Why must she accomplish this goal, and what stands in her way? Maybe most importantly, what are the consequences if she fails? This is the last line of your summary; take some space and be dramatic! If this were a movie trailer, what would the voiceover be saying in those very last seconds before the BOOM noise and the title drop?

Elysium Dying is my first full-length novel, but I do have an MFA from Temple University13, where I studied under the tutelage of14 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.

13. Cut the first clause and begin with “I have an MFA”

14. Cut “the tutelage of”

Mr. Osbourne, I understand you represent many up-and-coming young sci-fi writers, such as Russell Fleming and Mina Morrell, and I would be thrilled to count myself among their ranks. Fleming's The Blue Abyss has been of particular inspiration to me, as you may be able to tell from reading my manuscript.15

15. Shorten this as much as you can and add it to the end of the first paragraph. You don’t need anything in this paragraph except “I’m querying you because you represent Russell Fleming, whose book The Blue Abyss has been of particular inspiration to me.”  Or, if you prefer, you can even use The Blue Abyss as one of your comps, and cut the “here’s why I’m querying you” bit entirely since it will already be apparent.

You don’t need to tell the agent that they represent up-and-coming writers; they already know. You don’t need to tell them that you’d be thrilled to count yourself among their ranks; obviously you would, or you wouldn’t be querying! And the phrase “as you may be able to tell from reading my manuscript” could be off-putting, as many agents can be reluctant to sign a new book that’s too similar to one they already have on their list, and that seems to be what you’re implying here.

In any case, I look forward to your reply, and thank you for your time and consideration today16.

16. Strike everything except “Thank you for your time and consideration.”

Sincerely,

Samantha Jackson


Taking on board Lindsay’s feedback, here’s the final version of our science fiction query letter.

Final version

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 which 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 neighbourhood scrambles to put as much space between themselves and the creatures, 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. But as 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 their 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.

 

Sincerely,

Samantha Jackson

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Nonfiction query letter

For our nonfiction query, we reached out to Jon Darga. Jon is currently an agent at Aevitas, and is a former editor at Penguin Random House with experience across both fiction and nonfiction, including work on multiple award-winning and bestselling titles. 

Original query

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. 

Jon: Good start! It's intriguing, carries significance, and we want to know more. I've no idea what priming is, but now I want to know!

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. 

Jon: Okay, good. I understand the concept here — this is a nice, simple way to explain it, and it's clear how this might be something that could affect the way that you think about certain things.

In Primed for Error, my 70,000-word scientific self-help book, I lead my readers through the story of how the life-changing magic of priming rocket-boosted my academic career and 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, I cover broad ground with enough specificity and hard scientific evidence to reassure readers they’re in safe hands. 

Jon: This is also good, but I'd like for it to be more specific. 

I'd still certainly dip into the proposal, but I'd like more of that work done here in the query letter. Right now it's not clear to me how a + b = c — that is, the concept of priming is present, as is the effect it's had on the author's life, but I still have no idea how the author used priming to influence her life. Try rephrasing to give some examples: "I lead readers through the story of how I used priming IN X WAY to rocket-boost my academic career, and how I used it IN Y WAY to save my struggling marriage." 

Are there big examples that you can use to bolster your point? For example, "Most people didn't know this, but Albert Einstein was actually a huge proponent of using priming in his personal life." Or something like that. You really need to make sure you're capturing not just the breadth of how we can use this concept in our own lives, but the sorts of untold stories in that two hundred year history that you'll be uncovering.

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 which 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. 

Jon: Nicely specific, so well done. Is there anything else that you could say that's personal? Any current clients of the agent's that you can compare your work to? 

Beyond my personal experience using the principles of priming, I have a PhD in behavioural psychology, and 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

Jon: I think this needs more details -- where is your PhD from, where have you lectured, etc. I like the Kahneman comp, but I think you need more, and Kahneman is huge. It's always best to mix and mingle big comps and more reasonable ones to give a range of what your book might accomplish. Kahneman is a bit like comping your YA to Harry Potter.

Primed for Error has been a years-long passion project, and I am excited to finally be bringing it out into the world. I would be thrilled to be represented by you, and thank you for your time and consideration. 

Jon: Make clear what materials you are sending and have available — in the case of a non-fiction project, I'm assuming that it would be either a proposal or a complete manuscript. Also, I'm just being nit-picky here, but "I would be thrilled to be represented by you" feels a bit redundant — I should hope so! That's why you're querying the agent, after all, right?

All the best,

Hannah Gardener


Let’s take a look at an updated version of the letter, which has been edited in line with Jon’s suggestions.

Final version

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 which 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 behavioural 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,

Hannah Gardener

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Memoir query letter

query letter example | memoir

Kimberley Lim is currently managing editor at Gaudy Boy, the publishing arm of Singapore Unbound. She also takes on freelance work, and offers editorial services in a range of genres from self-help and memoir, to literary fiction and women’s fiction, with a particular interest in diverse and underrepresented voices. We asked Kimberley to take a look at this next query letter for a parenting-focused memoir.

Original query

Dear Mr Carter,

 

In my 30 years as a foster mother, I had one rule: no teenagers. 

 

It wasn’t that I disliked teens, per se. I just didn’t think I could handle them.  I was certain that I couldn’t meet the unique challenges of caring for older children, that I wouldn’t be able to bond with them, and that their needs were simply too complex. So, no teenagers. Then, one November night, along came Kay.

 

When I was asked to provide an emergency placement for a 15-year-old-girl, I was immediately full of trepidation. Against my better judgment, and despite my gut instinct that I was the very last person in the world who should take her on, I made up a room and welcomed Kay into my home. 

 

My fears seemed to be confirmed when our relationship was one of mutual discomfort and resistance: neither of us knew how to navigate this strange new family, and attempts to do so left us feeling worse than before. We argued constantly, and never heard the other’s side. It began to seem that our situation was untenable. But we were stuck with one another. After months of stilted back-and-forth, one night (and our biggest argument yet) saw the tide begin to turn. 

Kimberly: Just because query letters are meant to be short and succinct (about one page long) — and yet seemingly contain everything about your book at once! — be mindful of the purpose behind every line you write, which takes up space. For example, consider the opening of your letter: it takes a while to get to the point, and four paragraphs down, the agent still doesn’t know the title or genre of your book. 

Your opening paragraph should be either informative — giving the agent necessary details about the book (word count, genre, title, etc.) — or it should introduce a strong hook that will compel the agent to keep reading. Your first line might actually have some potential for a hook, but keep it short. For example: “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.” 

The rest of the details in these first four paragraphs are either repetitive or nonessential to pitching your story, and I recommend moving on from your hook to the next paragraph where you finally introduce your book. 

Notice how this edit will free up more space in the query letter for you to include more pertinent information. Another idea is to abandon the hook and go straight into your query letter with the following paragraph as your opener.

In my 100,000-word memoir Hidden Parent, I discuss the shift in my relationship with parenthood, love, and family which Kay precipitated. Slowly but surely, 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 lives. 

Kimberly: Now that you have a little more space, you might want to incorporate one or two of the key sentences in the previous four paragraphs here, just to add more detail to your synopsis, though no need to go overboard. For example, you could add an additional sentence that addresses: Were there any other major challenges/hurdles in this journey that contributed to your growth? The main points you have here—the lesson you learned from fostering Kay—do give the agent an idea of the content and themes of your book. 

It might also be helpful to include information about the tone of the book—is it humorous? Meditative or insightful? 

By the way, if this is your first book, a debut, it is a good idea to mention it, too!

This book will connect and resonate with not only foster and adoptive families, but also biological parents who are struggling to connect with their teenage children, or who fear they aren’t equipped to handle their child’s complex emotional needs. Through being candid about my own difficulties, I hope I can support other families who find themselves wading through unfamiliar waters. It is for this reason that I would love to work with you to make this resource available to those who need it.

Kimberly: These are nice and reasonable sentiments, but they aren’t the most convincing to an agent. Instead, try to frame this by citing more tangible reasons or facts/stats with regards to why your book will reach the wide readership you say it will. If the reasons are too abstract, don’t force it, and dedicate the space somewhere else. 

Another approach is to enlist the help of comp titles: suggest one or two similar books (ideally memoirs about parenting that have done reasonably well but are not huge bestsellers) whose fans might love your book, too. (e.g., “Fans of [insert book title] will resonate with [my book] for [cite similarities].”) Comp titles help to give agents a foothold and clue about how your book might exist in relation to what’s already in the market. Again, if you can’t find the right fit, don’t force it; comp titles can sometimes backfire if they aren’t used correctly or if the agent randomly dislikes that particular book. 

Instead, a good additional paragraph to explore—and that the query letter is currently missing—is to describe your author platform. Besides selling the book to a potential audience in your query letter, don’t forget to sell yourself in terms of your past accomplishments (if they relate to writing, the topic of the book, or your audience): previous publications, awards won, schooling, membership in any notable communities, etc. 

Acknowledging your credentials, as well as giving the agent an idea of who you are and why you’re particularly well-positioned to write this book, is especially key for memoir, where an agent will want to know whose story is being told. If you’re particularly well connected and can show this off in terms of tangible numbers (followers and fans, membership, etc.), even better!

My book is thematically complementary to several works in your catalogue, such as David Lower’s Found Family, and therefore hope that my story may be of interest to you.

 

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. 

Kimberly: I like how it’s clear from this paragraph that you’ve done your research and know the list of the agent well (as opposed to copying and pasting the same stock message to different agents), which should at least make an impression. You could try diving a little deeper—in what way is your book thematically complementary to Found Family

I thank you for your consideration.

 

Sincerely,

Tanya Hartman


Here’s what the query for Hidden Parent looks like now we’ve made changes using Kimberley’s feedback.

Final version

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, after months of stilted back-and-forth, one night (and our biggest argument yet) saw the tide begin to turn. 

 

Slowly but surely, 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 within 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 are equipped to handle the emotional needs of a child. As a blogger who writes regularly about my experiences parenting, I have already built up a good-sized community of dedicated readers who are deeply attached to my own story, and who are seeking guidance for their own parenting journeys. Wanting to connect even further with this audience is another reason why I would love to offer up my own book, an accessible and good-humored resource for those struggling with the “big questions” about parenthood. 

 

My book is thematically complementary to several works in your catalogue, such as David Lower’s Found Family, which touched upon similar ideas of family as an ever-evolving and flexible entity, which you can nurture even where there is no biological relation, and so I hope that my story may be of interest to you. 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.

 

Sincerely,

Tanya Hartman

Thriller query letter

query letter example | an illustration of a dark desk with a typewriter, overlaid with images from a crime sceneFor our thriller query, we consulted Andy Ross, a literary agent with over 13 years of experience. As well as providing developmental editing services in commercial, literary, and YA fiction, as well as narrative non-fiction, Andy is the author of The Literary Agent’s Guide to Writing a Non-Fiction Book Proposal. 

Original query

Dear Ms. Brooks,

 

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.

Andy: I’d begin the query with just the facts, title, genre, word count. That's customary, and that is what an agent will want to see first.

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.

Andy: This is a good synopsis, particularly the way he was able to bring out the concept of the book in just a few lines. I get between 10-20 unsolicited queries every day. Some agents get more. So I prefer a query that is brief.

The Woman in the Black Saloon, my debut novel, is a 100,000-word psychological thriller. This story has all the dark small-town secrets of a Gillian Flynn novel with a distinctive southwestern spin, as 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 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).

Andy: Again, I’d move the “facts” from this paragraph up to the beginning of the letter, as it’s what the agent will want to see first. Saying he runs a true-crime blog is important. If he has any other writing or bookish bona fides, he should add that as well. 

Diana Preston from Chicory Books mentioned to me that you’ve represented similar titles in the past, so I’m hoping it might pique your interest! Finally, I’d just like to say that I’m a great admirer of your client Genevieve Moore’s Gun in the Grave series. Before researching you, I hadn’t known who represented her, but trust me that she’s been a huge influence on my own work. Please give her my highest compliments, if you would. And thank you very much for your consideration.

Andy: And I’d eliminate this final paragraph. I see it a lot. (I call it: "sucking up to the agent".) It's unnecessary. 

My very best,

Jeremy Baker


And here’s what our thriller query looks like now we’ve actioned Andy’s edits.

Final version

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,

Jeremy Baker 

Romance query letter 

query letter examples | a series of book covers featuring a man and woman in various romantic poses.For our romance query, we reached out to Marsha Zinberg, a former executive editor for Harlequin Books with more than thirty years of editorial experience and several RITA award nominations for editing under her belt. Marsha counts many writers of suspense and thrillers among her clientele, as well as romance authors, and also edits selected non-fiction genres, particularly memoir. 

Original query

Dear Ms. Montgomery,

 

I’m seeking representation for my 80,000-word historical romance novel, Fire and Silk: a steamy forbidden romance that unfolds against the thrilling backdrop of the American Revolution. This book is a sequel to my previous novel, Midnight Rose, which was shortlisted for the Katie Fforde Debut Romantic Novel Award last year.1

Marsha's notes:

1. Are we to assume this award is sponsored by RWA (as hinted at below?) The body sponsoring the award should be mentioned up front….and obviously, the more prestigious and well-known, the better.

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. But when Joe meets Elizabeth Davis, a young woman who comes to him with an unusual request, he’s smitten by her striking looks and sparkling wit. So much so that he agrees to her request, free of charge.2

 

The only problem is, Eliza is newly engaged — to a general, no less. But judging by what she wants from Joe, it’s not off to a very auspicious start3. And as the connection between the blacksmith and the lady heats up like freshly forged iron4, Joe finds himself caught in the crossfire... in more ways than one.

2. The second and third paragraphs of this query letter read more like back cover copy: they are meant to entice the reader to pick up the book, but by keeping the “unusual request” a secret, as an acquiring literary agent or editor, I’m not getting a very good sense of what the conflict or plot of the story actually revolves around. This is an 80,000-word story, so there has to be more than a romance going on.

The selling adjectives like “steamy” and “thrilling” in the first paragraph, or “tantalizing” in the next also contribute to that feeling. Personally, when an author uses such over-the-top “selling” adjectives to hype her own work, it sounds rather self-aggrandizing and suspect to me. Please give me more of the actual plot/conflict aside from the romance.

3. What does the “it’s” in “it’s not off to a very auspicious start” refer to? Not clear. The romance?

4. The “freshly forged iron” simile is clever, but again, feels more like back cover copy than a tightly-worded description of the main action and….most important….how does this book stand out? What is special or unique about it in such a crowded field? Tell me that and you are sure to capture my interest.

Fans of Alyssa Cole and Hamilton5 lore are sure to find their fix6 in this tantalizing colonial-era romance. I have spent the past year of my life researching the Revolutionary War, on top of7 an MA in American History from Ashland University, so readers will not be disappointed by the historical rigor.

5. Citing Alyssa Cole and Hamilton DOES give the reader an impression of the flavor of the books… good work there.

6. The “are sure to find their fix” sounds like overselling to me. I would be more convinced if the author cited positive reviews from credentialed or influential people other than herself!

7. Instead of “on top of”, try “while successfully completing”. This impresses me more than “on top of” which just means the author is working on it. Or is that another way of saying the degree is NOT completed?

As for my writing credentials, in addition to being a finalist for that RWA award8, I have published several short stories with HarperCollins’ Escape Publishing9. I am also currently working on the next installment in my “Revolutionary Lovers” series10, entitled A Touch of Fancy11. This one, set in eighteenth-century France, bears some thematic resemblance to the writings of your client Claudette Sauvageot, whom I absolutely adore12.

8. “...that RWA award”? What RWA award? If it is the one referred to in paragraph one, the reference is not specific enough.

9. Any sales info or reviews on these published works would be excellent to add here. That is what the agent will be interested in.

10. The reference to the “Revolutionary Lovers” ‘series’ implies that the three novels, Midnight Rose, Fire and Silk and A Touch of Fancy are somehow related. Are they related only by theme (ie Revolution?) or are there continuing characters? Does each book stand alone? That would be useful information to add. 

11. Also good to know when the target date for completion for the next installment is.

12. Switch “whom I absolutely adore” to “whose work I admire”. It’s not the client she adores, but her work. The wording sounded unprofessional and too “fan-girl” to me, though I do appreciate that the author did enough homework to understand who the agent’s clients are. This was a good touch.

Thank you very much for your consideration, Ms. Montgomery. I look forward to hearing from you.

 

Warm regards,

Vivian Day


After taking on board Marsha’s feedback, here’s our polished version of the query letter for Fire and Silk.

Final version

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, 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.

 

Warm regards,

Vivian Day

Your turn: fix this query letter

query letter examples | the classic illustration of Lord Kitchener pointing at the viewer, with the caption: It's up to YOU to fix the query letter" Different agents will have different preferences, and so there aren’t many hard and fast rules when it comes to query letters. However, there are a few recurring mistakes that authors make which will instantly turn off an agent. 

To give you an idea of what those are, we’ve cobbled together a query letter that falls into every potential trap and pitfall, to show you how to write a query letter that’s destined for rejection. Your task? To figure out what’s wrong with it! 

We’ll give you a list of the big problems at the end of the post, but try and see how many issues you can spot with our query letter for The Ruby Hour Chronicles, a fantasy series. 

The query

Dear Mr Clark,

 

I’m writing to you looking for representation for my 5 part series of historical fantasy novels, The Ruby Hour Chronicles.

 

The Ruby Hour Chronicles follows the story of Ruby, a young woman whose mysterious powers lead her on a journey through a magical world unlike any you’ve come across before. Having been tragically orphaned, Ruby is suddenly plunged into a life of adventure as she tries to discover what happened to her parents. She’s joined along the way by her two faithful companions, Art and Tabitha, who help her conquer the threats that hide around every corner. Will she be able to discover the secret of her identity and fulfil her true destiny? You’ll have to read to find out!

 

While primarily a YA series, I think that The Ruby Hour would also work for adult and middle-grade readers, too. Readers have compared it to The Chronicles of Narnia, with elements of A Song of Ice and Fire’s rich and immersive worldbuilding. There’s also lots of potential for future sequels, taking place in the same magical universe – I can provide you with the concepts for further novels if you’re interested. 

 

I also have another project currently in the works, a crime series called City of Silence, which I would be happy to tell you more about if that’s of interest!

 

I’ve self-published in the past, and I’m looking for an agent to help me realise my dream of traditionally publishing. It would be great to work with you.

 

Yours sincerely,

Eleanor Harper

Now that you’ve read the query, take a few minutes to highlight any issues with how it’s written.


Once you’re ready, let’s compare our answers:

The author queries an entire series in one go

This is unlikely to get you very far, and goes against standard query letter protocol. If your book is part of a series, be sure to mention that, but you should really just be pitching the first book in your series. The mention of potential future titles in the third paragraph is similarly a problem. Rather than pitching potential follow-ups, stick to the solid concepts you already have.

The synopsis sounds more like a blurb

The synopsis in the second paragraph kind of sounds like it’s giving insight into the plot, but it actually doesn’t tell us anything meaningful, and is way too vague. To make matters worse, there’s no mention of tone, or theme, and the description of plot teases what happens as a blurb might, rather than actually telling the agent so that they can get an idea of what the book is about and decide if they’re interested. 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.

The author identifies too many target audiences

Mentioning the target audience is good: saying that the target audience is everyone isn’t. Be specific, and focus only on those who you are actually writing for – agents already know that readers outside of the target market could enjoy a book, so this goes without saying.

The comparative titles are too big, and poorly chosen

The comp titles are also an issue here - not only are The Chronicles of Narnia and A Song of Ice and Fire both massive titles, something you really want to avoid when introducing comps, they’re also tonally on opposite ends of the spectrum. If you’re introducing a comp title, be explicit about what makes your books similar (or dissimilar), and make sure they make sense in context and genuinely add to the reader’s understanding of your novel. 

The author pitches an unrelated series in the same letter

Resist the temptation to drop in pitches of other projects, as it’ll do a disservice to the one you’re querying, and you’re unlikely to get much interest on the other project with just a line in an unrelated query. You’ll want to pitch each project individually to give them the best chance of success, and dedicate a whole letter to selling each.

There’s little mention of authorly credentials

Mentioning you’ve self-published before is the sort of people your agent will want to know, but there’s not enough detail here to really bolster your author credentials. Naming specific titles (or any kind of Amazon bestseller status or positive editorial reviews) would really help here. 

The letter reads as generic

Simply saying “I want to work with an agent” is pretty redundant — why else would you be querying one! — and doesn’t let the reader know why you want to work with this agent. It makes the letter read as generic, and almost all agents agree that a personalized approach to pitching is far more likely to be successful. So get specific, and show you’ve done your research into the person you’re pitching.


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!