How to Write a Query Letter: Your Guide to Publishing Success

Elle LaMarca  |  April 22, 2024  | 

This article gives you everything you need to know on how to write a query letter. In the highly competitive world of traditional publishing, where aspiring authors must vie for the attention of literary agents, the query letter is a writer’s first step toward making their publishing dreams a reality. A well-crafted query letter can be the key to unlocking doors to literary representation and publication. Whether you’re a seasoned author with a new manuscript or a budding writer who’s just completed your first novel, mastering the art of writing a compelling query letter is essential. 

You have written an entire novel. Writing a short letter describing that novel shouldn’t be so hard, right? It needn’t be, as long as you approach query writing in the correct way and study successful query letter examples. Imagine the query letter as a tiny package containing the essence of your manuscript, wrapped in carefully chosen words to be delivered to select literary agents with whom you’d love to work. Within the confines of a single page, the query letter needs to encapsulate the originality and soul of your story and showcase you as writer. Above all, a query letter must compel literary agents to request your manuscript, so that they can journey through the world you’ve thoughtfully crafted and, hopefully, offer to represent you.

In this article, I’ll delve into the intricacies of query letter writing—exploring what they are, who needs one, and how to write a successful query letter—to help get yours started. I’ll also provide you with a query letter template and examples of query letters that were successful in procuring offers of agent representation. But first, what is a query letter?

How to Write a Query Letter: Contents

What is a Query Letter?

A query letter is a one-page document that serves as a writer’s introduction to literary agents and, occasionally, editors and publishers. I say, occasionally, because most acquiring editors who work for large publishing houses only accept manuscripts via agent submissions. This means you cannot query these editors directly. On occasion, small press publishers may host open calls for unagented submissions. That is the only time you would directly query an editor or publisher.

A query letter is your opportunity to pitch your manuscript and capture the interest of literary agents.

A query letter is your opportunity to pitch your manuscript and capture the interest of literary agents. These agents can send your book to the desks of the editors and publishers, who can then help get that book up on shelves and into e-readers! A well-crafted query letter should succinctly convey the core components of your story, highlight its unique selling points, and leave agents eager to request more.

Who Needs a Query Letter?

Any novelist with a completed manuscript who would like to have their novel traditionally published by a literary press or publishing house. There are rare instances when an unagented writer procures a book deal with a mid-level or major press, but this is extremely rare and not something you should expect. If you do not want to self-publish your novel, you need an agent. In order to acquire an agent, you need a query letter.

If you do not want to self-publish your novel, you need an agent. In order to acquire an agent, you need a query letter.

Don’t make the mistake of downplaying the importance of the literary agent query letter. It’s easy to think your storytelling and writing abilities will be evident to anyone who reads your novel. While that may be true, if you do not learn to write a well-written query letter, most agents will never read a single page of your manuscript. Query letters are true gatekeepers in the publishing world. I caution you not to disregard their importance.

Think of crafting a query letter as an art form in itself. One that requires precision, strategy, and creativity. A query letter is your opportunity to showcase not only your writing prowess but also your ability to market your work effectively. In a time where manuscripts flood agent’s inboxes at an unprecedented rate, the query letter serves as your opportunity to make a lasting impression amidst the sea of submissions. Done right, a query letter could be your golden ticket to a full manuscript request, and the best way to stay out of the slush pile and avoid rejection.

Who doesn’t need a query letter? Any writer with an unfinished or unrevised manuscript. Do not, I repeat, do not query agents until your manuscript is complete, and has been revised and polished to the very best of your ability. No exceptions.

How to Write a Query Letter

Start by researching literary agents who represent your genre and tailor your letter to their preferences. Be sure that agents are currently open to submissions and follow each agent’s submission guidelines exactly as requested. Some agents will ask for a query letter and the first five pages of your manuscript. Others may ask for a query letter, a full synopsis and the first fifty pages of your manuscript. Do not give them more or less than exactly what they request.

Keep in mind, you are not writing a form letter. Each query letter should be addressed to an agent by name, never to “Dear Agent” or to an agency name, and include a pitch tailored to that agent. Personalizing your query and mentioning why you chose to query them can make a significant difference in capturing the agent’s attention. They want to see that you have done your homework and are querying them with purpose.

Writing a query letter requires careful planning and attention to detail. While there is no strict formula, successful query letters tend to include these eight components:

  • An Opening Hook: A compelling introduction to your manuscript that will grab an agent’s attention. Keep it brief, intriguing and impactful. Your goal is to entice them to keep reading.
  • Manuscript Summary: One to two paragraphs providing essential details about your manuscript. Include the title, genre, word count, and a brief summary of the plot. Highlight what makes your story unique, why it’s a good fit for their representation and include any comparable titles or author names whose work is comparable to yours.
  • Author Bio: One paragraph introducing yourself as a writer, including any relevant credentials or publishing credits. This section should rarely be longer than four to six sentences.
  • Closing: A polite thank-you and invitation for the agent to request more information or materials.
  • Contact Information: Include your name, email address, and phone number for easy communication.
  • Professional Formatting: Use a clear and easy-to-read font, standard business letter format, in a concise presentation that should fit onto a single spaced page. (Even if written in an email.)
  • Personalization: Tailoring the letter to the specific recipient, addressing them by name and mentioning why you chose to query them. Be sure to use a courteous tone throughout the letter, expressing gratitude for the agent’s consideration and time.
  • Adherence to Submission Guidelines: Meticulously adhere to any specific submission guidelines provided by the agent, ensuring professionalism and respect for their preferences.

How Long Should a Query Letter Be?

The ideal length for a query letter is typically no more than one page. Agents are busy professionals with extremely limited time, so keeping your letter concise may ensure they’ll read it in its entirety. In query letters, brevity is key to ensuring your letter receives the attention it deserves. Focus on highlighting the most pertinent aspects of your manuscript, its potential marketability and relevant details about you as a writer. Avoid including unnecessary information or backstory.

The only occasions when a query letter should be longer than one page or exceed four to six paragraphs is when a writer has an extensive publishing history or has a level of expertise on the topic in which they are writing, making them uniquely qualified to write this book. Otherwise, keep it brief and focused.

Query Letter Template

Below you will find a basic query letter template that includes a guide to all of the elements I listed above and the general order in which they should be included in your query letter. Again, not every letter follows this exact template, but the majority will include all of these elements.

Use this template as a guide to compose the first draft of your query letter and as a revision tool for subsequent drafts. Practice your query writing skills using this template. Once you have the query letter format down, be sure to give your letter personality. Showcase what makes you unique as a writer and pair that with the overall tone of your novel.

Practice Query Letter Template:

Dear [Agent’s Name],

I am excited to introduce my manuscript, [Title of Manuscript], a [Genre] novel complete at [Word Count]. After researching your list of represented authors and recent acquisitions, I believe my work would be a great fit for your agency.

[A one to two sentence original and compelling hook about your manuscript aimed at pulling the agent into your story and peaking maximum interest levels.]

In [Title of Manuscript], readers are transported to [Brief Overview of the Story]. Set against the backdrop of [Setting], the story follows [Protagonist’s Name], a [Brief Description of Protagonist] who must [Central Conflict or Goal]. As [Protagonist] navigates [Challenges/Obstacles], they must confront [Themes/Issues] and ultimately [Resolution or Outcome]. With its blend of [Unique Elements], [Title of Manuscript] offers a fresh take on the [Genre] genre that will appeal to fans of [Comparable Published Novel Titles] and/or [Author’s Name].

As an emerging writer, I have [Briefly Mention Writing Experience or Credentials, if applicable]. I am passionate about [Genre/Theme], and my goal is to [Career Aspiration or Goal]. I am confident that my dedication to craft and storytelling, coupled with my willingness to collaborate and grow as a writer, make me an ideal partner for your agency.

Thank you for considering my work. I have attached [Requested Materials, if applicable] for your review. I look forward to the possibility of working together and am happy to provide any additional information you may need.


[Your Name]

This example adheres to the principles of a well-crafted query letter by providing a concise summary of the manuscript, highlighting its unique elements, and showcasing the author’s professionalism and enthusiasm.

Query Letter Examples

Below you will find two query letter examples that received offers of representation from agents. Pay close attention to how each letter is unique and engaging, while also including all of the essential query letter elements I listed above.

Query Letter Example #1

Dear Mr. Lawrence,

I am currently seeking representation for my novel, contemporary young adult, called HERE TO THE HORIZON, complete at 85,000 words.

HERE TO THE HORIZON is the story of Sam, little sister of Lily, who happens to be the most beautiful girl their prairie town has ever seen. She’s the girl everyone looks to and longs for, who can’t be captured or caged. When a night Sam spends with Lily’s friends goes horribly wrong and she discovers the dead body of a girl left floating in the pond, she’s sent away from town, and away from Lily. But her sister will do anything to get her to come home—even if it means turning back time as if that night never happened. Can an illusion be set over an entire town and can Lily be responsible? And if so, what happens when it starts to crumble?

HERE TO THE HORIZON is a contemporary YA novel about the everyday mythical figures that walk among us and the tall tales you tell yourself about the people you know and the places where you’re cursed to live.

As for me, I have an MFA in fiction from Brown University and have been awarded fiction fellowships from the Providence Foundation and Yaddo. My short stories for adults have been published in multiple literary journals, including The Iowa Review, In Posse Review, and The Gettysburg, and under various pseudonyms I have ghostwritten more than seventeen children’s books, media tie-ins, and middle-grade series novels for Abrams Books and Dutton Children’s Books. In addition, I am a senior production editor in the managing editorial group at Holiday House.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


Nadia Lam

Query Letter Example #2

Dear Ms. Pantall,

I am currently seeking representation for my novel, NOWHERE, an adult magical realism, complete at 89,000 words. NOWHERE will appeal to fans of The Night Circus and The Peach Keeper. I read in your agency bio that you are interested in representing more magical realism novels. I believe NOWHERE could be just what you’re looking for!

Twenty-four year old Lucie McMahan can make wishes come true just by thinking about them. She’s pretty sure that’s how she accidentally erased her little brother from existence twelve years ago. That, or she’s bat-shit crazy. Lucie can’t tell which.

When she moves to Nowhere, Tennessee and starts seeing a teenager who looks like a grown-up version of her brother, she’s convinced she’s losing it—again. Even worse, wishes start appearing on slips of paper everywhere she goes. She collects them, unread, which only makes them more determined to get her attention. And the elderly woman she lives with bakes the town’s secrets into pies to keep them from getting out like it’s perfectly sane.

But the most distracting of all is Wade Brennan, her on-the-rebound backyard neighbor. There’s something about his Southern manners and sad eyes that makes her want to give into the crazy. Lucie must learn to trust herself—and her ability—if she wants to know what’s real and what’s not.

I am a graduate of The University of Texas at Austin, where I earned a Masters in English Education, and I am currently working on a Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing (Fiction) at Midwestern State University.

As requested, I have attached the first ten pages of my manuscript and a full synopsis. I am happy to provide any further information or materials you may need.

Thank you for your consideration.


Everly Jacobs

Top Ten Query Letter Mistakes

Everybody makes mistakes, but here are ten you’ll want to avoid when writing and submitting your query letter.

  • Lack of Personalization: Failing to tailor the query letter to a specific agent, or not researching their preferences. Agents want to know you’ve done your homework and are querying them for specific reasons.
  • Overly Long: Writing a query letter that exceeds the recommended one-page limit. Agents are inundated with tens to hundreds of query letters each day. If you don’t keep it brief, you run the risk of an agent not finishing your letter and never reading your sample pages.
  • A Cliché or Boring Hook: Starting the query letter with a weak or generic opening that fails to grab the agent’s attention may send you directly to the slush pile or rejection list.
  • Vague Manuscript Summary: Providing a summary of the manuscript that lacks clarity or fails to highlight its unique premise and marketability. Don’t be secretive or save the “good stuff” for your sample pages, give it to them now! If your query letter doesn’t shine, your sample pages are unlikely to ever be read.
  • Poorly Written Author Bio: Including an author bio that is either too sparse, too long or irrelevant to the manuscript being queried. Offer only relevant experience, education, and publishing details.
  • Failure to Follow Guidelines: Ignoring the submission guidelines provided by the agent, such as sending attachments when they request inline text or exceeding word count or page limits. If they want to read more, they’ll request more!
  • Overconfidence or Arrogance: Coming across as overly confident or arrogant can alienate potential representation opportunities. Be honest and humble.
  • Inaccurate Information: Providing incorrect or misleading information about the manuscript or your credentials.
  • Failure to Proofread: Sending a query letter with typos, grammatical errors, or formatting issues. This offers a poor first impression, and can cause an agent to question your professionalism and attention to detail.
  • Querying an Incomplete Manuscript: Submitting a query to an agent before a manuscript is complete and revised. Do not do this under any circumstances. If an agent requests your full manuscript, you need to be able to provide it immediately. If you cannot, you will have ruined a potential offer of representation.

Getting your query letter just right may take several attempts and multiple drafts. That is completely normal. You should take your time to perfect it. Remember, with each word carefully chosen and each sentence meticulously crafted, the query letter becomes more than just an introduction to agents—it’s your chance to make a connection and possibly forge a partnership with someone who shares your passion for storytelling. Little is more important in your publishing journey than landing the agent that is right for you and your manuscript. That all starts with writing a stellar query letter.

Finding a Literary Agent

How do you identify the right literary agents for your work? Most novelists will submit their query letters dozens of times, if not more, before they find the right agent to represent their work. Remember, the literary world is super over-saturated, and patience is your best asset as you try to sell your book. 

Nonetheless, demystifying the world of agents is crucial as you embark on this next phase of your writing career. Here’s our guide to understanding the agenting process:

Literary Agents: What They Do and How to Find One

Fine Tune Your Fiction at!

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Thank you for reading! I’d love to hear your questions and comments below.

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Elle LaMarca

Elle is a writer and novelist originally from southwestern New York, now residing on the central coast in California. She does not miss the snow even a little bit. As an avid traveler, Elle can frequently be found wandering the globe, having lived in and explored over thirty countries, all while gaining inspiration for her writing and new perspectives on life. Elle is a former educator and Teach for America alumna, having taught in Los Angeles, Baltimore and Boston. She holds a B.A. in English Literature and Creative Writing from George Mason University and a M.A. in Education and Curriculum Design from Johns Hopkins University. She is passionate about well-crafted sentences and memorable metaphors. Elle is currently at work on a novel and a collection of personal essays.

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