A query letter is an introductory letter you send to an agent, telling them about you and your book. It is your opportunity to seduce the person who can help you thrive in your writing career and convince them you are the best person to write your book.
But, how do you know if you even need a query letter in the first place?
In today’s episode, Lauren answers that and a lot more!
She not only breaks down what goes into a query letter and how you can get yourself a literary agent, but she also tells what you should leave out, how to know if you’re ready to query agents, how to handle rejection as a writer, why a joining writing group is so beneficial to your writing career, and the list goes on.
This episode is jam-packed with so much valuable information you just don’t want to miss it!
Thank you so much for tuning in today! If you haven’t listened to episode 28 where Lauren talks about how to write a book proposal, go back and check it out!
You can also listen to Episode 8 with literary agent Elise Capron before you go and query agents! In this super informative episode, she explains the role of literary agents, what they do, what they don’t do, and also what you can expect from one and what they expect from writers.
You can also stay tuned for new weekly episodes @schoolforwriters, and if you want to spread the love even further, consider following, rating, and reviewing!
Resources mentioned in this episode:
-Want to get this whole episode on a worksheet? head over to schoolforwriters.com/queryletter and sign up for the mini-workshop. It’s FREE!
-Download the step-by-step process on how to write a book proposal HERE!
-Need help jumpstarting your writing routine? Check out the Write More Challenge. All it takes is 10 minutes a day for 10 days.
-Get on the waitlist for The Academy! A new program coming in June 2021. Spaces will be limited!
-Check out the Write Your Frigging Book Already™ program HERE!
–The Ripped Bodice
Book recommendation of the week:
The Ex Talk by Rachel Lynn Solomon
Wondering why we don’t link to Amazon? Check out Episode 2 of the Business School for Writers Podcast to hear all about how supporting independent bookstores helps you see more stories like yours out in the world.
Do you dream of sauntering through a bookstore and seeing your novel on the shelf? Do you ever long to head to the beach and see someone reading your book under an umbrella?
If you want to have a traditionally published novel, one that hits the New York Times best-seller list and gets sold around the world, you’re going to need an agent. And to get an agent, you’re going to need a query letter.
Which is why in this episode, we’re barking down exactly what goes into a query letter and how you can get yourself a literary agent.
I’m excited to share with you all my tips for query letters, but first, I want to leet you know that I’m about to throw a lot of information at you. IF you’re driving or walking or otherwise engaged, don’t worry, I have a whole free mini-workshop for you with all you need to know about query letters.
Grab that at SchoolForWriters.com/QueryLetter to download a mini-workshop I created to help you write a query letter. It also includes both successful and rejected query letters from famous authors, including Stephen King.
It also includes mine, my clients, and my agent’s clients query letters to help you out – all things I can’t show through a podcast, so go grab yourself this free workshop at SchoolForWriters.com/QueryLetter.
Before you waste your time on writing a query letter, let’s see if you even need one.
First, if you’re writing non-fiction, you may not need a query letter, depending on the agent. You will, however, definitely need a book proposal, so go back and listen to episode 28 of the School for Writers podcast where I broke down what goes into that. Or grab your guide at SchoolforWriteres.com/bookproposal.
If you are writing fiction this episode is for you!
If you are planning on traditionally publishing, then you’re going to need a literary agent. And to get a literary agent, you’re going to need to write a query letter.
If you don’t want a literary agent – like say you plan on self-publishing or going with a hybrid publisher – then you don’t need a query letter.
In which case, you might not need this episode.
But stick around anyways, because we’ve got some great tips in here that can help anyone to narrow down what their book is about and how to promote it.
How do you know if you need an agent? Here are some questions to ask yourself:
- Do you plan to self publish?
- Are you using a hybrid publisher or very small press?
- Do you want to have your book in major bookstores (think Barnes & Noble, Costco and airports)?
- Do you need support throughout the publishing process?
Basic rule of thumb is: if you want to be traditionally published through a publishing house or press, you’re going to need an agent. They don’t take submissions otherwise.
Some exceptions for small presses.
Self-publish and third-option publishing (hybrid between traditional and non) don’t need an agent.
May want to write a query letter anyways to help fine tune your pitch.
You might be asking: Do you need a query letter if you already have an agent?
Depends. New project. Met the agent at an event might still ask for one. I got an intro and still needed one. A bad query letter lost me my old agent. QUERY LETTERS MATTER!
So, now that you know if you need one, what is a query letter? What goes in it and what should you leave out?
Simply put, a query letter is the introductory letter you send to an agent, telling them about you and your book.
Query letters matter! They’re the first impression.
Readers judge a book by its cover — agents judge a book by its query letter. (And the elements of a query letter are used to go to publishers — so very important first impression.)
The elements of a query letter are:
Why you’re writing this agent
Book details: word count, title, genre
Optional: Hook or one-sentence pitch
Brief summary of your story (optional hook here instead)
Main characters, what choices they must make
Bio/Why You’re the Best (to write this story)
Personal connection to this story
List of accolades/ experiences/ testimonials
What if you don’t have accolades yet?
Personal connection to the story/ life experience
Writing communities/ organizations you’re in
Join my Writers Squad!
Ask friends, colleagues
Pitch to magazines/blogs/literary journals
Make it short, focus on the story
Thank you and Closing
If it’s a series, mention that here
Include how to contact you (email and phone number)
It’s really that simple. And yet, writing a query letter is often harder than writing a whole book. It’s difficult to summarize 80-90,000 words into one page.
Yes, one page. That’s all you get for a query letter.
So, to help you narrow it down, here’s what not to include:
Hyperbole, exaggerations, lies — be your honest, true self.
That you’re querying other agents — they assume this now.
Weird fonts, colors, images, styles — stick with the formula.
A different tone than your book — let them see your style.
Long paragraphs — this should be max a printed page.
“To whom it may concern” — personalize the query letter as much as possible.
Flattery — let your writing do the impressing.
Once your query letter is done, you want to fine tune it to each agent you send it to.
This is really simple: just follow the rules they outline on their website for submissions.
If you want to know how to find an agent and best practices for querying agents, go check out my interview with literary agent Elise Capron on School for Writers podcast episode 8. We’ll link to it in the show notes.
Okay, so you’ve written your query letter, found agents to query, now are you ready to go? Well, maybe. That depends.
You should query an agent only after:
- Your book is finished.
Yes, 100% finished.
Some non-fiction can submit just a book proposal, but it’s still better if the book is written.
2. Your book is polished.
Have beta readers look it through.
Hire a content editor for story quality and copy editor for grammar/spelling/typos.
3. You’ve done your research.
Don’t waste their time or yours. Query only when your letter is polished, you have all the elements the agent wants, and the agent is currently taking your kind of book.
After you send out your query letter, it’s a waiting game. Sometimes up to six months of waiting. Sometimes you never ever hear back. This waiting time is a perfect time to build. An audience for your book or start writing the next one. As they say, the best way to s ell your first book is to write your second, so don’t stop now!
If you get an acceptance, amazing! That’s wonderful. First, celebrate the crap out of that amazing accomplishment! Then, go listen to my interview with literary agent Elise Capron on School for Writers podcast episode 8 for what happens next. Again, we’ll link to it in the show notes.
But, even the most amazing book ever will still get some rejections. Agents are very particular about what genre they work in, so know that a rejection isn’t always personal.
Rejection is a totally normal part of the process and it means you’re putting yourself out there, so celebrate that too! Stepheen King kept a list of his rejections. He said it meant he was putting himself out there.e That might bee something to try!
King isn’t the only famous writer whose work has been rejected.
The best way I know for handling rejection is to have a strong writing group, so if you don’t have one yet, check out SchoolForWriters.com/Academy. We have an exciting new program coming your way that will include all kinds of support for both the craft and career side of writing, including helping you out when rejection inevitably happens.
And, don’t forget, keep writing! Through all of this, the most important thing is to have a regular writing routine. Write your book. Sell your book. Write more books. Sell more books. Push through rejection. Keep writing.
That’s how you make this writing thing work.
The difference between a published author and one who is not is simply perseverance. So keep going! Keep writing! Keep querying agents!
Because the world needs your story now more than ever.
I hope you found this query letter episode helpful. If you did, be sure to get the full query letter workshop with examples at SchoolForWriters.com/queryletter. It’s free and it’s a great resource for all you fiction authors out there.
Until next time, keep writing.
I cannot wait to read your book!