Updated August 17, 2022.
If you are pursuing traditional publishing, your road to signing with an agent will likely begin by writing a query letter. But what should you include in your query letter?
Read on for all kinds of query letter help!
PARTS OF A (TYPICAL) QUERY
Your first paragraph should include your character’s age if you are writing for kidlit, something about their personality, and what they want and are dealing with at the beginning of your story.
The body section of your query letter should include your inciting incident, turning points that progressively up the story’s stakes, and finally, what’s at stake if your character fails and what do they get if they succeed that ties back to growth from what they want from the first paragraph.
Your final paragraph(s) should include information about the manuscript, including your title, age group it’s written for, word count (rounded up or down to the nearest thousand), comp titles, and any other fact about it you would like to highlight. This includes if you want to highlight that you share a marginalization with your main character. You can also include a couple of sentences for your biography, though, your biography usually shouldn’t be longer than any of the body paragraphs. Finally, don’t forget to thank the agent for their time!
SAMPLE QUERY LETTER
13-year-old Gabe doesn’t care about being a brujo protege when he rather be reading and engaging with his followers on book TikTok. But when his mama becomes seriously ill from an ailment that seems to be coming from the commission dedicated to protecting brujx, he must shelve his TBR list and dust off his wand to save her.
With the help of his followers, he gets closer to a cure and the truth—the commission headmaster, Antonio de la Rivera, is seeking to be the only brujo left standing. Now he must band together and meet some of his long-time followers and friends in person to defeat the brujo. Including his TikTok crush, Ruby, who turns out to be a seasoned bruja.
Though success is easier said than won when they must fight off fantasmas, evade a nosey detective trying to show that brujx are real, and make sure Gabe’s little brother doesn’t fall under the curse as well. If Gabe doesn’t succeed, all of humankind might fall under the brujx spell, not just brujx. But if he can save the day, he might just realize his abilities aren’t the curse he’s always thought they were and finally find a home within the brujx community, offline.
BRUJO is a middle grade contemporary fantasy featuring a Mexican American main character. It is 45,000 words long and will appeal to fans of WITCHLINGS by Claribel A. Ortega and Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova.
Like Gabe, I am Mexican American. I live in California with my husband and newborn. Per your submission guidelines, please see the first ten pages of the manuscript below.
Thank you so much for your time and consideration.
14 QUERY LETTER TIPS
1. ELIMINATE THE WHY?/HOW? Eliminate any chance for an agent to ask why a certain fact is how it is. Or why a certain character makes a certain choice. i.e. Luna is a vampire with a soul who goes on a secret mission. Well: Why is she going on a secret mission? And what is this secret mission? A better sentence would be: After vampire Luna loses her soul going after a human slayer who curses her, she ends up on a secret mission on behalf of the slayer who promises to give her back her soul in exchange for a leaf from the tree of life.
2. DON’T BE VAGUE: This one definitely lends itself to cracking Tip #1. There’s no reason to be vague in a query. Being mysterious isn’t really a good thing. It’s okay to reveal some juicy info that a reader won’t find out until the last chapter to an agent/editor you’re trying to hook. And you want to be as specific as you can so that your query makes sense.
3. IT’S OKAY NOT TO INCLUDE EVERY STANDARD PART OF A QUERY: Don’t stress out about a bio. It’s okay not to include one at all! Focus on telling an agent about your story. Especially if you’re submitting through Query Manager, there will likely be other other sections in your submission that you will be able to talk about yourself. You also don’t have to include a note on why you’re pitching said agent unless it’s on their submission guidelines. Always follow their guidelines!
4. ASK A FEW PEOPLE TO READ YOUR QUERY LETTER: Feedback can be vital to getting your query ready to send off. You may think you’ve written the perfect query and then someone will spot a mistyped word you’ll be shocked you missed!
5. FOCUS ON YOUR STORY: A query is a professional cover letter. Don’t make strange comments to the agent you’re querying. And don’t be rude or mean or demeaning to someone you’re asking to consider you for a business partner. Even if they pass.
6. COMP TITLES: Comp titles will not make or break your query! You do not have to include comp titles at all unless an agent has asked for them in their submission guidelines. If you do have to include them, or would like to, you’ll be surprised how comp titles start coming to you when you read and keep track of books within your genre. You can also compare your writing to that of another author. Even a feeling another book gave you, a movie, show, or even a song. It’s perfectly okay to say your MS is written in a similar voice as X, Y, and Z.
7. ONLY USE THE NAMES OF THREE CHARACTERS: Only using the names of three characters tops will help agents keep up with what your story is about more easily. These are usually your MC, your antagonist, and your romantic lead. This helps you figure out Tip #8!
8. CHOOSE ONE STORYLINE: How do you condense a novel that’s 35,000-120,000 words down to one page? UGH! So hard sometimes! The biggest thing is to focus on your turning points. Set the stage with your MC, who they are, and what they want. Then describe the turning point that sends your MC down their path and mission. And then describe the challenges your MC faces to get their mission done. And finally, describe the consequences your MC will face if they fail. And what they’ll get if they’re victorious.
9. IT’S OKAY TO DESCRIBE YOUR WORLD FIRST: A lot of people will tell you to start with your main character. But there are times when you NEED to describe your world first so that the rest of your query to make sense. That’s OKAY!
10. LOOK AT YOUR QUERY LAYOUT: It might not be something you’ve thought about before, but the readability of your query in terms of how daunting it looks can make a difference in the way it’s read! Try keeping each paragraph only a few sentences long, and breaking long paragraphs up, so that they’re easy to follow for agents who are very much overloaded.
11. FOLLOW SUBMISSION GUIDELINES INCLUDING QUERY MANAGER SECTIONS: If you’re sending a query through Query Manager, you might notice that some agents also ask miscellaneous questions! Adding a couple of sentences into these sections (even if you are querying as an illustrator) might go a long way if an agent decides that they’re interested in learning more about you and your work. These are areas outside of your standard query that you can use to talk more about yourself and your work!
12. KEEP TRACK OF WHO YOU’VE QUERIED: In the age of Query Manager, if an agent is on the program, they can easily tell when someone has sent in the same submission already. Using a spreadsheet, folders, or even notes to keep track of what agents you query, what the status of each query is, and what agencies you’re querying at once, can help aviod any mishaps.
13. ILLUSTRATORS: If you’re querying a picture book, be sure to have your dummy for that project ready to go. In terms of your portfolio, don’t miss out on getting feedback from friends and other industry professionals before you query to make sure you’re putting your best work in your sample. And make sure that your sample shows inclusivity. For graphic novels, it’s always great to have a few spreads of sample work to show. And even though illustrators don’t have to do a general query as much, writing a paragraph or a few in your submission through email or Query Manager, will help agents get to know you.
14. USE YOUR QUERY TO REALIZE YOU MAY NOT BE READY TO QUERY: If you’re finding you can’t make your query concise enough any way you turn it, it’s time to relook at your manuscript. And it’s a good thing to do this before your start to query!
Querying can be one of the most challenging and stressful things for writers since it’s such an important factor to achieving representation from an agent. We hope that this blog post has given you the confidence to refine your query for #LatinxPitch and beyond!