The thing that I have come to love about this industry is how helpful everyone is (and look, now I’m doing it too!). There are numerous free resources out there, and you should gobble them up. Not everyone’s thoughts and opinions are in sync on the matter, but the wisdom and insight gained from the perspective of how literary agents view query letters is immensely valuable itself.
The main resources I used to guide me when drafting my query letter were Query Shark’s blog and Noah Lukeman’s free ebook on Kindle: “How to Write a Great Query Letter”. I highly recommend reading through both, as writing a query letter is a skill, and unfortunately, this letter is what authors get judged on. Not your novel. No, no. You get judged on a single piece of paper, and if they like that 1 page, then (and only then) may you be judged on your work, if they request it of you. So here is my summation of everything that I’ve gleaned from the two:
Bottom line up front, your query letter should be no more than three paragraphs. Make it succinct, word economy is key. Also, follow the rules. Some people might want to make their query stand out by using different font, special colored paper, or even provide quotes from their novel, but those are just red flags in an agent’s eyes.
- First paragraph, you must grab the agents attention. You could appeal to the agent personally by naming an author they represent and how you believe that your novel is similar, which is why you chose them, etc (which requires lots of research). Be sure to mention that your novel is completed, mention the word count, its TITLE, and the genre.
- Second paragraph, try to sum up your entire novel into 2 or 3 sentences. This can be incredibly difficult to do, so focus on the main plot and drop all the sub plots. Agents don’t need to hear about the sub plots at this point yet.
- Third paragraph, your bio, written in first person. Only provide major publication credits (if you have them). If you don’t, (or are a new author like me), join a writing organization or a writers critique group. Beware, most of these cost money, and sometimes require that you have been published before you can join, so options may be limited. However, do not ever include any NON-relevant information. Anything that is not DIRECTLY related to being a writer should not be included. The only exception to that is if your personal life experiences are what helped you write your novel (e.g. You lived through Desert Storm and now you’re writing a book about it).
As a last word of advice, there are places out there where you can view successful query letters, such as: http://bit.ly/ISki7u. I highly recommend reading over those as well since this is more of an art than a science.