This past July, during one of my Palm Springs writers’ retreats, Laurie Fox spent time on the phone with us talking about the elements of a strong query letter.
Introduction. At the top of your query, introduce your book in one to two provocative sentences.
Overview. In a couple of paragraphs, explain what your book is about. Study flap copy of published books to understand how to convey what you need to say in concise, interesting language.
Compare. Agents and editors find comparisons help- ful. In one sentence, compare your book to other books or authors: “My work is a cross between John Updike and Tom Robbins.” Or: “My work is reminiscent of Lorrie Moore’s.”
Your book/your life. How is the topic or theme of your book supported by, or connected to, your life? This applies to fiction as well as nonfiction. If you’re writing a novel, is it at all autobiographical? If so, say so. This is especially helpful for radio. Interviewers like to know what in your life led you to write your novel. This goes for nonfiction, too, although it’s not as vital. Nonfiction authors are sought after for radio be- cause their work is often topical and easily connected to the critical issues of the day.
Endorsements. If you have potential endorsements by notable authors, say so. However, there’s no need to get a commitment prior to querying.
Marketing. Announce that you’re willing to go all out to market your book. It’s now expected to have a mar- keting plan of your own up front. Include info on orga- nizations or venues where you could speak about your book. If you have radio/TV connections, name them.
Bio. Include publishing credits, an MFA program, au- thors you’ve worked with, your professional expertise, and anything else in your bio that’s relevant to your book.
Length. Cite the length of your manuscript.
Pages. To give agents a taste of your work, include the first two pages of your book at the end of the query (not as an attachment), unless the agents you are querying specifically say not to.
Tone. It’s often fun to match the letter’s tone with the book (this is more difficult for fiction). At least make the experience entertaining for the agent. The closer the query is in tone to the actual book, the more likely an agent will be intrigued to read it.
Your query should be a page in length. Writing a query letter can be a daunting experience, but you’re a writer. You can do it! —BDB