What is a query letter?

A query letter is a one to two page letter in which an author tries to grab and hold the attention of a literary agent or publishing house. It is also described as a cover letter.

Most agents require that the query letter provides some background information about the writer, but they all agree that it is mostly about the book; so a writer should in a very few words give the title of the novel they are interested in pitching, the type of genre it fits into, and an approximate word count to the nearest thousand (or ten thousand—my personal opinion). Thing to remember is to not fret over the small stuff.

So, if you’ve won any awards, or belong to any recognised bodies, do tell. Also, mention your degree, background education, but keep this short—it’s all about the book, mostly.

The pitch we mentioned in the previous week’s post, that should feature somewhere in the query letter, my personal opinion—again—on the second paragraph…or somewhere close to the top.

All agents agree on one thing—well, several actually—but, this is the most important: “Do your research!” Research your genre, read books written recently, by uprising authors, not the old stuff, so you get the current pulse, what is driving the market forward at this point in time. Also, research your agents well before you send out to them. Hound them, in the best sense of the word, of course. Learn what you can about them, as much as possible from a variety of sources. try to meet them at conventions, fairs etc. (this is ideal but it’s understandable that not all of us can travel or cover the costs required…so be choosy what you spend your money on: be wise).

The bottom line is to give agents what they ask for in their submission guidelines. Don’t try to be witty, never be rude or condescending. Just be yourself, honest, and open.

And, something I’ve learnt from personal experience, don’t give up! This is the hardest of all, since none of us like to get those rejection messages/ letters. But it’s a persevering game.

These have been the ramblings of author Alex George on writing


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