Wednesday, August 18, 2010

How to Write a Query Letter

Three years ago, when I finally felt I had finished a manuscript I could sell, I knew nearly nothing about query letters. I knew I had to write one if I wanted to get a literary agent, so I turned on my computer and typed into the search engine, "how to write a query letter."

An overwhelming wave of information surged onto the screen. Writers everywhere, bursting with advice--sample query letters, how to write query letters, how not to write query letters, query letter contests, entire BOOKS on how to write query letters. Everyone seemed eager to give me the formula for writing my own magic bullet of a query letter.

Trouble was, you see, and what I couldn't get around was this: how do I take these 78,000 words that I've been working on for seven years and describe them in a single paragraph?

It seemed like a kind of insult. Boil down your vast labor of love into a few sentences, and I will judge whether it is worthy to consider on those few sentences alone.

I tried it anyways. It was terrible. All ten literary agents I sent it to agreed it was terrible.

Enter book two.

When I wrote my second book, I didn't wait until I had finished before I wrote my query letter. I wrote my query letter along with the book. That way, instead of burning with impatience to get the manuscript out the door and slapping a query on at the last minute, I had months to refine my pitch to poetic perfection. Working on the query letter also helped me focus the book. What parts were most interesting? What parts made it most marketable? What is the book really about? Once I had that down in writing, it became the guiding principles for what to bring out in the story.

And this time, my query letter is doing its job. I'm getting full manuscript requests.

How to write a query letter? Other more qualified people have written entire books on the subject. I'm just here to tell you when to do it. Start writing your query letter the day you start writing your book.


  1. I love this advice. I'm an aspiring writer (when I can find a few coherent minutes...which seems to be about once every three weeks) but I've also been a bit baffled about the query letter process. I'm so excited for you that you're getting full manuscript requests. That's FANTASTIC! Can't wait to hear about the rest of your journey.

  2. Thanks for stopping by, Melissa! Another thing that helped me learn to write query letters was to practice by writing pitches for other books. I did this for a book a week for a year and called it a book review blog. Then, when the time came to write my next query letter, all that practice paid off.

  3. I'm so excited that you're getting full ms requests! I can't wait to buy your book! :)

  4. I couldn't believe it at first, Leisha. So different from my first attempt. Try, try again and all.

  5. The learning curve is more like a steep mountain with no top.

    I love this advice! I can't wait to start a new book, just so I can take it. :)


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