We already know that query letters have to be great, or your manuscript won’t get read. Fact of life. Second fact, if your first paragraph isn’t good, the second paragraph won’t get read. Just like in your manuscript. And now for the really bad news. If your first sentence isn’t good…
Well, you get the idea.
The question is, what do agents consider good? See below for a list. It starts with the easy basics and proceeds to the more elusive elements that separate the soon-to-be-published from the gotta-keep-trying.
Query Letter Minimum Requirements:
- Agent’s name properly spelled, in the same font as the rest of the letter
- 12-point font, single-spaced, two returns between paragraphs, no indentations
- Inclusion of the title in caps or italics, genre, protagonist’s name, and your contact information
- Word count appropriate to the genre
- Confirmation that the book is finished
- Inclusion of the writer’s writing credentials (if any)
- Personalized snippet about the agent, the agent’s blog, or a client or book the agent reps
- Grammatical correctness
- A target length of 250 to 350 words
- A first-sentence hook—the one thing about your book that makes it unique enough to stand out in the marketplace
- Description of the complicating incident, antagonist, plot and protagonist’s goal
- Enough specific details to complete the differentiation from other books, without bogging the query down in clutter
- A sense of strong conflict and characterization
- Active voice in present-tense, third-person POV, cleverly written to suggest the style in the manuscript
- Solid, rhythmic flow from the beginning of the query to the end
- Writing that’s up to the level of the genre and the nature of the story
- Writing strong enough to defy any trends that could work against the story
Let's start with the always pithy Nathan Bransford of Curtis Brown who likes specificity:
And provides query critiques:http://blog.nathanbransford.com/search/label/query%20critiques
Examples of good query letters:http://blog.nathanbransford.com/search/label/Anatomy%20of%20a%20Good%20Query%20Letter
And even a query letter mad lib (formula):http://blog.nathanbransford.com/2008/03/query-letter-mad-lib.html
Then there's an example from Jessica Faust at BookEnds, LLC of a query that launched a successful career:
(Other examples are also available on the BookEnds blog--well worth a trip!)
Next, we have a page of all things query from agent Kristin Nelson at Nelson Literary Agency, LLC:http://pubrants.blogspot.com/search/label/queries
And finally, a recap from agentquery.com on what to include and what not to include:http://www.agentquery.com/writer_hq.aspx
There's also a fabulous on-going Guess the Plot feature on Evil Editor's blog that will knock your socks off:http://evileditor.blogspot.com/
Now, taking into consideration what I've learned in researching query letters from the "What We Want" instead of the "What We Don't Want" perspective, have I gotten my queries right? Nope. That's why we all have to keep improving our research as well as our writing. Excuses don't matter. The right query letter has to get results.
Need more info? Check out this list of What Agent's Don't Want in a Query Letter. Successful Query Letter Examples are here.
About the Author
Martina Boone is the author of Compulsion and Persuasion, out now in the romantic Southern Gothic Heirs of Watson Island trilogy from Simon & Schuster, Simon Pulse. Illusion, the final book, will be out in October of 2016. Martina is also the founder of AdventuresInYAPublishing.com, a three-time Writer's Digest 101 Best Websites for Writers Site, and YASeriesInsiders.com, a site dedicated to encouraging literacy and reader engagement through a celebration of series literature. She's on the Board of the Literacy Council of Northern Virginia and runs the CompulsionForReading.com program to distribute books to underfunded schools and libraries.