Writers, Got Novel? Here’s A Sample Query Letter to a Literary Agent That Might Help You Sell It.

Finished your novel? Wrote your best chapters? Anxious to get a literary agent? Here is a sample query letter to send to an agent. But waaay before you do that, make sure you:

Have the manuscript ready, and as good as it can be.

Don’t look for an agent before you’ve finished your novel. (You might be able to sell a non-fiction book after only writing the first three chapters, but you still need a detailed outline of the rest of it.)

Do your due diligence. If Lucy Literary Agent only likes romance novels, do not send her a mystery book. Even if your mystery is as good as Agatha Christie’s, Lucy will not make an exception.

Do NOT tell them that your book is the best children’s book since Harry Potter.

Print out your letter and have a good look at it on the page before you send it out. Read it out loud. You’ll find an unexpected mistake or two.

Follow the directions. Some agents want the first ten pages. Others want the first fifty. Some want you to contact them via email; others favor the post office. Respect their wishes.

Be professional. Once you sent the agent the email (or snail mail), do not call and nag. This is like dating. The guy will get back to you if he wants to see you. Otherwise, fuhgeddaboutit!

I’m posting the letter I wrote to Steven Chudney. You can find more information about him on his website. I am offering this to show you that there is a suggested format to a query letter.Follow the form. I had a friend who once bought a coffee table that a groovy carpenter made from a tree. It’s a nice coffee table, but it’s on a slant. You can’t put a cup of coffee on it without it sliding off. “But it’s made from a tree,” my friend said. Yeah, right, but the point is it’s supposed to hold things upright. Same goes with a query letter. Don’t say, “Yes, but.” Just follow the form.

Dear Steven Chudney [Make sure you spell the name rightAnd do not address the email Dear Sir/Madam. You might be sending your letter to twelve agents but each agent must have a personalized letter. I made the mistake of calling an agent Ms. instead of Mr. Moral? Just write the full name.]

I’m a recent first-prize winner of Family Circle Magazine’s Fiction Contest. My work appears in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and other publications. [If you don’t yet have any publications under your belt, skip that introduction and begin with the next sentence.] I read that you lived for a while in Israel and are looking for books set in the Middle East [This is crucial. Since my book is set in Israel, I would not waste my time sending my book to an agent who is only interested in books set in Gardenerville, Nevada. Read about the kind of books the potential agents like, where they live, what hobbies they have or where they went to school. Find something that can hook them. Isn’t that your job, anyway, as a writer? For example, “I read that you enjoy playing miniature golf, so I thought you might be interested in my novel, The Miniature Golf Madam] so I thought you might be interested in The Women’s Burial Circle, [my future editor, Rachel Kahan at William Morrow/HarperCollins, dropped Women’s so now the title is just The Burial Circle. It doesn’t matter, just have some kind of title when you write your letter] which follows four American friends as they discover reach new understanding about themselves—and life itself—in the midst of war and death in northern Israel. [This is a sentence you might use when talking to a friend about a book you’re reading, “It’s about this guy who’s so ambitious that he commits murder.” (As in Macbeth.)]

Here’s the pitch: [Now you’re going into detail about the book, like the copy on a book’s back cover]

The Women’s Burial Circle opens on the lives of four American women who are part of a unique Jewish tradition: they prepare and dress women for burial in a  beach village in northern Israel. Lauren Uhlmann is a spoiled yet unflappable maternity nurse from a wealthy family in Boston who accidentally winds up in Israel. Emily Freulich, her artistic best friend, is determined to make a new life for herself after her first husband leaves her. Aviva Sereno is a sensuous, strong former Mossad agent struggling to come to terms with the death of her eldest son and husband. Rachel Schoenberger is a young optimistic woman from Wyoming who comes to Israel to try to help, only to find herself caught in the conflict. The novel asks: How do we come to accept life on life’s terms? And how, in the midst of sorrow, do we find beauty in the world? [Agents want to know what the book is really about so they can then pitch the book to publishing houses. Note that this is ALL in present tense, like in a synopsis, which I’ll talk about it another blog post.Note that this is ALL in present tense, like in a synopsis, which I’ll talk about it another blog post. And my tag questions at the end became part of the announcement about my book sale:“THE BURIAL CIRCLE, about the lives of four women who are part of a unique Jewish tradition: they prepare and dress women for burial in a coastal village in northern Israel as they learn to accept death, and to appreciate the sorrows and wonders of life.]

For your information, [add your information—where you studied writing, where you’ve been published, what your profession is and what your platform is] my first book, The Invisible Thread: A Portrait of Jewish American Women (Jewish Publication Society) was a finalist for a National Jewish Book Award. I host the blog, www.thebestchapter.com, which features interviews with Molly Antopol, Tatiana de Rosnay, Dara Horn, and others. [Publishers want authors who already have a platform—a way to help them market and sell the book. They want to know that you’ve got an online presence. And if you don’t yet have one, start it before you proceed!] The novel is based on a true story: I’m a member of the burial society in the small beach village where I live. [Why is this important? Because it adds color to the novel, and shows the agent that I know what I’m writing about. If you are writing a futuristic novel about the first woman to live on Mars, you might say that you are a member of an astronomy club.]

The novel runs 95,000 words. [How many words is your manuscript? For NaNoWriMo, you’re supposed to write a minimum of 50,000 words (the length of a novella). Anything more than 120,000 words is not recommended, unless you’re James Joyce.] If you’re interested in a read, please let me know. I have just started sending out the book to agents [let the agents know you are sending out multiple submissions] and I look forward to hearing from you! [Why the exclamation point? I like being enthusiastic, that’s why! A simple period would also do, like here.] Thank you so much for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Your Name

Kathy Temean’s blog has invaluable tips for children’s book writers and illustrators as well as information about agents here. She posts listings of agents who are actively seeking clients – which is a fabulous place to begin.

Feel free to use this form to write query letters to agents and fill in your own information. This is just a suggestion which I am passing on. Anyone got other suggestions? I am open to hearing what works for you!

And it is Tuesday, so here is my tool: No matter what you do today, follow the form.

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About dianabletter

Diana Bletter is a writer living in northern Israel whose novel, A Remarkable Kindness, is forthcoming from HarperCollins in August. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, tabletmag, and other publications. Her first book, The Invisible Thread: A Portrait of Jewish American Women (with photographs by Lori Grinker) was nominated for a National Jewish Book Award.
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