Querying 101: A Guide To Following Absolutely Every Absolute Rule At The Same Time (In An Industry With No Absolutes)

You’ve written the book. Congratulations! Now the hard work begins. You’ve likely heard of the dreaded query letter, along with talk of pulling of hair and gnashing of teeth. But it doesn’t have to be that way! Here is an overview of the rules for structuring your query that will make writing it a snap!

First of all, a query must always be three paragraphs. The first is your introduction with basic book stats (title, word count, age category, genre, and comps), as well as agent personalization. The second is your pitch. The third is your bio. And all three paragraphs should be your pitch. Note that your introduction with basic book stats should never be in the first paragraph; save those for the fourth paragraph.

As I mentioned above, the standard “pitch” portion of the query must be three paragraphs; however, a one-paragraph pitch is industry standard. Also, your pitch should be one sentence that “hooks” the agent, no longer than a Tweet. And remember—the typical query is 250-300 words, which does not include your book basics and bio. Your book basics and bio do count toward your 250-300 words, so make sure to leave room for them when writing your pitch.

Now, let’s get a little more specific: the greeting. You should always open with “Dear Ms./Mr. Agent’s Last Name.” However, you shouldn’t assume gender, so it’s safest to use an agent’s full name. Some agents may find the use of their first name disrespectful, so never use the agent’s full name.

So we have our greeting, now onto the pitch itself. As I mentioned above, always start with your book basics. You always start with your hook: remember, the book basics are saved for that first or last paragraph. When you’re pitching, you want to be specific but not too specific. Your book needs to stand out—what makes it different from other books of its genre?—but also fit into a standard three-act structure and have plenty of tropes. The end of your pitch, like the beginning, should hook the reader. This is most effectively done with a rhetorical question; however, rhetorical questions will mark you as an amateur, so be sure to avoid using them.

And finally, the closing. You should include your name, physical address, phone number, email, and any social media handles or websites just below your sign-off. Note that it’s considered outdated to include your physical address, and that your basic information should be included at the top of the query, before your greeting. Social media handles are key: always include them, even if you have just a small following, except for those of you with a small following: it’s best not to draw attention to that, so leave your social media handles off in that case.

And that about sums it up! Remember, you have three paragraphs or five paragraphs or one paragraph to dazzle your future agent. If you follow these guidelines, you’ll be well on your way! Good luck!

(Juliana Clayton, 2021)

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