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How To Write A Successful Query Letter

Updated on October 2, 2013

A Fact of Life for All Writers


This is for all of you writers who have labored for months or years writing your book and now want to dip a toe into the traditional publishing business. You want an agent and/or publisher to become as enthralled with your work as you are, and you have visions of your book becoming a bestseller.

There is great satisfaction in completing a book, but there is still one step remaining before you actually get that book published, and that step is the query letter.

Agents and publishers will tell you that you have about ten seconds to gain their attention and keep them reading. Ten seconds! Needless to say, you had better have your act together when writing your query letter. If you have not hooked the agent or publisher in ten seconds then most likely your book will remain a personal conquest and nothing more.

The same can be said for those of you trying to break into the magazine business. Publishers and editors are inundated with query letters to the tune of thousands per month. Hundreds of thousands of writers pitch their stories or books each and every month. The reality of the business is such that only two or three of every thousand pitches are accepted.

Obviously, the odds are against you, and the only weapon you have to break through the logjam of hopeful writers is to craft a query letter that will knock the socks off whoever reads it.

This article will help you do exactly that.

A good query letter will hook the reader immediately.
A good query letter will hook the reader immediately. | Source

The First Paragraph


Ten seconds! What can you say in ten seconds that will hold the attention of an overworked publisher or agent?

You need a hook! You need a powerful sentence that will leave the agent or publisher, if not gasping for breath, at least interested enough to read the rest of your letter.

In that hook sentence you should have the name and genre of your book, and it should be descriptive enough to be enticing without giving the rest of the storyline away.

I saw this description of a hook awhile back and it is perfect.

“My novel, THE CLEARING, is a supernatural love story told from the point of view of a young woman who has been dead for 130 years.”

Talk about hooking the reader! If you have a pulse then you are at least interested enough to read the remainder of the query letter, because that opening line is an attention-grabber.

Your hook should be the most important feature of your book. It should be a summary of what your book is about in condensed form. It should be the heart and soul of your book and it needs to be distinctive enough that the reader will sit up straight in their chair and look forward to the rest of your description.

The hook is not a summary of the book nor is it the entire plot. It is a hook, a marketing tool if you will, that sells the rest of your book.

Many first-time writers will begin their query letter with a brief description of themselves and that is literary suicide for a writer. Sell the book or article and not yourselves.

The remainder of the first paragraph can be an expansion of the hook, but never give away the plot or the ending, and never use boring clichés such as…..my book is about the coming of age of a young woman….boring!

Some more thoughts on query letters

Second Paragaph


The second paragraph should be a brief biography telling about your achievements as a writer. If you have taken writing courses, have any previously published material or have received any awards for your writing, these should be mentioned in the second paragraph.

Agents and publishers do not care if you are married and have two dogs and a cat. They care about your writing accomplishments, so that’s what you tell them about. They can get to know you as a person after they sign you up. Your main job in this paragraph is to expound upon your writing accomplishments. If you don’t have any then get some. I know, that sounds silly, but it really isn’t.

Join a writing community like HubPages or Squidoo and publish some articles there. At least that will give you something to mention in your query letter. Do not invent a history. If you are a first-time writer then say that, but avoid giving a negative impression. To say that you are unpublished is a negative statement. To say that you have fifty articles published on HubPages is a positive statement.

Third Paragraph


Now it is time to sign-off as gracefully as possible. Make sure you leave your contact information if it does not appear in your letterhead or email address. Thank them for reading your query letter and tell them that you look forward to hearing from them soon.

If you have included attachments then make sure you mention that fact. If you are sending your query letter by snail-mail, then make sure you mention that you are including a SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope).

Do not ramble on in this paragraph. There is no need. Short and simple wins the day.

The main character in my novel
The main character in my novel | Source

My Query Letter For My Novel

February 12, 2013



Ms. Weed:


What do you do when the only people who can save the Earth are already dead? Well, if you are Sheila, you simply resurrect those people and let them do the job they were born to do.

Sheila has a goal, and that goal is to warn the Earth’s inhabitants of an environmental cataclysm that is sure to happen. Using her extraordinary powers of resurrection, she enlists the help of former inhabitants of an orphanage who survived the Blizzard of 1950 only to die later in life. This group of modern-day miracles will form an alliance and try to warn the world’s citizens before it is too late for everyone.

My novel, The 12/59 Shuttle From Yesterday To Today, is 70,000 words of fantasy that will leave you laughing and at the same time cringing, for the picture painted of environmental destruction seems all too real.

Never underestimate the power of a small group of determined people.

Think Tom Robbins with an attitude and you will have some idea of the style in which this is written. You will meet a zany band of characters who will take you with them as they try to alter the destructive path society has followed for far too long.

I have been a freelance writer for two years now, but this book began five years ago as a writing exercise took on a life of its own. I have written over 400 articles for a writers’ site called HubPages, and have had numerous articles published in magazines.

Thank you for taking the time to read this query. I have included the pages you requested and I look forward to hearing back from you.

Sincerely,

Bill Holland

I know I don't look happy but I am...holding my published novel.
I know I don't look happy but I am...holding my published novel. | Source

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Wrapping It Up


Although my own query letter above is not a classic three-paragraph letter, you can see that I have followed the suggestions that I listed above.

Ten seconds! I cannot impress upon you too much the importance of that first hook line. If you don’t do the job in the first couple sentences it will make no difference what you write in the next two paragraphs, so labor long and hard over the crafting of this query letter, for it holds your future within it.

One final note about the letter itself: Query letters should be one page in length. No longer!

Once you have written your query letter you need to then turn your attention to who you are going to send it to. Consult THE WRITER’S MARKET or some other such publication. In it you will find a complete listing of agents and publishers. More importantly, you will find the types of manuscripts that they are looking for and their submission guidelines. You might have to change your query letter to fit the idiosyncrasies of each agent. Make sure you follow the guidelines exactly. If they ask for the first five pages of your book do not send them six, or four. If they say no attachments they mean no attachments.

Remember, you need them. They do not need you.

Best of luck to you as you tackle this step in your writing journey. The numbers are against you but then they are against every single writer who sends out a query letter. Keep track of who you have contacted and keep track of their response or lack of response.

I happen to save all of my rejection letters. Masochistic? I think not. I think every rejection letter is an opportunity for me to learn. Sometimes an agent or publisher will give a bit of advice in their rejection letter and that is invaluable because I will try again, and again, and again until someone pays attention to me.

2013 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)

"Helping writers to spread their wings and fly."

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    • carol7777 profile image

      carol stanley 4 years ago from Arizona

      This was excellent.. Grab that person with something to continue on. As always your suggestions are valuable and I have collected them for when I get ready to write my book..yes it is coming. Many years ago when I was trying to get my column syndicated I started the letter "If you are a Virgo or whatever I sign I chose you will react with some doubt or glee or whatever I chose..I got a response from everyone I sent to..And I got a syndicated column.

      I tweeted and pinned.

    • alocsin profile image

      alocsin 4 years ago from Orange County, CA

      Excellent advice -- one thing I'd like to add is that if you want to create non-fiction book or magazine, you want to make your query letter pitch before you get started. That way, you know if you have a product that publishers want. If you don't, you won't have wasted a lot of time and can switch to a more salable topic. Even if you do pick a worthwhile subjects, publishers can often improve the style and substance of a piece with their recommendations. Voting this Up and Useful.

    • Janine Huldie profile image

      Janine Huldie 4 years ago from New York, New York

      This truly was absolutely awesome Bill and honestly loved your tips here. And thank you for sharing a sample of your own query letter to give inspiration. What can I say, other than Thank You!! Seriously, really appreciate all the advice and help on this. Have a great weekend Bill!!

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Carol, I am excited that you are writing that book. Thanks for adding your personal experience as an example. Well done and thank you. Have a great weekend!

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Aurelio, thank you for mentioning that and it is true in some cases. I have directly submitted articles to some magazines that allow that and been published, but most want a pitch first before submission. Thank you!

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Janine, it is my pleasure.....why wouldn't I want to help other writers? You guys are my peers and friends. :) Thank you so much and enjoy your weekend.

    • Radcliff profile image

      Liz Davis 4 years ago from Hudson, FL

      But you said that your first paragraph hook should have your title and genre, but your query didn't have that info until the third.

      I think your letter is great--I just wanted to show you I was listening. I'm working toward an A+ here.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I knew some little smarty pants would point that out....you get the Teacher's Pet Award today, Lizzy! LOL

    • MrsBrownsParlour profile image

      Lurana Brown 4 years ago from Chicagoland, Illinois

      Interesting and helpful! Thank you for making this all seem doable to those of us who may still be thinking about writing books one day... :-)

      Also, your book sounds fascinating.

    • Sparklea profile image

      Sparklea 4 years ago from Upstate New York

      Billybuc, THANK YOU...I am trying to get my book completed, and this hub is beyond helpful. Over the years I've written query letters to editors, so I am familiar with "only one page" etc. I've also attended writers conferences and met one on one with editors, which DOES have an advantage. One editor DID publish me three times in their "Celebrate Life" Magazine, and they paid me $50 per page.

      Your hub is very timely, and I'm loving your other hubs. You are such a terrific asset to the hubs. God bless you real good. PS: did you get a response to your query about the excellent book of yours that I read? Blessings, Sparklea :)

    • mejohnson profile image

      mejohnson 4 years ago

      This hub is perfect timing as I am working on a query letter for my novel. Thanks for these helpful tips. Good luck on your querying.

    • Scribenet profile image

      Scribenet 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      I like your idea of a hook!

      Yesterday I was reading about query letters; the articles also mentioned keeping it short and to the point, adding that using a follow-up after a reasonable amount of time and including the original query letter as an attachment for the editor's convenience. Apparently that boosted chances of acceptance!

    • vkwok profile image

      Victor W. Kwok 4 years ago from Hawaii

      This will definitely help me in the long run. Nice!

    • wayne barrett profile image

      Wayne Barrett 4 years ago from Clearwater Florida

      Great article, Bill. I'm bookmarking this one for later reference.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Lurana! I'm proud of my book. I'm a better writer today because of the experience of writing a book.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Lea, thank you my dear friend. I have yet to find an agent or publisher for my book, but that just means I haven't found the right one yet. :)

      It's so good to see you again. I hope you are well. Thank you for your kind words, and Happy Easter.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      mejohnson, I'm glad this hub came out at the right time for you. Best of luck to you and thank you.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Scribenet, the follow-up letter is very important. Thank you for mentioning it and best of luck to you in your writings.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you vkwok. Happy Easter to you!

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Wayne! I appreciate you dropping by and Happy Easter to you.

    • Ruchira profile image

      Ruchira 4 years ago from United States

      Great tips, Bill.

      Seriously I would have faltered by giving my description first and then talk about the book. Your advise makes sense...thank you so much!!

    • bdegiulio profile image

      Bill De Giulio 4 years ago from Massachusetts

      Great advice Bill. It certainly is a competitive market out there so I think you are right on the money when you say you have 10 seconds to get their attention. These are great tips that I will come back to if I ever want to publish. Many thanks and have a great Easter.

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 4 years ago from United States

      I think this is a very informative hub for all of us would-be novelist. I really like the letter and I hope to travel that path if I get this book finished. Thanks for a very informative hub.

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Fuller 4 years ago from Southern Illinois

      You always have excellent info. for writers. Thank you for sharing..

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      You are very welcome Ruchira, and good luck to you.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Pamela and I hope your novel becomes an instant success. :) Happy Easter!

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      My pleasure, Ruby, and thank you! Happy Easter my friend.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Bill and Happy Easter to you and your family.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thanks for the information, Bill. You are creating a wonderful series of articles for writers!

    • patchofearth profile image

      patchofearth 4 years ago from somewhere in the appalachian foothills

      Hey Billy,

      I have been trying to find this very information-- I'm hoping to publish in a magazine (*sigh* oneday). Had no idea how to go about the query letter that we are all told we need to start with. This hub was very helpful.

    • midget38 profile image

      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      Query letters certainly serve as good introductions for you and your book. Thanks for sharing this.

    • Mhatter99 profile image

      Martin Kloess 4 years ago from San Francisco

      Thank you for these useful tips.

    • phoenix2327 profile image

      Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon 4 years ago from United Kingdom

      Your own query letter was very good. So good I just bought your book. lol I'm really looking forward to reading it.

      BTW, you mention the Sultan of Shag. What exactly does that mean to you? Because it has a totally different meaning in the UK?

    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 4 years ago from sunny Florida

      These tips are very helpful.

      The fact that you shared your letter is important as it gives the reader the opportunity to see what you mean.

      Your query letter hooked me from the onset. This is one area of writing I do know and have written many of these letters for a cookbook I put together about 30 years ago. It is about time to resurrect it and write a powerful letter like yours to send.

      Thanks for sharing this with us.

      Angels are coming to you and yours this morning . :) ps

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Alicia! That is my goal. Happy EAster to you.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      patch, I'm very happy that this will help you. Good luck with those magazines and have a great weekend.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Michelle! Have a wonderful weekend.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thanks, Martin, and Happy Easter to you and yours.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Phoenix, first of all, thank you for buying the book. I truly do appreciate that. As for shag, I got it from the British, so I have the feeling it means the same thing to you as it does to me. LOL Have a wonderful weekend my friend.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      PS, I almost didn't include my letter but decided in the end that people needed to see a real query letter. Thank you for confirming that and best of luck on your cookbook.

      Thank you for the angels on this Easter weekend. Wishing you happiness this weekend and always.

      bill

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 4 years ago from south Florida

      This hub, Bill, may become the one of yours with the most visits eventually since you have written regarding a subject almost all writers want to know more about - writing that all-important query letter. Very realistic information and including your query sample was the perfect touch. You ARE the man!

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      drbj....well, I am a man. LOL Seriously, thank you! I hope your prediction comes true. I am not above wanting more visits. :) Have a wonderful weekend!

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      I have a few rejection letters. Thanks for info on the query letter, as I have gone into orbit blind as a bat.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Deb, rejection letters are a way of life. I wouldn't think anyone was paying attention to me if it weren't for rejections. LOL Thank you my friend and I'll see you at Boomer for Easter.

    • phoenix2327 profile image

      Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon 4 years ago from United Kingdom

      Good morning, Bill.

      I received your book yesterday but haven't started it yet. I don't like to start new books until I've finished what I'm currently reading. I am, however, on the last few chapters of 'Jude the Obscure' so I should get to yours by the middle of the week. I'm so looking forward to it.

      Happy Easter to you and your family.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Phoenix, thank you so much. I hope you enjoy it! It is a bit of a departure from my normal writing as you will soon find out. :) Have a wonderful Easter my friend.

    • profile image

      manatita44 4 years ago

      Firstly, good luck with your book. Reads excellent!

      Secondly, I have followed you and know that you like a joke; so continuing your own tease of how you look in the pic., 'not so hot' (smile).

      Thirdly, Sound advice! I will remember! Cheers Bill.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Manatita and yes, I do like a joke! :) I appreciate your visit my friend.

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 4 years ago from Central Florida

      Another keeper to send to my desktop. Thanx, Bill! Will you consider writing a hub naming the various lists to consult regarding who's looking for what, etc.?

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thanks Sha! There are so many....it's easier just buying a copy of the Writer's Market online...there they list all the agents and publishers and what they are looking for.

      Happy Easter my friend!

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 4 years ago from Central Florida

      Great. Thanx, Bill. Happy Easter to you and Bev!

    • Willsummerdreamer profile image

      Will English. 4 years ago from Marietta, Georgia.

      I can think of a few ways to get an agent or whatever to notice me...but they all involve bad endings for me lol. Anyway, great article. *bookmarked*

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Sha!

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Will....yes, it would be best to try more conventional ways. LOL Welcome to HubPages and thank you for the visit.

    • profile image

      Vickiw 4 years ago

      Hi Bill, just wanted to tell you I remembered this title when I looked at your profile page, and decided to read it today, as I am submitting a query. It is great, and thanks for your help, and just BEING there! Great Hub

    • bridalletter profile image

      Brenda Kyle 4 years ago from Blue Springs, Missouri, USA

      Will the publishers just print hardcopies or do they include electronic formats of a person's book too? That example query letter is really helpful. I hope to try it out on the one major book I am working on. Keep those writer tips coming!

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Vicki, hooray for you. Good luck with the query but don't get discouraged if it is not successful. Rejections are a badge of honor for us writers. :)

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Bridalletter, most publishers now do both, hard copy and ebooks. They have had to change with the times and usually if you get a publisher interested they do the whole spectrum of publishing.

      Thanks for the visit and I will indeed keep them coming.

    • M. T. Dremer profile image

      M. T. Dremer 4 years ago from United States

      There's some really good advice here. I made a lot of rookie mistakes when I was trying to solicit agents. I'd like to think that my query letter is pretty good now, but after roughly 50 rejections, I'm running out of agents to try. That's not something most people tell you when you're trying to get published. They tell you to keep working hard and to never give up, but they don't mention that you will eventually run out of agents/publishers in your genre. It's not an unlimited pool and you may find yourself in a position where there is no one left to try. It's incredibly discouraging, so I congratulate you on being able to get over the massive defense wall of the publishing industry.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      M.T. it is discouraging for sure....I have recently turned my attention to magazines and newspapers. I'll return to the publisher route after I lick my wounds. LOL I do understand what you are saying...I know of no other solution but to keep carrying one and moving forward. Thanks for an honest comment that speaks to many people I'm sure.

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image

      Glimmer Twin Fan 4 years ago

      Interesting. I never really thought about a "hook", but it is also a great technique for online writing. People can leave a page with just one click so a good hook is essential!

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Glimmer my friend; good to see you. Yes indeed, the hook is the big difference, whether we are talking about a book, an article or a query letter. You have about ten seconds to interest your reader so that hook better be a good one. :) Thanks for stopping by my friend.

    • phdast7 profile image

      Theresa Ast 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Excellent advice Bill. I will save this and kep it in mind for when I get through editing my grandmother's poems and start looking for a publisher. Thanks so much and I hope you are having a great week. Theresa

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Theresa! That's exciting that you are editing your grandmother's poems. Well done and good luck finding a publisher.

      Blessings,

      bill

    • suzettenaples profile image

      Suzette Walker 4 years ago from Taos, NM

      Again, thanks for sharing your experience with us. I will also keep this in mind. Your novel sounds interesting, creative and unique. Congratulations on getting it published. I liked your query letter - great job! Thanks again for all the info. I will be looking into this.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Suzette. I am proud of my novel, and now that I have done one I know I can do another, and that it will be easier. Good luck to you my friend.

    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 3 years ago from San Diego California

      Awesome advice. I am about to test the waters and do this thing that I should have done a long time ago. Thanks for sharing with the community here. Great article.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Mel, best of luck to you. Don't get discouraged; it is a numbers game and rejection is part of that game. Thanks my friend.

    • tsmog profile image

      Tim Mitchell 2 years ago from Escondido, CA

      Great article. I am learning more now with this and your most recent combining becoming powerful information. This along with today's "Is My Query Letter Good Enough? You Be the Judge!" offers diversity of perspective. Nice! Seems Bill you have caused me to embark on a journey regarding the Query letter. Now all I need is a story to become a book. :-)

      tim

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thanks, Tim...good luck with that story. That is, for sure, the first step in the process.

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