Is My Query Letter Good Enough? You Be the Judge!
If I want to know how to bake the perfect cake, do I go to my local car mechanic for advice?
Of course not!
Nothing against car mechanics, but chances are I could search for months and not find a mechanic capable of making macaroni & cheese let alone a delicious cake.
I jest of course. My uncle Jim, on my mother’s side, could install a transmission with the best of them, and he knew how to make a great tuna casserole, so I know it’s possible.
This is all leading up to a point so bear with me.
If I need advice on writing, it seems to me that the prudent thing to do is ask advice from writers.
So that’s what I’m doing. I’m about to begin the query process with my new novel, “Shadows Kill,” and I want your opinion on my query letter. Since a query letter can make or break a writer, it’s pretty important that I send in a great one.
Let’s take a quick look at the major components of a good query letter, and then I’ll share mine with you and ask for your opinion.
Query Letter Components
There are four main parts to a query letter:
- The introduction
- The pitch
- The biography
Let’s take a look at each part in a quick summary of each.
The introduction is your chance to meet the agent or publisher and establish a rapport with them. Tell them right out of the chute what your letter is all about. Tell them the length of your novel and the genre. Tell them why you have chosen to query them with your book. This personal connection is important, so take the time to read up about the agent and find a link between their needs and your book. If you met them at a workshop, this is the time to mention that fact. If they have represented authors who are similar in style to you, this is the time to mention that fact. When you read my opening paragraph you’ll see how I chose to make this connection with a fictional agent.
The second paragraph of your query is a brief summary of your book. Keep it very brief, one or two paragraphs, but cover the main points. This is a daunting task. You are basically asked to summarize the entire story line of a 100,000 word book in one paragraph, and in so doing you need to make the book sound interesting. In other words, good luck with this task. Spend considerable time with this section as it can make or break your chances of having the agent read your manuscript.
The biography is your chance to toot your own horn, but knowing what to toot is very important.
Unless you are a famous writer, the agent will be more interested in your pitch than who you are. Mention if you have won any writing awards. Mention if you belong to any writer’s organizations and mention your publishing credits. If you’ve been published in magazines then now is the time to mention that fact. How about self-published books? To an agent they are not terribly important. You can mention them but don’t waste much time on it.
And finally give thanks and invite them to read a sample chapter of your book. Do not send that sample chapter unless they ask for it and whatever you do, do not add an attachment with a sample chapter they have not asked for. Just invite them to read more and say goodbye.
And that’s all there is to it! Four or five paragraphs….one page….whittled down to the basics….and the future of your book rests on how well you write this letter.
Now let’s see what I’ve come up with for “Shadows Kill.”
My Query Letter
My 100,000 word novel, Shadows Kill, is a psychologically complex suspense/thriller in the same mode as the James Lee Burke novels, with a touch of the paranormal. I see from your bio that you passionately believe in strong, and yet flawed, characters, and ELI BAKER is as strong, and flawed, as they come.
Baker is a decorated war hero, a philosopher, a former military policeman and investigator who now works as a maintenance man at a Catholic Church in Olympia, Washington. He coaches Little League baseball, works at the local soup kitchen, tosses back beers with his best friend, FATHER JIMMY, and leads a rather quiet and unassuming life. He is also a vigilante. He has killed five men, all degenerate killers and sexual deviates. He is a hunter and he is good at it. When his father, a twenty-year veteran police detective, is killed while serving time for a murder he didn’t commit, Eli loses all faith in the criminal justice system, and decides to clean up society one recidivist at a time.
And then the SHADOW MAN enters his life. The Shadow Man has a personal beef against Baker, and to settle an old score, he is kidnapping, torturing, killing and then displaying in public the women in Eli’s life. He taunts Eli by telling him when the next murder will take place. The clock is constantly ticking, and Eli must race against that clock to discover who the Shadow Man is and what family secret is driving this maniac to torment Eli and kill the women he loves.
Will Eli unravel the secret before he loses everyone he loves?
A former classroom teacher, I am now a freelance writer with more than 2,000 articles and two self-published novels. My articles have appeared in Living Magazine, Our Iowa, and Grit. Shadows Kill is the first in a planned series featuring Eli Baker. The second book in this series, Shadows Over Innocence, is now half-completed.
I believe in strong characters capable of effortlessly carrying a story on their backs, all the while wringing us dry of our emotions. I believe any good agent feels the same. I want you to meet Eli Baker, a man you will either love to hate or hate to love.
Thank you for considering Shadows Kill. I look forward to hearing from you.
William D. Holland
So What Do You Think?
I’m a big boy and I can handle the truth. In fact, I need the truth. Is this query letter interesting enough to entice you to read a sample chapter? If you were an agent, would you be interested?
If not, then tell me why not in the comment section below. You will be doing me a huge favor by doing so.
It would be impossible for me to over-emphasize how important a query letter is if you have dreams of being published by a publishing firm. It is make or break time. The query letter literally is the difference between your book being completely ignored and your book being read by someone in the business who can do you a whole lot of good.
Agents and publishers literally receive hundreds of query letters each month. What makes yours special? If you can’t answer that question then don’t bother to send the letter out.
In advance I thank you for your help.
2015 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)
“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”