5 Elements of Query Letters

Author:
Publish date:
Image placeholder title

Earlier this year, I taught an online class where I offered "extreme makeovers" on query letters. To help ensure everyone took away some concrete advice, every attendee was invited to submit a 1-page query for review.

It was a successful workshop, so we're repeating it again this Thursday. In preparation for the workshop, I take the query letters that are submitted and categorize their basic elements into "good", "OK", and "needs revamped." The five elements I look at are:

  • Personalization. What effort has the writer made to ensure this letter has been customized for a particular editor, agent, or publishing house?
  • Hook. How effective is the hook? Is it too long? Is it clear? Does it cover everything an editor/agent needs to know to say, "Yes, I've got to see more!"
  • Bio. For nonfiction, people often slip up and don't emphasize the right aspects of platform or credentials. For fiction, it can be difficult to know what to mention, if anything, when you're unpublished. So I always give examples showing the best-case scenario, as well as examples when you rely on your hook and overall charm or professionalism to carry you to the finish line.
  • Basic info. Have you included the necessary information about title, genre, word count?
  • Opening/closing. There are lots of red flags and stumbles that can make it onto the page. Some aren't deal breakers, others are. I show examples of both.

I speak at conferences frequently about query letters, but seeing real examples of what's working and not working can be the best way to learn how to fix your own. Go here for the link to register ($99); after the event has concluded, you'll have access to the recording for a year. Plus I'll share a recap of the event on this blog, offering some takeaways for everyone.

In the meantime, here are some excellent query resources.

Essential Blogs

Great Posts From the Guide to Literary Agents blog

Want to know more about upcoming online events? Click here for more.

Poetic Forms

Rannaigecht Mor Gairit: Poetic Forms

Poetic Form Fridays are made to share various poetic forms. This week, we look at the rannaigecht mor gairit, a variant form of the rannaigecht.

Weinstein_1:21

The Writer, The Inner Critic, & The Slacker

Author and writing professor Alexander Weinstein explains the three parts of a writer's psyche, how they can work against the writer, and how to utilize them for success.

Stottlemyre_1:21

Todd Stottlemyre: On Mixing and Bending Genres

Author Todd Stottlemyre explains how he combined fiction and nonfiction in his latest book and what it meant as a writer to share his personal experiences.

plot_twist_story_prompts_take_a_trip_robert_lee_brewer

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Take a Trip

Every good story needs a nice (or not so nice) turn or two to keep it interesting. This week, have a character take a trip somewhere.

Probst_1:20

Making the Switch from Romance to Women’s Fiction

In this article, author Jennifer Probst explains the differences between romance and women's fiction, the importance of both, and how you can make the genre switch.

Wrobel_1:20

Stephanie Wrobel: On Writing an Unusual Hero

Author Stephanie Wrobel explains how she came to write about mental illness and how it affects familial relationships, as well as getting inside the head of an unusual character.

who_are_the_inaugural_poets_for_united_states_presidents_robert_lee_brewer

Who Are the Inaugural Poets for United States Presidents?

Here is a list of the inaugural poets for United States Presidential Inauguration Days from Robert Frost to Amanda Gorman. This post also touches on who an inaugural poet is and which presidents have had them at their inaugurations.

precedent_vs_president_grammar_rules_robert_lee_brewer

Precedent vs. President (Grammar Rules)

Learn when to use precedent vs. president with Grammar Rules from the Writer's Digest editors, including a few examples of correct usages.

Poetry Prompt

Wednesday Poetry Prompts: 554

Every Wednesday, Robert Lee Brewer shares a prompt and an example poem to get things started on the Poetic Asides blog. This week, write a future poem.