Skip to main content

Kelly's Picks: Guide to Query Letters

The path to publication begins with a query letter. Be sure you get it right. by Kelly Nickell

Kelly's thoughts on The Writer’s Digest Guide to Query Letters:

Image placeholder title

There was one book I found myself recommending over and over again during the one-on-one writer critiques at the recent Writer’s Digest Conference: The Writer’s Digest Guide to Query Letters by Wendy Burt-Thomas.

Query letters—those one-page pitch letters—are so simple they’re complicated. As Wendy notes early in her book:

A query letter is an opportunity to use your brilliance to not only impress an editor (or agent) with your idea, but also demonstrate your ability to follow the specific submission guidelines the publisher or agency gives. … In a nutshell, your query is your sales pitch. You’re selling your writing before the editor has even read your manuscript.

Most writers seem to trip up when attempting to summarize their projects. They either (1) run long, giving too much detail on the most mundane aspects of their stories (like the name of the family dog), or (2) skip the hook altogether, revealing virtually nothing about the project they’re pitching.

When it comes to summarizing a project’s hook within the confined space of a one-page query, Wendy advises checking out the back cover copy of competing titles. How are those books being sold? What reader benefits are being called out on the back of that similarly focused self-help book? What plot points are being emphasized on the back of that romance novel? What makes you want to buy one book over another?

Regardless of whether you’re pitching fiction or nonfiction, it’s crucial that you know how to succinctly convey what your book is about and how to properly introduce yourself as a qualified and capable writer. In Chapter 3: Nonfiction Book Queries, Wendy suggests the following query letter structure to ensure you hit all the key points:

  1. The opening hook (one paragraph)
  2. The supporting details (two or three paragraphs)
  3. Your qualifications (one paragraph)
  4. The summary (one paragraph)
  5. The thank-you and request to send the proposal (one paragraph)

Click here to read more from Chapter 3, and find out exactly what goes into each one points listed above.

For more query letter guidance from Wendy, you can visit her website or blog, or you can follow her on Twitter.

Buy Now:
The Writer’s Digest Guide to Query Letters
The Writer’s Digest Guide to Query Letters (Digital Download)

Writer's Digest Best Everything Agent Websites for Writers 2022

Writer's Digest Best Everything Agent Websites for Writers 2022

Here are the top websites by and about agents as identified in the 24th Annual 101 Best Websites from the May/June 2022 issue of Writer's Digest.

Ashley Poston: On Love, Death, and Books

Ashley Poston: On Love, Death, and Books

Author Ashley Poston discusses how she combined her love of ghost stories, romance, and books into her new romance novel, The Dead Romantics.

Choosing Which Movements To Put in Your Fight Scene (FightWrite™)

Choosing Which Movements To Put in Your Fight Scene (FightWrite™)

Trained fighter and author Carla Hoch discusses how much of a fight's details to actually put into a story, and how even with fight scenes sometimes less is more.

5 Research Tips for Writing Historical Fiction, by Piper Huguley

5 Research Tips for Writing Historical Fiction

Author Piper Huguley shares her five research tips for writing historical fiction that readers love and writers love as well.

Announcing 40 More Plot Twist Prompts for Writers!

Announcing 40 More Plot Twist Prompts for Writers!

Learn more about 40 Plot Twist Prompts for Writers, Volume 2: ALL NEW Writing Ideas for Taking Your Stories in New Directions, by Writer's Digest Senior Editor Robert Lee Brewer. Discover fun and interesting ways to move your stories from beginning to end.

Interviewing Tips | Tyler Moss

Interviewing 101: Tips for Writers

Interviewing sources for quotes or research will be part of any writer's job. Here are tips to make the process as smooth and productive as possible.

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Eliminate Threat

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Eliminate Threat

Every good story needs a nice (or not so nice) turn or two to keep it interesting. This week, have a character work to eliminate a threat.

4 Tips for Writing Gothic Horror

4 Tips for Writing Gothic Horror

Gothic horror and its many subgenres continues to increase in popularity. Here, author Ava Reid shares 4 tips on writing gothic horror.

Lucy Clarke: On the Power of Creativity

Lucy Clarke: On the Power of Creativity

Novelist Lucy Clarke discusses how a marathon of writing led to a first draft in just 17 days for her new psychological thriller, One of the Girls.