5 Steps to Nailing Your Query Letter, from Literary Agent Britt Siess

Literary agent Britt Siess shares a few tips that can make the process of writing a great query letter a bit less scary and more productive.
Author:
Publish date:

by Britt Siess, Martin Literary & Media Management

Querying can be rough. In fact, I know it’s rough. I read dozens of queries every day and the nervousness, hope, excitement and especially fear is all evident. If you’re an aspiring author, you’ve put your heart and soul into a piece of art. Sending that art out into the world to be critiqued, and hopefully accepted, by an agent is scary stuff. Here are a few tips that can make the process of writing a great query letter a bit less scary and more productive.

Image placeholder title

1. TITLE, GENRE, WORD COUNT

Right off the bat, agents want to know what you’ve titled your project, what genre it is (Adult fantasy? MG mystery? YA SF?) and exactly how long it is. Don’t make them do any guesswork. Then they can focus on reading your actual pitch, and not trying to figure out what genre your story is.

2. PITCH

Your pitch, what your story is actually about, should be short. A few sentences or a paragraph that describes the main conflict in the novel and tells us who the major players are. I see queries that go on for 10+ paragraphs. Don’t do this! Keep is short and to the point.

3. COMP TITLES

Comparative titles are used to show agents/editors/publishers who the audience of a book is. This can be tricky for someone who isn’t an industry expert, so if you don’t know how to pick a good comp title or are unsure if you’ve chosen an appropriate comp title, don’t include one in your query letter. I get more queries on a daily basis from authors comparing their works to Harry Potter or Game of Thrones than I can count. In general, don’t compare your book to an incredibly successful novel or series. It’s usually not realistic!

 Guide to Literary Agents 2019

Guide to Literary Agents 2019

If you do decide to list a few comp titles, make sure that they’re both relevant and recent. A book that’s more than five years old is probably too old for the market now.

Learn how to submit to Britt and what she's seeking!

4. BIOGRAPHY

This is very important for me in particular, and I know it’s important to a lot of agents. If an agent is interested, they’re wondering, “Who is this person, and what makes them qualified to write this title?” Do you have a degree in English? An MFA? Do you work in the same field as your main character? Are you published? If so, list your books, who published them, and when. If you’re writing about another culture or your story is based on another culture’s mythology or folklore, what makes you qualified to write on that subject? Agents want to know your biography as it pertains to the story you’ve queried. You don’t have to send them your life story, just your qualifications.

5. FORMATTING

This last one is simple. Make sure that all your text in your query letter is the same size and font! You might have had to cut and paste a few things into the body of your email to save time, we get it. But it only takes a second to make sure everything is the same size and text. It looks more professional and shows us that you care.

Britt Siess has a strong background in publishing. She has interned with the Taryn Fagerness Agency, Wales Literary Agency, and Martin Literary & Media Management. She joined Martin Literary & Media Management in July 2018 as an Associate Literary Manager. Prior to becoming an agent, she worked in the sales division of The Quarto Group where she worked in domestic and foreign book sales. Britt has a BA in English Literature and Cinema and Media Studies from the University of Washington.

Image placeholder title

Check out these upcoming live webinars:

John B. Thompson | Book Wars

John B. Thompson: On Researching Changes in the Book Publishing Industry

John B. Thompson, author of the new book Book Wars, shares the research that went into his account of how the digital revolution changed publishing for readers and writers.

From Script

Supporting AAPI Storytellers and Tapping into Mythical World Building (From Script)

In this week’s round-up from ScriptMag.com, meet South-East-Asian-American filmmakers and screenwriters, plus interviews with screenwriter Emma Needell and comic book writer/artist Matt Kindt, TV medical advisor Dr. Oren Gottfried, and more!

What Is a Personal Essay in Writing?

What Is a Personal Essay in Writing?

In this post, we look at what a personal essay (also known as the narrative essay) is, including what makes it different from other types of fiction and nonfiction writing, examples of effective personal essays, and more.

FightWrite™: How Do People Who Don’t Know How to Fight, Fight?

FightWrite™: How Do People Who Don’t Know How to Fight, Fight?

If your character isn't a trained fighter but the scene calls for a fight, how can you make the scene realistic? Author and trained fighter Carla Hoch has the answers for writers here.

April PAD Challenge

30 Poetry Prompts for the 2021 April PAD Challenge

Find all 30 poetry prompts for the 2021 April Poem-A-Day Challenge in this post.

The Problem of Solving a Mystery When You're the Prime Suspect

The Problem of Solving a Mystery When You're the Prime Suspect

Mia P. Manansala, author of Arsenic & Adobo, explains how writers can help their main character solve a mystery when they're the prime suspect.

Mistakes Writers Make: Not Using Your Spare 15 Minutes

Mistakes Writers Make: Not Using Your Spare 15 Minutes

The Writer's Digest team has witnessed many writing mistakes over the years, so we started this series to help identify them for other writers (along with correction strategies). This week's writing mistake writers make is not using your spare 15 minutes.

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Unexpected Visitor

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Unexpected Visitor

Every good story needs a nice (or not so nice) turn or two to keep it interesting. This week, invite an unexpected visitor into your story.

7 Tips for Writing a Near Future Dystopian Novel

7 Tips for Writing a Near-Future Dystopian Novel

In this article, debut author Christina Sweeney-Baird explains how writers can expertly craft a near-future dystopian novel.