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.
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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.

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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.

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