Whether trying to hook a literary agent or editor at a book publishing company, writers need to master the art of writing effective query letters. The reason queries carry so much weight is simple: Time—and the fact that most agents and editors don't have much of it.
The mission of your query letter is to convince an editor or agent that they want to invest time in you and your writing project. In that sense, a query letter is the first impression you make in what will hopefully blossom into a much longer professional relationship. No pressure.
In this post, I've attempted to share tips on what needs to go into a query letter and provide links to several queries (across several writing genres) that were successful.
What Goes in a Query Letter
For all the blood, sweat, and tears that go into query letters, it's actually a pretty straightforward document that consists of an opening pitch (or hook), more (but not all) info on the project, and a little about you as the author. The order of these elements can differ, but I'm going to share the most common structure.
The Pitch: The pitch (or hook) is a concise statement that sums up the essential nature of your book. This concise statement is usually achieved in one or two sentences, and it gives your audience a sense of what the book is about and why they should get excited about it.
More Info: After a compelling pitch, many successful queries offer up a paragraph or three of evidence that supports that your book project is worthwhile, has an audience, and is worth their time. If your pitch doesn't already include it, then this is a good place to include your book's category (or genre) and word count.
About You: This is a concise statement sharing why you're the perfect person to write this book. It could be that you have personal or professional experience that lines up with the subject of your book. It could be that you have good sales in the genre or an incredible author platform from a blog or YouTube channel.
However, avoid stretching the truth to make yourself seem more important. If all you have is an amazing book (and no other credentials), then just say something along the lines of, "This is my debut novel," and leave it at that. If your pitch is on point, your manuscript will get to do the talking when they request more pages.
Ready to send out your query? Get a critique!
Are you done writing and revising your manuscript or nonfiction book proposal? Then you're ready to write a query letter. In order to ensure you make the best impression on literary agents and acquisitions editors, we recommend getting a 2nd Draft Query Letter Critique.
Whether you are an experienced writer looking to improve the elements within your query letter or a new writer looking for pointers on how to write a query letter, our 2nd Draft Query Letter Critique Service provides the advice and feedback you need to improve your query.
Example Successful Queries For Many Writing Genres
Of course, most writers know it's better to show than tell (in most cases). So I've told you about query letters; now, I'm going to show you successful query letters—so you can see how others did it. Just find your category (or genre) below and click on the links to see successful examples.
Contemporary Fiction Query Letters
- Garth Stein's The Art of Racing in the Rain, accepted by Jeff Kleinman of Folio Literary. From Kleinman: "First of all, putting both the words 'Query' and the title of the book on the subject line of an e-mail makes it clear why you’re writing—and it often keeps your e-mail from falling into the spam folder."
Fantasy Query Letters
- Michael J. Martinez's The Daedalus Incident, accepted by Sara Megibow of KT Literary Agency. From Megibow: "This query letter made me laugh with it's quirky personality."
- Angie Fox's The Accidental Demon Slayer, accepted by Jessica Faust of BookEnds, LLC. From Faust: "I think this is probably one of the more perfect query letters I've seen."
Historical Fiction Query Letters
- Richard Harvell's The Bells, accepted by Dan Lazar of Writers House. From Lazar: "As the agent reading this letter, I was instantly drawn to Richard’s novel simply because his letter was bursting with specific and evocative details."
- DeAnna Cameron's The Belly Dancer, accepted by agent Ellen Pepus. From Pepus: "I think this letter works well for a few reasons, most notably the first paragraph. The author immediately grabbed my attention with the first line."
Literary Fiction Query Letters
- Anna Quinn's The Night Child, accepted by agent Gordon Warnock. From Warnock: "Giving me the genre early, especially when it matches the referral, gives me plenty of context and a strong feeling of what I’m about to read."
- Kathryn Craft's The Art of Falling, accepted by agent Katie Shea Boutillier. From Boutillier: "This is an awesome first sentence. It connects me to the main character immediately. By the second sentence I'm hooked."
- Sean Ferrell's Numb, accepted by agent Janet Reid. From Reid: "This is the very definition of a good hook."
- Justin Kramon's Finny, accepted by Ayesha Pande of Collins Literary. From Pande: "The letter is personable, well written, and makes mention of a past meeting or personal connection—something that is much more likely to evoke a response."
Middle Grade Novel Query Letters
- Rebecca Petruck's Steering Toward Normal, accepted by Kate Testerman of KT Literary. From Testerman: "Rebecca got off to a great start by referencing a conference where I'd spoken, and her query showed she'd taken my advice to heart."
- Karen Harrington's Sure Signs of Crazy, accepted by Julia Kenny of Dunow, Carlson and Lerner Literary. From Kenny: "Karen's query letter was concise, included some strong comp titles, and her 'elevator pitch' was spot on."
- Jennifer Trafton's The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic, accepted by Steven Malk. From Malk: "This was one of the more unusual query letters that I've received and it really worked."
- Eli Stutz's Pickle Impossible, accepted by agent Elana Roth. From Roth: "Those of you who wanted 250 words just to pitch your book, take heed! Shorter is better."
Mystery Query Letters
- Kristi Belcamino's Blessed Are Those Who Mourn, accepted by Stacey Glick of Dystel & Goderich Literary Management. From Glick: "Then there's the great first line about the book and her protagonist. Draws the reader right in."
- Libby Cudmore's The Big Rewind, accepted by agent Jim McCarthy. From McCarthy: "When people ask me what 'high concept fiction' is, I should just read them the opening sentence of this query. A mix tape as a clue to a murder? Sounds fresh. Definitely intriguing."
- Robert K. Lewis' Untold Damage, accepted by Barbara Poelle of Irene Goodman Literary. From Poelle: "I am a big fan of ugly secrets. I knew I had to read the book."
- Rochelle Staab's Hollywood Hoodoo, accepted by agent Christine Witthohn. From Witthohn: "What I particularly liked about this query was this: the writer gave me the genre, word count, and the hook in the first two sentences."
Nonfiction Book Query Letters
- Moses Gates' Hidden Cities (memoir/travel), accepted by Alyssa Reuben of Paradigm Literary. From Reuben: "To me, it read like fantastic back cover copy."
- Phil Edwards and Matt Kraft's Dumbemployed (humor), accepted by agent Roseanne Wells. From Wells: "Granted this query is not perfect, but I liked it immediately because it was funny and a relatable concept, and the query letter inspired the very accurate pitch line as 'FML meets The Office.'"
- Suzanne Hansen's You'll Never Nanny in This Town Again (memoir), accepted by agent Sharlene Martin. From Martin: "The instant appeal of a nanny who worked for a major Hollywood player is obvious."
- Doreen Orion's Queen of the Road (memoir), accepted by agent Mollie Glick. From Glick: "It did a great job conveying both the subject matter and tone of the book."
- Mark Di Vincenzo's Buy Ketchup in May and Fly at Noon (reference), accepted by agent Michelle Wolfson. From Wolfson: "This query caught my attention and I requested it less than 3 hours after I received it."
- Michael M. Greenburg's Peaches & Daddy (narrative nonfiction), accepted by agent Greg Daniel. From Daniel: "By the end of the first paragraph of Michael's letter, I was hooked and knew I wanted to read this narrative history."
Romance Query Letters
- Megan Mulry's A Royal Pain, accepted by Allison Hunter of Stuart Krichevsky Literary. From Hunter: "I volunteered to be the first agency read on the manuscript, because once I read the query, I was completely hooked!"
- Tiffany Reisz's The Siren, accepted by Sara Megibow of Nelson Literary. From Megibow: "I know it sounds trite to writers who are knocking down the slush pile door, but superior writing really does trump all."
- Courtney Milan's Proof by Seduction, accepted by agent Kristin Nelson. From Nelson: "I requested the full manuscript right then and there."
Science Fiction Query Letters
- Stefanie Gaither’s Falls the Shadow, accepted by agent Sara Megibow. From Megibow: "I've been reading slush pile queries for 8 years and can honestly say this is one of the strongest queries I've ever read. I get an immediate sense of the world, the stakes, the characters and the conflict."
- Mindy McGinnis’ Not a Drop to Drink, accepted by agent Adriann Ranta. From Ranta: "I love the punchy first line, the spare prose, and gradual introduction to all the book's main players."
- Nick James’ Skyship Academy: The Pearl Wars, accepted by agent Jen Rofe. From Rofe: "Sci-fi has never been my 'thing.' … Then I received a query for Skyship Academy: The Pearl Wars by Nick James."
Women's Fiction Query Letters
- Meg Mitchell Moore's The Arrivals, accepted by agent Elisabeth Weed. From Weed: "I am a sucker for domestic novels and the more honest, the better."
- Kristina McMorris' Letters From Home, accepted by agent Jennifer Schober. From Schober: "Kristina's pitch was all about selling me the story, and it worked. She kept it short, dynamic, and focused on the emotional conflict that was central to the book."
- Eleanor Brown's The Weird Sisters, accepted by Elizabeth Winick Rubinstein of McIntosh & Otis. From Rubinstein: "From the very start, Eleanor’s letter had all the sure signs of a great read."
- Alicia Bessette's Simply From Scratch, accepted by agent Laney Katz Becker. From Becker: "After reading the pitch, I’m loving this because it all sounds so fresh."
Young Adult Novel Query Letters
- Gia Cribbs’ The Disappearance of Sloane Sullivan, accepted by Steven Salpeter of Curtis Brown, Ltd. From Salpeter: "When you sit down to write your query, you first want to think about what kind of book you have written."
- Karen Fortunati’s The Weight of Zero, accepted by Sara Megibow of KT Literary. From Megibow: "This query caught my attention right away because of the unique way Karen portrays conflict."
- Makiia Lucier’s A Death-Struck Year, accepted by Suzie Townsend of New Leaf Literary. From Townsend: "For me to take on a historical project it would have to be something with amazing characters and really great plot and outstanding writing. Then I got this query."
- Jennieke Cohen's Dangerous Alliance, accepted by agent Jennifer Unter. From Unter: "The initial paragraph of this query immediately caught my attention because the author clearly did her homework and was not only aware of my clients, but also knew what kind of projects I look for."
- Livia Blackburne's Midnight Thief, accepted by agent Jim McCarthy. From McCarthy: "She starts by doing two things that I love: indicating that she chose to query me specifically for a reason that makes sense and then giving comp titles that make sense and are presented in a way that doesn't feel braggy."
- Tera Lynn Childs' Oh. My. Gods., accepted by agent Jenny Bent. From Bent: "I really think this letter is about as perfect as a query letter can get."
Pro Tip: Check out all the successful query samples, whether they're in your genre or not, because they show there are so many different ways to hook an agent with a great query. And your query could be the next great success story.
Writing strong first pages requires a great hook, a strong voice, and a clear premise. The first sentence should immediately catch the reader’s attention, while the subsequent text should leave the reader wanting to dive further into the pages of the manuscript. But making the first pages of your story absolutely un-putdownable takes practice, patience, revision, and an eye for detail. Which is why we’re here: to discuss what to do (and not to do) to make your opening pages stand out.