How to write a “perfect” query letter?

In this part we talk about how to write the query letter in detail. We have tried to give you information about every part of the query letter and how to write it here.

What does a query letter contain?

A query letter should be structured in the following way:

  1. The name and length and type of manuscript you are sending.
  2. Tell the editor/agent what your story or book is about.
  3. Give your qualifications if any to write the novel, but only if they're relevant.
  4. Thank you note to the editor/agent for her/his time and sign off.

The name and length and type of manuscript you are sending

This is just one or at the most two sentences. It forms the first line of the body of the letter. It is generally in the following format:

BLACK FLOWERS is a completed 57,000 word contemporary romance set in Calcutta. This story is targeted for the _____ line of romances.

Tell the editor/agent what your story is about

The key to writing what your story is about is that you describe the situation. Many writers have real trouble with this and try to include lots of plot.

Do’s and Don’ts

  • Don't write about you how your story ends, only give the setup or situation.
  • Only include the time and place when absolutely necessary for making sense of the story.
  • Don't use character names.

The only one who cares about this kind of detailed information is you, the author. Instead come up with a compelling description such as “rogue cop”, and then add an adjective to describe the character such as “cynical rogue cop”.

Do this for both your hero and heroine who are the only two characters you should be dealing with except perhaps if there are other characters that are extremely important for setting the plot in motion.

Here is an example:


Give your qualifications if any to write the novel, but only if they're relevant:

You have to write a short paragraph about why you are the best person to write this particular book or novel. An editor/agent is interested in ways you might be qualified to write the book, such as the fact that you're a doctor and your tale is set in a hospital.

Skip the details of how you took such and such writing class or belong to umpteen writing groups, or wrote an article for some obscure technical magazine, etc.

Editors and agents also have little interest in hearing where you came up with your idea or how you tried to include lots of conflict. Stay as to the point and professional as possible.

Here is an example if you are writing a romance novel:

Over the years I have completed a few other romance novels, some historical. I've been a member of Romance Writers of America, Southern Louisiana Romance Writers, a number of on-line writer's groups, and of a wonderful critique group where I was fortunate to work with a published author. I'm proud to add that this manuscript was a finalist this year in the Molly writing contest.

Thank you note to the editor/agent for her/his time and sign off:

Writing the thank you note is fairly simple. Like everything else, keep it short and keep it professional.

The term “SASE” is often used in the closing note. SASE means “Self-Addressed Stamped Envelope” A SASE is always provided along with you query letter so that the editor/agent can respond to you easily.

Here is an example of a thank you note:

If you are interested, I will gladly send you either the first three chapters of this story, or the complete manuscript. I have enclosed a SASE for your reply. If you prefer, you can send an e-mail. Thanks very much for your time and consideration.
Your name

Some final things that you must keep in mind

Before you send the query letter make sure that you find out about the agent/editor you are sending the letter to. There are some agents/editors who will accept book of only a certain type or genre. Make sure the person you are sending your query letter to, represents books of your genre.

The above guidelines cover all the basics of writing a query letter.

If you would like to publish your book with an Indian publisher or though an Indian agent, it might be acceptable to send your query letter and your manuscript together.

However, most publishers around the world will not even touch your manuscript if you send it to them out of the blue.

The general practice is that the agent/editor reads your query letter. If he likes it, he asks for the first three or best three chapters of your manuscript. If he likes that, then he finally asks you to send him/her your complete manuscript.

It would be wise, (whether you are in India or abroad) to check up first whether the agent/editor prefers a query letter or the complete manuscript along with the query letter right in the beginning. Never ever just send your manuscript to an agent/publisher. You will surely get rejected.

Please note: In this article, we have talked a lot about how important the query letter is. The query letter is very important. However, please understand that book publishing is also a “business” like everything else. Books are published to be sold!

You may have written a masterpiece, but if the editor or agent feels that your subject matter will appeal to a very small portion of the audience then they may not be interested in your book.

Basically, the agents and editors are also running a business. They also intend to make a whole lot of money after they find a good book to publish.

Don’t loose hope too easily though. Most people have to take a whole lot of trouble and write a “few dozen” query letters before they find a publisher!

In the next section we will talk about who the agents, editors and publishing houses in India are and who should be approached with your query letter and manuscript.

Next - List of book publishing, agents & editor in India >>

<< Previous - Do’s & Don’ts of writing a query letter

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Table Of Contents

  1. How to publish a book? – Introduction
  2. How to approach an agent or editor?
  3. Do’s & Don’ts of writing a “perfect” query letter
  4. How to write a “perfect” query letter?
  5. Book publishing companies, agents & editors in India
  6. What happens after you send the query letter?