The Writer's Life: The Query Letter, Bane of My Life

Today is a momentous day, hopefully. Today I began the task of sending out query letters to prospective literary agents. Agents, for the most part, require a document called a query letter, as a form of introduction to your book. There are books and websites devoted to the process of crafting the perfect query letter and gaining representation by an agent who will then sell your book to a publishing house and you'll both get stinking rich and--oh wait, I'm getting ahead of myself. First you must write the perfect letter. 

So what is a perfect letter? It should be short and sweet and have a mean hook that will snag the unwary agent and reel 'em in. But what does that mean? There are plenty of websites with articles to give you advice. Here are some I've read:

Jane Friedman offers good straight up advice and of course encourages you to buy her book. Jane says your entire query letter should be no more that 200-400 words.

Writers Digest also offers a web page full of solid advice. You can also pay them to help edit your letter.

There are also websites devoted to helping you write the letter, and by help I mean they will critique (shred) your letter. Two that I used were:

Query Connection - These people were polite and gave helpful advice, did I mention they were very polite.

Query Shark - Query shark's blog is a fantastic trove of information and advice on writing your letter. The shark doesn't take too many new requests these days, but it's extremely helpful to read. If fact, you really shouldn't send your letter until you've read her blog, top to bottom. Query shark is actually Janet Reid a literary agent. She also has a second blog which you can see here.

Query Tracker Community is part of the Query Tracker website, an excellent resource for finding agents and their information. Maybe not as polite as the good folks at Query Connection, these peeps will give you their honest opinion of your letter.

I did not solicit a review with Query Shark but I used both Query Connection and the Query Tracker Forum. They were both great but the biggest issue I had was that these letters are subjective. What one person loved another hated. I make a change only to have the change shot down by another person. And since none of these helpers had ever set eyes on my manuscript they knew nothing about the book so many suggested changes were wildly inappropriate for my actual book. 

Earlier I mentioned that Janet Friedman says a letter should be 200-400 words. That's not a lot, folks, probably  more words on the back on my shampoo bottle. Here's a good article by Nathan Bransford on the perfect length based on his work as an agent. For the record he says the sweet spot is 250-350.

My query letter clocks in at 336 words! Whether it's any good remains to be seen. So, its early days, and I have a long road ahead which may well end back at self-publishing. But, hey, what to I have to lose? So, if there are any agents out there looking for the perfect book to make a mint, hit me up, I got one for you.


  1. thanks for the links. they are fabulous! i could listen to The Query Shark all day! and good luck with your query letters.


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