I don’t know anyone who personally believes they can write a “perfect” query letter. Can you give some guidance, with examples of good vs. bad?



If you’re struggling with crafting the “perfect” query letter, you’re not alone. For many authors this can be a difficult undertaking. A query letter has specific objectives to help you get a literary agent for your book. Like a resume for a job search, the query letter is your chance to get your foot in the door. In order to get the attention of a literary agent, it must be compelling, succinctly describe your book and follow the industry standards for queries. So how do you make yours stand out from the hundreds they receive every day? Let’s start with the basics.

Put First Things First


Personalizing a query letter can be a great way to garner attention, if you can do it in such a way that it can be meaningful. Phony personalization is a turn-off. Professionals (and let’s face it, most of us) can spot a fake sales pitch a mile away. Meaningful personalization can include establishing a common ground. For instance, you might mention having seen them speak at an event, or if you were referred by a mutual colleague or former client. If you’re going to do it - strive for something real.

So what if you have no connection? Use what you do know. Be sure to address them by name (and spell it correctly). You can also discuss how your work aligns with the genre or work that they usually represent.

Introduce Your Work

Understand that your target audience is a working professional with limited time. So get to the point when identifying your work. Introduce title, genre and word count. This signals to agents/publishers that your work is in fact relevant to them. Note: don’t get too hung up on title. Titles can change throughout the process, think of your title as something of a placeholder or temporary moniker for working purposes. When discussing word count, make sure that yours is on par for your genre. Word count can be a red flag for publishing professionals. Too long, and it can signal that your manuscript needs massive editing. Too short, and the story may not be adequately developed.

The most important part of your query letter is the book pitch which summarizes what your story is about.
The Pitch

How do you condense your 400 page manuscript into a single page? Begin by demonstrating that you understand story structure. Introduce your protagonist. Establish that they have a problem and explain the struggle to resolution. Though it may seem difficult, this can be accomplished in just a few sentences.

If all else fails use the “When” formula - “When such and such event happens, your main character – a descriptive adjective, age, professional occupation – must confront further conflict and triumph in his or her own special way.  Oh yeah, it’s formulaic, but it gets results and can serve as the scaffolding of your pitch


This is an opportunity for a little bit of self-promotion. Talk about your RELEVANT professional accomplishments, awards, book club affiliations, etc. If you’re just starting out, don’t fret if you do not yet have major credits to your name (everyone starts somewhere, your time will come!). Writing for a school newspaper, contributing articles or blog posts are also great examples. Remember, you’re trying to establish how you relate to your content. It’s less about who you are as a person, and more about who you are as an author. So talk about yourself in that light. It’s not about length, it’s about RELEVANCE.


Keep it simple. Thank the agent for their time and consideration. If your work is nonfiction, let them know that you’ve included an outline, table of contents and sample chapters for their review. If you’re working with fiction be sure to mention that the full manuscript is available upon request.


As requested, we have examples!  Bestselling author and ALC webinar presenter Derek Taylor Kent has put together some stellar examples of the good vs. the bad. Attached below are just a couple of his examples. Check out his recorded webinar for more handouts, examples and explanations.

5756.Sample Query Letters_Kent_ALC Handout.pdf

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