“Writing about your writing… is harder than the actual writing.”
True or False? The hardest part of the publishing process is writing your book.
At least from my experience, my answer is a big fat FALSE. Throughout my author and publishing journey, I learned quickly that, “writing about your writing… is harder than the actual writing.”
Enter the dreaded query letter.
If you’re seeking traditional publication, you have to pitch your book to a literary agent – or find an open submission opportunity to pitch a publisher directly. Either way, you’ll need a query letter. A query letter contains five main components: an agent open, a book hook/pitch, a synopsis, an author bio, and a close. Read on for my quick tips on how to draft a query letter that will help your chances of success as you pitch agents and publishers.
Agent Open: The agent open is the first piece of the puzzle – and it’s your opportunity to customize your work to the agent you’re querying. Focus on the authors they currently represent and draw a parallel to your own work. If possible, mention their “wish list” and demonstrate how your book fits their desires. Be sure to include your genre (and sub-genre if applicable), word count, and comp titles too.
Book Hook/Pitch: Your pitch is the most important 1-2 lines in your entire query. Write it. Re-write it. Then throw it away and re-write it again. The book hook is what sells your story in a single breath (equate it to an elevator pitch). If you’re not sure how to do that effectively, start with one of these tried-and-true formulaic approaches:
- Write your story in one intriguing single sentence
- Add a twist (what makes your book unique to all others on the market?)
- Ask an intriguing question that begs an answer
- Mash it up: X meets Y
Synopsis: Your synopsis builds on the foundation you created in your book hook/pitch. The synopsis should be no more than 100 words total. Its entire focus will be on the key elements of your main character’s journey that demonstrates your ability to tell the story succinctly. Follow this formula: Character → Goal → Obstacle → Resolution. If you’re struggling to pare it down, try the 3:2:1 approach. Write the whole thing in detail and then revise it 3 times, cutting the word count down by a third each time. Eliminate repeat concepts and get rid of anything that’s not pivotal to the plot).
Author Bio: This is your opportunity to brag about yourself! Pack a punch and demonstrate that you are a professional author, ready to make the leap into traditional publication. Here are some options to include (only use what’s applicable):
- Include professional writing associations you belong to
- Include any writing degrees or professional writing courses you’ve taken
- List the writing conferences you’ve attended
- List writing awards you’ve received
- Mention any writing groups you belong to (if they’re large and prestigious enough!)
- List professional writing workshops you’ve attended
- Share if you’ve had your manuscript professionally edited
- Share if your manuscript has been read by beta-readers
- If you have bylines or guest blogs, link them
- Mention prior self-published work (only if it sold well)
- Mention any cover quotes/endorsement blurbs from recognized writers
The Close: This part is easy. Thank the agent for their time and opportunity to query. Include your contact information, a link to your website, and any relevant social media handles.
And that’s your query letter! In sum, your work should be no more than 300 words. It’s a difficult letter to draft (no question there!). The best advice I have is to detach yourself from your book – and your story. The sole purpose of a query letter is to demonstrate that your book is a sellable product with a readymade audience of readers. And if you can do that… you’re well on your way to traditional publishing success.