You’ve got a great idea for a nonfiction book. You’ve written a killer book proposal. Now you need a fabulous query letter to grab an agent or a publisher so they ask you to send your proposal for review.
To write a killer query, you need a one-page letter with three basic sections or paragraphs. Thus, tackle writing your query letter in three steps.
Step 1: Write a lead or hook.
Much like the first paragraph in a magazine or newspaper article or even the first page in a book, you need to compose an introduction that grabs the reader–a literary agent or acquisitions editor at a publishing house. This first paragraph–or even the first sentence or two–must hook the reader and make them want to read on. I suggest you include the most compelling idea, attractive benefit or emotionally charged solution you will provide in your book. You might be able to do this simply by using the first paragraph of your book, if you have accomplished this same feat in the manuscript. You might also tie the topic of your book into a statistic that proves the market for your book.
Step 2. Pitch your book.
In this paragraph of your query letter, write a pitch for your book. This should be 25 words or less that describe the essence of your book. (You don’t have to count the title of your book in the word count, and you may find the subtitle actually may work well as a description.) Try to fit in the benefits of your book, if applicable. If possible, include the special features your book will offer, if any. Michael Larsen, agent and author of How to Get an Agent, says this first description of your book actually should be just 15 words and considered the selling handle for the book–something that convinces booksellers to stock it. Consider including one or two books, movies or authors you feel are similar. Include your book’s largest market, as well as the book’s actual or estimated length. You can also mention if someone has agreed to write the foreword, if you have cover quotes, the titles to additional books (if this is one in a series), and information on a self-published version (if you have sold enough copies to make the numbers attractive to a publisher).
Step 3. Explain why you are the best person to write this book.
Paragraph three contains a short bio explaining why you are the perfect author for this particular book. Include information on your education, expert status, your credentials, experience in your field, etc. Also, briefly describe the what you are doing are have done to create an author’s platform, and include numbers if they’re impressive. You can add links to pertinent sites and information online.
These three paragraphs make up the foundation of a query. Traditionally, a query should be one page in length; however, I’ve also heard good reviews for longer queries that offer more information.
You can include anything else in your query that will convince agents to ask to see your proposal. For example:
- If you are approaching an agent with your query, sometimes your letter may include a brief paragraph prior to the actual lead that mentions why you are contacting this specific agent or the name of someone who suggested you contact the agent. You can also mention an author who acknowledged the agent in a book, where you heard the agent speak or a conference where you might be able to meet the agent in the future. (You also can do this in the last paragraph of the query letter.) If you met the agent at a pitch session and were told to submit a query, be sure to mention that fact right up front.
- You can include a brief, even bulleted list, of the top things you will do to promote your book online and off. You can do this as part of your third paragrapgh or following it.
- I like to add a concluding paragraph in which I thank the agent for his or her time and say my proposal is available upon request. If you like, you can mention the proposal’s length and how many pages of manuscript currently are completed.
Of course, be sure you edit and proofread your query letter. Choose your agents and publishers carefully. Only send simultaneous submissions to those who allow it, and consider whether or not this practice is one you want to pursue. You will spend less time waiting to send your query to the next agent by utilizing simultaneous submissions, but if you send out one query letter at a time you allow yourself to get valuable feedback you can then implement. It could be your query letter needs tweaking to actually land an agent.