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Writing a Query Letter

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February 2011
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You have written your manuscript for your novel or short story collection. You have also edited and revised and proofread your work. Now you want to see if you can publish it. What is the next step? You need to write a query letter to a prospective agent/editor, one that makes a strong first impression. Here is how to write a query letter for a fiction manuscript:

Choose an Editor or Agent

The best way to get your book published is by using an agent. Most large publishing houses only accept manuscripts from an agent. So, the first step you need to complete is to select several agents or editors. You can conduct a Google search. You can also visit the Poetry & Writer’s website at to find a list of literary agents. Next, make a list of agents and editors you want to contact Then read the submission guidelines for each agent and editor. You will often be able to determine the types of writers the agent/editors have represented and the works they have helped publish by visiting the website of the agent or editor.

Writing the Query Letter

Your goals are to write a query letter that captures the attention of the editor or agent and is only a single page long. Your query letter requires the following elements:

  1. Opening
  2. Body
  3. Ending

In the opening, identify the name of the editor or agent you are writing to. Example: Dear Mr. Smith. As well, tell the contact person that you are seeking someone to represent you and your manuscript. And give a reason why you have selected the particular person to represent you. For instance, you might state “ I notice that you have represented writers of short story collections.”

In the body, you are going to write about your novel. Start with a hook that captures the reader’s attention. A good way to write a hook is to tell the agent/editor what makes your story unique and interesting. As well, tell the agent or editor why people will want to read your fictional story.

After you write the hook, write a synopsis of your novel or short story collection. You can briefly identify the central character or protagonist. Also, include the main plot, central conflict, turning point, and resolution of the story. Your goal is to outline the story in the form of a narrative arc.

At end, list your qualifications and credentials, such as published work, teaching experience, and education. As well, you can include elements of your writer’s platform. Your goal is to convince the agent or editor that you are qualified and a subject matter expert in writing and what you are writing about.

Be sure to tell the agent/editor what you have included for him/her to read. (Example: I have included the first short story in my collection. I would be glad to send you the other short stories in my collection. If interested, please let me know. Thank you for your time and consideration…”

After you have written the query letter, reread the submission guidelines and then send your manuscript and query letter to the agent or editor. Remember, your query letter needs an introduction that includes a hook, a body that describes your novel, and ending that identifies your credentials and expertise as a writer.

Your query letter should also be only a single page. By following these suggestions, you will improve your chances of finding an agent or editor who can help you publish your manuscript.

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