Post: The 4 primary elements of a good query letter

query letter

If you’re trying to get a publisher to accept your manuscript, then you’re a salesperson, as well as a writer. Think of the door-to-door salesmen of the past. They had products to push and a well-rehearsed spiel to help them get the job done. As a writer, your “spiel” is your query letter—the letter you send to a publisher, requesting that your manuscript garner a review. 

Because you are essentially “selling” your book to the publisher, your query letter must contain great sales pitch. There are several primary elements that all quality query letters have in common. While there are no steadfast rules about it, if you’re hoping to attract the publisher’s attention, you won’t want to omit any of these elements. 

You must provide basic information about your book in a query letter

As soon as a publisher begins reading your query letter, it should become clear what type of book you’ve have written. What genre is it? How many words does it have? Is it geared toward a specific audience? And, of course, what is its title (even if it’s a working title at that point). Make sure that the information you provide aligns with your story. Choosing a genre, for instance, can be trickier than you think because some stories fit into more than one category. 

You’ve got the bait on the hook, now cast the line

In addition to stats about your story, your query letter must also contain a hook (i.e., your sales pitch). When you run a Google search and the results page comes up, you find a list of links, right? But what is underneath each one? In tech-speak, the lines underneath the title on the search results page are called a “meta description.” In laymen’s terms, however, these lines are “the hook.” Copywriters who write meta descriptions for a living know how to phrase those couple of lines so that readers will want to click the link and read the rest of the post. 

That’s what you must do in a query letter. You must include a “hook,” which is basically an overview of your story, presented in such a way that the publisher will want to read your manuscript. 

Don’t forget to provide a bit of personal background

Another primary goal of a query letter is to introduce yourself to publishers. It’s a form of networking. Avoid going overboard (the publisher doesn’t need to know your entire life story). Simply provide basic info about who you are, and, perhaps, a little bit about your writing experience. If you have had books published in the past, be sure to mention them in your query letter. 

Give the gist of your story

Introduce the publisher to your main characters. Tell what the driving force of the story is. Is there a crisis? Will a reader be left with a cliffhanger at the end? Add a few comments about era, setting, etc., so that images begin to unfold in the publisher’s mind. This section of the query letter is like the hook, except the hook is more of a brief highlight…that attracts attention and shares a snippet. The gist section provides the finer details. It’s helpful to ask a few people to read your query letter before sending it to publishers. Tell them to read it as though they themselves were a publisher. Ask them for feedback, and keep revising it, until you’re satisfied with the resul