9 Simple Steps To Write The Perfect Query Letter
By Khwaish Gupta
If you have ever told yourself (or others) that you’re a writer and not a salesperson, I’m afraid that you’ll probably have to take it back. Completing your manuscript is an achievement worth celebrating. But, the step that follows — writing a query letter — decides the fate of your book. This is where the salesperson within you must come alive! Simply put, a query letter is a formal proposal that is sent to potential literary agents and publishing houses. It contains three main components – a summary of the book, its relevance and author bio.
Follow these 9 simple steps to write the perfect query letter and land your next book deal!
1. Check The Length
A query letter is a one page document that includes your pitch- to your work and yourself. Ideally, the whole letter shouldn’t exceed a word count of 300-400 words. You know that your dream literary agent or publishing house gets hundreds of query letters already, which is also why you’re reading this article. You know they don’t have the time, so keep it succinct.
2. Book Summary
A book summary should contain the hook and the description of your story (discussed later). Along with that, some basic information about the book you must include are:
- Subtitle (if any)
- Estimate word count
- Target audience
3. The Hook
Start by describing your book in a succinct manner. Include the hook or USP (Unique Selling Proposition) — the most interesting and unique element that makes your book stand out — in the opening sentence.
4. Comp Titles
An interesting way to be concise and creative while describing your book is to use comparison (comp) titles. Comp titles are books which are similar to yours either in terms of content or sales. This will help the publisher to make a quick decision whether your book is the right fit for them or not. For example, if yours is a romance novel which has a gay interfaith couple in the spotlight, you can try something along the lines of Chetan Bhagat’s ‘2 States’ meets Andre Aciman’s ‘Call Me By Your Name’.
5. Author Bio
Publishers want to know why you are worthy of their investment. List your past publications, experience as a writer and other experience that adds to your book. For example, if you are a fashion designer wanting to publish a book on styling, you can mention your achievements in the fashion sector. You can also be honest about it being your debut at writing a book. Another contemporary criteria that publishers may have is social media presence of the author. If you have a significant following on any of the social media channels, make it a point to mention that.
6. Cover Letter: Email Template
Subject: Query [Title of the Book]
Address the publisher or commissioning editors by their names instead of “To Whomsoever It May Concern”. This shows you’ve dug deeper and made the effort. Start by introducing yourself as the writer of some of the most popular and quality works of yours. Continue by sharing what led you to them- a reference from an author friend, a panel discussion in a literature festival, their past work or something else that clicked. You have to customise the cover letter with each submission to make it personal and specific to each editor. Add a note expressing gratitude to the editor for reading your mail.
7. Rules of Submission
Rules are meant to be broken but not every time! Do your research well. Go through the submission guidelines on the websites of respective publishing houses and see what they are looking for. For example, Rupa Publishers caters to English non-fiction and fiction.
They also ask for a hard copy of the proposal to be delivered to their office. On the other hand, Zubaan Books, has a submission form on their website, listing things they require from you. Each publishing house has a different way of going about submissions. For example, while Penguin asks for the whole manuscript for fiction, Rupa asks just for a detailed synopsis of the same.
8. Contact Details
Make sure to leave your contact details — all possible touch points — personal website, e-mail, social media handles, phone number! This may seem like an elementary advice but include your name in the file of the query letter.
*Proofread. I did that on purpose just to make sure you’re still here. Imagine pitching yourself as a writer and making spelling errors and grammar mistakes — A BIG NO. Leave apart considering your manuscript, your query letter itself won’t get a full read.
If you would like to workshop your query letter and receive peer and instructor feedback on it then Bound’s Editing and Publishing : 2 Week Experiential Course is the place to get started. Learn how to think like an editor and get personalised feedback on your book proposal. Find more details here.
About the author
Khwaish is a mass-media student at St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai. An over-enthusiastic learner, she’s usually interning somewhere. In time away from work, she likes to read the news.