It’s been said that every writer has a novel in them that can change the world. Just because you’ve written a novel, however, doesn’t mean that you’re guaranteed to have a publisher or an agent want to represent it. Self-publishing options are more widespread than ever before today so you can get it published, but approaching literary agents or publishers with your work can be a way to open more doors than publishing your own stuff can open.
To make that approach, the first thing you’ll need to do is finish your novel. Although there are some exceptions, most agents and publishers will want to see your finished product with your query letter. Make sure it is your final draft and not your first draft. It should be all ready to go for a pitch. If not, polish it up so that it’s ready to go.
Once that step is done, you’re ready to get down to the business of writing a query letter for a novel. The process is similar for agents and publishers, so the formatting can apply to either scenario you plan to implement.
#1. Address your letter to the specific person you want to read your novel. You’ll find the instructions are very thorough on the websites of most literary agents and publishers. Find the person who is in charge of making a decision about your novel and write your query letter to them. These queries are taken very seriously and a poorly written or addressed letter can cause your novel to be rejected without being read.
#2. Put the hook of your story into the first paragraph of your cover letter. What is a hook? It’s a very precise one-sentence summary of what your novel is about. The goal is to create interest for the agent or the publisher to want more of what you’ve got to offer. Now this sentence doesn’t have to be short to be precise, but you will want to keep it to 75 words or less. Otherwise it might get so long that the reader of your query letter loses interest in it.
#3. Follow up with your synopsis. Now that you’ve put in the hook, the second paragraph of your query letter is an expanded summary of what your book is about. Think of this as your 30 second elevator pitch to sell someone on the idea of reading your book. Or maybe think about what you’d write to put on the back cover of your book if you were going to self-publish it. Give this second paragraph time to percolate. Putting 120,000 words into 150 words isn’t for the faint of heart.
#4. Now you’re ready for your own bio. This is where you tell the agent or publisher a little bit about yourself. It’s really okay to brag here, but don’t overdo it. If you won a writing contest in third grade and you’re 47, that’s a great story to tell your kids – not your agent or publisher. Talk about who you are as a writer. What you do to make a living if writing isn’t a full-time gig. Have you won any writing awards? Worked for prestigious publications? Include that. If you love cats, are allergic to peanuts, and have a wart in an unusual place – don’t add that.
So the trick is this: be humble, be modest, but don’t be too humble or modest. Humblebrag.
#5. You’re now ready to close your query letter. Now you’re ready for the final paragraph of your query letter. This is the place where you’re going to thank the person who is reading your letter for their time and their consideration. You’re also going to mention that you’ve attached everything that you were instructed to attach because this shows you know how to follow instructions – that’s a good thing. If your agent or publisher wants a sample chapter, then send that while letting them know that they can read the whole manuscript upon request.
You won’t likely get published or represented until someone reads your entire novel and likes it. If that isn’t available when requested, your perfect query letter is going to find its way to a recycling bin.
It’s okay to have a query letter that isn’t 100% perfect. Maybe you ramble on about yourself for an extra sentence or two. Or maybe your synopsis is 200 words instead of 150 words. You might have a hook which is two short sentences instead of one long sentence. It happens. What is going to be judged is the quality of your letter and the quality of your novel. If your grammar is great, spelling is spot-on, and your characters and plot are well-developed, then you’ve got a shot at being published.
That’s really all there is to writing a query letter for a novel. What are you waiting for? If your novel is done, then get this letter written today so you can see if your work can get published.