How to Write a Query Letter

The query letter is a concise, compelling statement of the overall idea or central purpose of your book, a brief description of your target audience, and the benefit(s) your audience will gain from having read your book. It must convincingly describe why your book is unique or superior to others written on the subject and why you are the one person most qualified to write it.

Query letters enable literary agents to determine four things about you rather quickly:

1. That you have a compelling book concept

2. That you have the platform that will attract a marketable audience

3. That you have the credentials to write the book

4. That you can write, effectively

When to Write a Query Letter

Before you even consider sending out a query letter, you should have a complete book proposal ready to send to the literary agent. Moreover, never write the manuscript for a non-fiction book until you’ve written and pitched the book proposal. And never send a book proposal to an agent unless you’ve been asked to do so as a result of the interest generated by your query letter.

How to Write a Query Letter

A well-written query letter contains five basic elements:

1. The hook

2. The pitch

3. Supportive elements

4. Your credentials

5. The close

The Hook

The hook or lead paragraph is the most important part of the letter with each paragraph maintaining the interest generated in these first few sentences. Consider opening with:

– An anecdotal lead sentence or short paragraph that tells a story

– A surprising statistic that supports your premise

– A thought provoking quote by a public figure, celebrity, or authority relevant your subject

The Pitch

This second paragraph summarizes the premise of your book in no more than 50 to 75 words. Think of your pitch as the cross section of three elements: your book’s uniqueness in relation to your competition, the benefit to your readers, and your credibility as an author.

Supportive Elements

The supportive elements paragraphs comprise the body of your query letter and expounds on the three elements of your pitch:

– Is your book an ‘only’ or a ‘first’? Do you offer a broader, more interesting, more controversial, or more comprehensive approach to the subject?

– How does your book address the wants, needs, expectations, or desires of your reader? What problem(s) does your book resolve?

– What knowledgeable, intellectual, or emotional strengths do you bring to the topic that others have been incapable of providing?

Your Credentials

The credentials paragraph is an expansion of the third supportive element and should be written in the third person to sidestep the difficulty in writing about yourself. Briefly highlight all your relevant experience, including professional work experience, consulting engagements, media, and public speaking appearances.

As a guide, look at the back flap of a few dust cover jackets of non-fiction books to get an idea of how a third-person biography reads. Many of these short bios are 75 or so words in length, a perfect sound-bite length for the last paragraph of your query letter.

The Close

Close with a self-confident, upbeat tone. Thank the literary agent for his or her time and consideration and mention that you’re prepared to send a complete book proposal upon request.

Acceptance and Rejection

If you’re solicited, congratulations! You wrote a query letter that broke through and generated interest. The agent will ask for your book proposal and your journey has begun.

If your query letter is rejected, don’t feel offended. Occasionally, an agent will offer constructive advice, but never modify your book concept or book proposal based on the first or second negative response. Look for patterns of responses before considering making any changes.

Visit for more information and support on developing your book concept, preparing your book proposal, and achieving your dream of becoming a published author.

John Fayad