I’m no agent, but I do see a lot of queries, and I’ve noticed that many of them tend to be missing some very basic, yet necessary information.
So I made a list of the seven most important things I often see left out. Some of these items will only relate to queries for fiction, but if you write non-fiction most of them will still apply.
You have to let the agent know the genre of your book. Be precise. Calling it a “time-travel mystery with horror, erotica and western elements for women” only tells the agent that you don’t really know what you’ve written. Pick the one genre that most accurately describes your book and stick with it.
2. Word Count
This detail is important because it can tell the agent if your book is it too long or too short for the genre. Make sure your word count is within standard lengths for your genre.
Word count refers to the WORD count given by Microsoft Word or whatever word processor you’re writing in. Do not include PAGE count. You should also round the word count to the nearest thousands. For instance, if your book is 87,872 words then call it 88,000 words.
This one is simple enough. Don’t forget the title of your book.
4. A Hook
I know, coming up with a great hook is easier said than done. But there must be something about your book that makes it different and intriguing. Now all you have to do is wrestle it down to one or two sentences. Simple.
This is the most important part of your query, yet you’d be amazed by how many query letters are sent without a real description of the story. You don’t have to be precise and cover the entire story arc. In fact, you shouldn’t. But you need to give some idea as to what your story is about. What is the conflict? Who is your protagonist and who or what stands in his way?
Think of it as the description you’d like to see on the back of the book jacket.
Your query should be one page long, single spaced. That’s about 300-400 words. Yes, there are plenty of exceptions where much longer or shorter queries were successful, but this is a recommended guideline for a reason. Don’t break the rules unless you absolutely have to.
7. A Target
Maker sure you’re targeting the right agent(s). Don’t waste time (yours and theirs) querying agents who don’t represent your genre or aren’t even open to queries.
Do your research and always address the agent by name, so they know you didn’t just mass email your query to 200 agents.
If at all possible, state why you are querying a specific agent. Maybe she posted somewhere that she is looking for a particular type of book and yours fits perfectly. Or maybe she represents other books that are similar to yours, but not too similar.
Don’t just say, “I saw your name listed on [some agent list].” That’s not a real reason to query, and if that’s all you have to say then don’t say anything at all.
[Shameless plug] And of course, you can research literary agents using QueryTracker.
I know, the title of this post is “7 Things Every Query Letter Must Have,” so what’s with number 8? You can include number 8 only if it matters. A bio isn’t necessary because not everyone will have something worthwhile to say.
If you have past publishing credits or have won some writing contests, then you can include those in your bio.
If your novel is about a man on trial for a crime he did not commit and you happen to be a trial lawyer, then it is worth mentioning. But if you’ve written that same book, but have never worked in the law field or even stepped into a courtroom there is no reason to point that out.
In short, it’s okay to leave the bio off if you have nothing to say that is related to writing or your book. And don’t apologize for not having writing credits or other experience, just leave the bio off. If nothing else, it leaves more room for your story summary.