How to Query Literary Agents

Congratulations! You've finished writing, editing, formatting and everything else that goes into writing a novel, and you're now on to the querying stage! This is an incredibly exciting part of the publishing process, but it can also be the most frustrating. The first thing you need to prepare is the query letter that you will send to agents, or publishers who except submissions. Find out how to prepare this in the below article!

Please note, this article contains Cloaked Shadows spoilers.

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Let me warn you

Firstly, I'd like to ensure you know how the querying process works. Most agents will take between two weeks to a month to reply to you, and some don't even respond. There are also agents who may take up to three months to get back to you, if they do, so please don't expect to hear from an abundance of agents straight away.

You will also, most likely, receive rejections. This could be to do with your work, maybe the literary agent didn't personally enjoy it, but it can also be for other reasons, such as the literary agent not looking for something in your genre. Unfortunately, rejections happen to everyone but what's important is that you never give up. Whether you have one rejection, or one hundred. If you truly believe that a publisher should be paying out of their own pocket to publish your book because it has potential, then keep at it.

How to structure a query letter

There are certain, important points that you need to mention in your query letter, so following the below structure will ensure you tick all that agents boxes.

Write to a specific agent and research

To open your query letter, you want to address the agent by their first name. This can usually be found on the agency website, or in their email. You also want to ensure that you're querying the correct agent. You also need to choose the write agent who is looking for work specifically in your genre. On the agency website, it should clearly state what that particular agent is looking for, whether it's young adult fiction, fantasy, sci-fi, romance novels or something else!

The first few sentences should state the specifics

Your first paragraph needs to tell the agent what it is you're hoping they read. Clearly state what genre your book is, followed by the title of the book, and the total word count. Then mention what themes the story explores and state whether the book is a stand alone or part of a series. If you're applying to a large, well-known publisher, it's important to write this clearly, but also appropriately. Strangely enough, even though the work is your own, ultimately the publisher decides whether the book will be a sequel or not - if they take it on. See the example at the end of this document for advice on how to specifically write this.

The first paragraph is where you want to hook the agent in

This is where you'll begin the 'pitch' part of querying. Here you want to introduce your main character, and explain what the story is and why a reader will want to read your book. You need to make sure that you're doing this in a non-salesy way, this is not the blurb of your book. At the same time, you're not writing a synopsis either. Imagine that you're about to do a radio interview, and the interviewer asks, "what is your book about?". What would you say to them?

The second paragraph should continue the hook and evoke a mood

The second paragraph continues with a brief explanation of what your story is and what makes it so desirable to read, however in this paragraph you also want to subtle express the mood of the story. You shouldn't do this by outright saying, 'the story has a dark, cold feel to it' but instead, should do this in the writing. For example, in my query letter at this point I say, 'she is connected to the Sinturi dark master somehow, there is something about him that feels familiar.' This gives you a strange, oddly dark mood to the story. The term 'dark master' ultimately makes you think of a Voldemort type character who evokes a coldness in you.

The next few sentences should be about you

It's important to note that these facts or statements about yourself should relate to your writing. Here you should state whether you've studied or achieved a degree in creative writing, or if you've published beforehand. Mention any awards or competitions you've won but remember that this part should be short and relevant to the writing of your book.

Here's the query letter I used

Now that you know what to write, here's an example of what I wrote to query letters when I first queried my debut novel, Cloaked Shadows. I received a 100% reply from these agents, whether they were rejections or submissions and a few even praised my query letter! Without further ado, please see the below.

Dear Victoria,

I’m writing to seek representation for my first young adult, fantasy novel, CLOAKED SHADOWS, which is complete at 83,367 words including bonus content at the end of the novel. CLOAKED SHADOWS is an adventure tale that deals with themes such as family, love, and friendship. I have written it with the open possibility of there being a sequel.

The book opens with the simple life of twenty-year-old Ikena Ralliday, but her simple life is turned upside down when she discovers that she can do magic. In a world of magical folk, she fears the worst, having to leave her home and join the Sentinel army as all magicals must, so instead she goes on the run with her best friend Sedric. The Sentinels believe that Ikena is at the heart of a long forgotten prophecy and that she has been chosen to defeat the Sinturi, beasts of dark magic who will stop at nothing to get what they want – a world full of Sinturi, not a human or magical in sight.

After an unexpected turn of events, Ikena is forced to visit the Sentinel palace and ask for the King’s help. She gets roped into joining the army, to her dismay, but finds that she is more important than she thought. She is connected to the Sinturi dark master somehow, there is something about him that feels familiar. There is only one thing that can stop the Sinturi and that is Athena’s Core, a box which holds the most powerful Sentinel’s magic that ever lived.

I do feel that I should mention that I have a young adult, adventure book which is in the publishing process with Austin Macauley. No confirmed date has been given as to when it will be out, as it is still early days, but it is currently with their editors.

Thank you for your consideration.

Kind regards, Melissa Hawkes

I hope this article has helped you write a brilliant query letter. One site that helped me when I first researched writing query letters is which roughly follows the same structure as above.