Wednesday, January 13, 2010

querying an agent re: a novel

I'm no expert on query letters, but I can share some clues based on my research and experience.

1. The letter should be only a page long, about 250 words, even if you send it by e-mail.

2. The first paragraph should if possible indicate why you chose to approach this particular agent. This paragraph should also indicate what you're selling. A sentence like the following might be used: Since you represented THE MYSTERIOUS STRUDEL by Carol Ovenmitt, you may be interested in my 90,000 word literary novel CANDIED YAMS. [Use round numbers to indicate length of your novel, not some cumbersome number like 87,381. Capitalize book titles.] If you don't know of a suitable book the agent has represented, sometimes you can discover names of authors the agent admires. In that case you could use a sentence such as: Since you enjoy novels by Stanley Bloodletting, you may be interested in, etc.

3. The second paragraph should tell about the book. Try for a paragraph of no more than five sentences. Some experts recommend following a pattern something like this:

a. Tell what your main character wants.

b. Tell how the character tries to achieve the goal.

c. Present obstacles in the way of your main character reaching the goal.

d. End on a note of suspense, perhaps indicating a crucial choice the character must make.

e. Somewhere within this paragraph, if you can manage it, indicate something about the theme/s of your book. Themes typically relate to topics such as: overcoming fear, the power of love, the longing for home, the longing to leave home, following one's dream, taking responsibility for one's choices,.

4. The third paragraph should tell about you, especially as your education, experiences, and achievements relate to your writing of this book.

5. End by thanking the agent for his/her consideration. If you're querying by regular mail, include a self-addressed stamped envelope [SASE] and indicate you are doing this. Also include anything the agent requires in the submission guidelines; for example, a synopsis of the novel, the first chapter. [You can usually find a particular agent's submission guidelines on the Internet.]


  1. Elma, you've been such a wealth of resources for me..I'm so happy you are doing this blog!! Thanks!!

  2. Thank you for the tips on query letter presentation. Wonderful timing for me. I will do a bit of research on some publishers and then pull a couple of twigs out of my old straw hat.

  3. Thanks for sharing your wisdom and experience Elma. Blessings.

  4. Excellent point, Elma. Thank you!