Read a sample literary agent query letter (with hints and tips)

With loads of hints and tips on how to get your letter right

You want to know what a great query letter to literary agents should look like? Here’s a perfect sample letter below.

Just before we look at it, I should say that I am a real author describing a real book – this letter pretends that this book is a first novel and I have no track record in the industry. I’ve also assumed here the agent has allowed to me to send a synopsis and opening chapters along with the query letter. You need to check what each agent requires.

(Oh, and do note that I talk about a “query letter” in this blog post, which is the term used in North America. In Britain and Ireland, you’ll hear a lot of writers and literary agents talking about a “covering letter” – but it means the exact same thing. There’s just no meaningful difference.)

The agent submissions builder

Write a perfect query letter and a brilliant synopsis. In just one hour.

Dear Agent Name

I’m writing to seek representation for my first novel, TALKING TO THE DEAD, a police procedural of 115,000 words.

The book opens with news of a murder: a young woman and her daughter have been found dead in a rough area of Cardiff. The house where they’re found is in poor condition, but in the corner of the room is a platinum bank card belonging to a local millionaire. A millionaire who died in a plane crash some nine months previously.

Puzzling as this crime looks, it’s not the heart of the book’s mystery. It becomes rapidly clear that Fiona Griffiths herself is a very peculiar woman, who is withholding crucial secrets from the reader. Who exactly is her father? What was her childhood illness? And what is it with her and corpses?

I’m a former investment banker, now entrepreneur in Oxford, and this is my first novel.

I enclose the first three chapters and a synopsis. I hope you like what you see and look forward to hearing from you.

Yours,

Harry Bingham

What to include in your query letter

All the letter must do is:

  • Give a very brief 1-sentence summary of the book and your purpose in writing it
  • A somewhat longer, 1-2 paragraph, introduction to the book. (Not a plot summary, that’s for the synopsis).
  • A brief introduction to you.
  • Not be badly written.

That’s it. If you can write a novel, you can write that letter.

And each of those elements is simple enough.

The 1 sentence summary

  1. You need to say why you’re writing. (You’re seeking representation, right? So say so.)
  2. You need to give the title of your book, either underlined or (better) in italics, please.
  3. You need to give the word count of your book, rounded to the nearest 5,000 words.
  4. You need to give the approximate genre or territory of your book.

If you do those things, the agent can instantly understand what you want and what you’re offering. You will also, by the way, prove yourself to be a swift, professional writer.

The 1-2 paragraph introduction to the book

First, it’s important to say what this is not.

You are not writing a back-of-book blurb. But nor are you writing a detailed outline of your story. (That’ll come in the form of your synopsis.)

What you are doing is explaining what your book is and why a reader will feel compelled to read it.

That ‘what’ element will typically be a matter of presenting some facts. You need to give some more information about your settings, your premise, your characters and so on. You don’t need to be as salesy as a cover blurb, and you don’t need to be as dry as a synopsis. It’s almost as though you were chatting to your best friend and telling her about the book you’ve just been reading.

The ‘why’ element is equally crucial. Here, you are conveying something about emotions. What is a reader going to feel as they read the book? What kind of atmosphere will they inhabit? What kind of emotional payoff or challenge is likely?

A brief introduction to you, the author

Luckily, agents don’t care too much about you. Nor should they. They should care about the book, and only the book. That’s a fine, honest, meritocratic approach. May the best book win!

That said, agents are obviously curious about the person behind the manuscript. So tell them something about yourself. It’s fine to be human here, rather than resume-style formal. It’s also OK to be quite brief.

“I am a 41-year-old mother, with three children, two dogs, one husband, and the finest vegetable garden in the southwest.”

If there is a real connection between who you are (a shrimp fisher, let’s say) and the book you’ve written (something to do with the sea and fishing) then it’s worth another sentence or two to tease that out a bit.

Your overall letter should not run to more than a page. (Except that non-fiction and literary authors can give themselves maybe a page and a half). And that’s it.

It’s not hard to write, is it?

What to do if you don’t hear back from literary agents

So. You use our query letter sample and write your own perfect query letter. You put together your synopsis. (Advice on that here.)

What happens next? Well.

Rejections do happen, and are likely to happen even if you’ve written a great book. (Because agents have their hands full. Or just like a different sort of thing. Or have an author who is too directly competitive. Or anything else. It’s not always about you or your book.)

But if you send your material out to 10-12 agents, and find yourself being rejected, then you have to ask yourself:

  • Am I being rejected because I’ve chosen the wrong agents?
  • Am I being rejected because my query letter / synopsis are poor?
  • Am I being rejected because my book isn’t up to scratch?

And truthfully? The third of these issues is by far the most common.

If you’ve written a great book, and a rubbish query letter, you can still find an agent. The other way around? Never.

If you are confident that you’ve gone to the right agents, and have been rejected by 10+ people (or heard nothing after 8 weeks, which amonts to the exact same thing), then the probable truth is that your book is not yet strong enough for commercial publication.

And, you know what?

That’s not a big deal.

All books start out bad. Then they get better. So getting rejected is really just a signal that you still have further to travel down that road.

Remember that getting third party editorial advice is the standard way of improving your work. We offer outstanding editorial help and you can read all about it here.

Alternatively, join the Jericho Writers family, and you can get a ton of help absolutely free within your membership. Free courses on How To Write. Free courses on Getting Published. Free access to AgentMatch. And so much more. Find out more here.

Happy writing, and good luck!

The agent submissions builder

Write a perfect query letter and a brilliant synopsis. In just one hour.