“A layman looks at a query and sees a one page letter. An agent looks at it and scans it for [a hundred] different criteria. If you know what to look for, this mere page can tell you more about the writer and his work than you can possibly imagine.”
~ Noah Lukeman, How to Write a Great Query Letter ~
As a literary agent, Noah Lukeman has dealt with tens of thousands of query letters and decided to analyse the elements that he considers vital in a great query letter – the type that makes him so excited at the end of a long day of trawling through banal submissions that he simply has to pick up the phone and call the author right away, no matter what time it may be.
The most important element, Lukeman says, is sending your query to the right person. This is research that you cannot skimp on. Lukeman has devoted another entire e-book, How to Land (and Keep) a Literary Agent*, to this topic.
Lukeman recommends taking the approach of using the query letter as a concise and simple introduction with the goal of enticing the agent to request more information.
Formatting is another easy element that agents sometimes base their rejections on. It’s a quick visual check they can perform that saves them a lot of time.
The one-page query letter showcases the writer’s skill and discipline in word choice. If a writer is capable of condensing an entire manuscript down to a few lines, it suggests that the writer is capable of crafting a plot with equal care. However, Lukeman considers the most important element to be the writer’s bio, preferably with a juicy list of previous major publications (because we all know how much writers love a Catch-22).
Your query letter is the crux on which your acceptance or rejection hinges, so it is worth making it as perfect as possible. How to Write a Great Query Letter forms a handy guide against which to check your submission before sending it out to ensure you’re not making any of the common mistakes that could count against you before the agent has even read a word of your manuscript.
And, since this little e-book is available for free, you might as well make good use of it.
You may also like to read my review of Noah Lukeman’s previous book, The Plot Thickens.
*How to Land (and Keep) a Literary Agent by Noah Lukeman is available on Kindle from Amazon.com.
Elsa Neal is a writer based in Melbourne, Australia. Browse through the resources for writers available at her website or follow her writing insights at her Fictional Life Blog.