The purpose of a query is to get an agent or editor interested enough to request the full or partial manuscript. Not all books lend themselves well to being summarized this way, but it’s easier to sell a book if you can.
There are 4 main sections in a query:
1) Metadata: This part includes word count, genre, title, why you’re querying this agent. Book comps go here too if you’re using them. For example, “This book would appeal to fans of [X].” or “This book is [X] meets [Y].” Some people prefer to add this section after the pitch, but I like it up top so that an agent can scan for genre fit right away.
2) Pitch: Introduce your main character and describe the main conflict of the book. The pitch shouldn’t give away the entire plot, but leave someone wanting to read more. You don’t have a lot of word count for it, so it’s important to make each sentence count. What makes your book unique? This is where you get to show it off.
Tip: Try to avoid sentences that are too general. If it could be used to describe a different book, can you find ways to make it specific to yours?
3) Biography: If you have any published works, this is where you’d list them. If not, just keep it short but do introduce yourself. If there is a reason you’re particularly qualified to write this book, mention it! For example, if you’re a doctor, and you’ve written a medical mystery, an agent would want to know.
4) Sign off: Remember this is a professional email, similar to a cover letter on a resume. Just be polite, double check your attachments, and make sure your contact info is somewhere!
Many many versions later, this query what I came up with. It got me my first agent, and it’s not too different from what will appear on the back cover of the novel.
I’m seeking representation for my 82,000* word young adult fantasy, THE MOONLIGHT BLADE. The story includes elements of Southeast Asian culture which is part of my heritage. I thought it might be a good fit for you, because of [reasons].
17 year old Narra Jal was born in Tigang, a harsh country carved out of stone, refuge for an island people that fled the destruction of their homeland. As the humble daughter of a cloth merchant, Narra spent her whole life on the open road, never staying in one place long enough to make friends, or call any place home. She has one hope to change her destiny.
Every ten years Tigang selects a new ruler. No one knows what happens behind the glass walls of the fortress during the Sundo, only that no one survives unbroken. Anyone may enter the Sundo, but only the desperate and the foolish ever join.
Narra is not a fool: she is cursed. Birthmarks pronounce that she must pay for the sins of a past life, and that her touch spreads bad luck like poison. When her mother is arrested, Narra believes her bad luck is to blame. She enters the Sundo to save her family, but within the magic suffused walls of the fortress, she comes face to face with a disarming immortal enemy, and learns how close the peace in Tigang is to shattering.
Narra must unravel the mystery of who she is, and confront the ugly truth of who she was, before the Sundo undoes her, or her growing feelings for the enemy damn them all again.
My writing has appeared in Lightspeed Magazine, as well as anthologies by Exile Editions, Graveside Tales, and Innsmouth Free Press. I am a technical writer by occupation. I am also a graduate of Viable Paradise and an active member of SF Canada.
I have included the first 10 pages below. I would be delighted to send the full manuscript at your request. Thank you for your time and consideration.
* Fun fact: I sent the book out at 82k words, but the wordcount of the published book will be closer to 100k. I tend to write sparse and my editor wanted MORE! 😀 So more you shall all get.
Even after you’ve already got an agent or a book deal, you’ll need to keep your query and pitch skills sharp for selling on proposal or creating cover copy.
Writing a query also helps me diagnose if there’s something wrong with my plot, because if I can’t pitch it, I probably haven’t figured out the central conflict of the story yet. Writing a pitch is a good way to figure out what your book is really about.