Writing A Query Letter to a Literary Agent

As you may be aware, I’ve recently achieved a long-term goal of mine to sign with a literary agent, the fabulous Laura Bennett at the Liverpool Literary Agency. And so, I thought, it might be time for a ‘How I Got My Agent’ post. But I’ve sat down to write the post several times and each time it’s been different, from a lengthy run-down of my journey through querying to a list of bullet points about putting together a pitch package.

The path to representation and publication is different for every author – some get picked up on their first book, whereas others, like myself, query multiple books for years before achieving their goal. However, one thing that every author needs to write is a query letter. I’ve written many of them over the years, as well as attending a workshop at Bloomsbury Publishing on how to craft the perfect agent letter, so hopefully I might have something useful to impart. So here are some pointers, using excerpts from the query letter that got me a full request and, eventually, an offer of representation, as an example:

Dear Laura

The opening. I address the agent by name. This may seem like basic stuff but apparently some people still like to use Dear Sir or Madam, or simply Dear Agent, if they’re sending out lots of letters. Don’t do this. Even though it may seem like a pain, each agent needs to be approached individually.

I am seeking representation for my fantasy novel, The City of Wings and Gold, complete at 99,800 words.

Short and to the point. I’ve set out what I’m looking for, my novel genre, title and word count. It’s not my debut, as I already have several novels published, but you can add that if it is, in fact, your first book you’re querying. Also, quick note – make sure that your word count is suitable for your genre. There are lots of online lists of genre word counts if you’re unsure.

For three centuries Raktiri warriors have defended the City Circles. Sons and daughters of the City elite, they are the noblest of their kind. And also the most merciless. Seren Goldenhand wants nothing to do with them, or the death they bring.

Then a dying woman gives Seren a bracelet. If she takes it off, she dies. If she refuses to transform into a Raktiri, she dies.

But Seren is a healer, sworn to the goddess, not a winged warrior. And the dead woman has left more questions than answers. Brought to the heart of a glittering city, Seren finds darkness waiting, a price to be paid.

And a healer must become a killer, in order to survive. 

The blurb. This is basically like the blurb you’d read on the back of a published book – it needs to set up the main premise and character, and hint at the conflict to be resolved. It’s different from the synopsis, which is a separate document and needs to list all the main plot points of your story from beginning to end.

The City Of Wings and Gold is an adult fantasy with crossover potential to the upper end of YA. It’s a fresh look at a post-cataclysmic world, set in an alternative future London. The society is one of faith and magic, gods and mystery, yet still holds echoes of our own. It has the slow-burn romance of The Wolf and the Woodsman, by Ava Reid, echoes the wintry fairy-tale feel of Naomi Novik’s Spinning Silver, and explores themes of enemies-to-lovers, family, love and loss. While it draws on Celtic, rather than Norse traditions, it will also appeal to readers of The Witch’s Heart, by Genevieve Gornichet.

More information about the book I’m querying. I’ve talked about the story a little more, about the genre, themes and setting, as well as providing comp titles. I used to find comps a really difficult thing to do, until I saw an agent say that they don’t have to be a direct comparison to your book; rather, comps can hold a similar element to your story, or a feeling that you’d like to convey, thereby giving the agent an idea as to where your book might sit in the marketplace. It’s also important that your comps are titles from recent years.

I’ve been writing for several years, and have sold several short stories to anthologies and literary journals. I’ve also self-published six novels, all of which have been well-reviewed, selling over 1000 copies, and am currently working on several new ideas. I recently wrote a middle-grade novel with the singer, Tom Grennan, for which we are also seeking representation.

And finally, a little bit about me, and any relevant information. For example, if you’re writing a book about the sea, and spent several years as a sailor, that’s information an agent will be interested in, as is any publication history, and whether or not you’re working on anything else. They don’t need to know that your beta readers loved it or your mum thinks it’s as good as Harry Potter. This is a business letter, after all, with the aim of making your book as attractive as possible to the agent reading it. The only other thing you might want to add is whether or not you’ve talked to that agent before, via a 121 or conference, if they’ve liked your pitch on Twitter or similar, or if you’ve been recommended to contact them through an industry contact.

I hope you enjoy reading the attached material, and look forward to hearing from you.

The ending. Short and sweet. Again, this is a business letter. Be professional and approach this as you would approach anyone you were asking for work.

And there you have it. A query letter needs to be mainly about your book, and why you think it will be a good fit for this particular agent. Keep it concise, keep it professional, and remember to address the agent by name. And, if you are heading into the querying trenches, good luck!

You can pick up the e-book of Oak and Mist, the first book in The Ambeth Chronicles, for just 99c/99p on Amazon. Get your copy, and start your journey to Ambeth today…

Enjoyed this post? Want to read more? Find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus you’ll find my books on Amazon (and A Thousand Rooms is available from all good book retailers). Visit my Amazon Author Page or my website to see more.

6 thoughts on “Writing A Query Letter to a Literary Agent

  1. Good luck – I hope your agent is successful in placing your book. I’ve previously had two agents for my novels, but still not nailed a publishing deal.
    I do, however, have two, soon to be three, non-fiction books trad published, but sold those myself without an agent.

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