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  • Jordan Keller

What I Learned at Writing Group: Query Letters

A handful of the members in my Writing Group just finished their first drafts and I'm super proud of them! Finishing a novel is the first step in the journey to publishing and after a few rounds of editing, they'll be ready to take the next step: finding an agent.*

Before reaching out to an agent you would like to work with, you have to write your query letter. This is the resume for your book and will most likely be the first thing an agent or publisher sees. Slimming your 250+ page book to just four paragraphs can be difficult, but I want to share with you the formula I use, how to format a query letter, and include two examples of my own query letters.

The Formula

As I mentioned, it can difficult to slim your novel down to around 400 words. Before writing your query letter, make this list:

Who is my story about?

What does that character want?

What stands in their way?

These three questions are the skeleton of your query and once you have the answers you can begin drafting the letter itself. When I start writing query letters, I use this six-paragraph cheat sheet:

Paragraph 1: The Big Details

This is the information about your book and should include: Title, Word Count, Genre, Comparison Tiles, and why your book is a good fit for this agent.

Paragraph 2: The Hook

A single sentence hook to grab their attention.

Paragraph 3: The Main Character

Who is your main character, what makes them unique, and what do they want?

Paragraph 4: The Conflict

What stands in your character's way of achieving their goal? Include both internal and external conflicts.

Paragraph 5: The Stakes

What happens if your character succeeds and what happens if they fail?

Paragraph 6: All About You

The last paragraph, and the shortest, is your bio. Include any writing or publishing credentials, and what makes you the person to write this book.

The Format

The formatting tips you should keep in mind are:

Round to the nearest whole number for your word count.

Published book tiles need to be in italics while your unpublished book title should be in all caps.

The fewer words the better. Try to keep your query under 400 words.

Use a personalized greeting when you're able.

I will always recommend spending the money to get your query letter professionally edited by someone who specializes in query letter writing.

The Example

Below is the query letter I am using for a young adult fantasy book that follows the formula to a T.

Dear Agent Name,

I am seeking representation for my young adult fantasy A SEA OF SHIPS AND SOULS, complete at 64,000 words. Set in a fictional Caribbean world similar to the one in All The Stars and Teeth by Adalyn Grace, it features determined characters with hidden ambitions comparable to those in Adrienne Young’s Fable. Based on your [personalized interest] I believe A SEA OF SHIPS AND SOULS will interest you.

When wanna-be sailor Jace Kit throws away an ugly broach, he doesn’t imagine his decision will put him in the crosshairs of a dread pirate.

Seventeen-year-old Jace Kit wants nothing more than a life full of adventure sailing the Remos Ocean. Unfortunately, his small island home doesn’t offer much excitement outside the stories told at the tavern by visiting sailors and the legends his mom recites at dinner. When one of these legends comes true, Jace jumps at the chance to escape his mundane life working at his parent’s dry cleaning business.

Jace joins forces with Sable, a Sea Sprite, who requires a hero’s help in saving the Ocean Queen from a soul-stealing dread pirate. Jace doesn’t correct Sable’s belief in his heroism and the pair sail off in Jace’s handmade boat. The choppy ocean waters are hard enough to sail through without Jace’s self-doubt haunting him, and when Sable can’t keep her story straight, he worries if Sable is as magical as she claimed. It takes both magic and a hero to save the Ocean Queen and Jace isn’t sure if he has either. But when Sable is kidnapped by the dread pirate, Jace can’t let his doubt or a hurricane stop him from rescuing her too.

After enlisting the help of a crew of sailors brave enough to fight the dread pirate, Jace has no choice but to become the hero Sable thought him to be. If he fails to finish their mission, the Remos Ocean will be at the mercy of constant storms and deadly sea monsters, not to mention the death of the girl who’s somehow become his best friend. If he succeeds, Jace will gain the respect of an actual ship captain and a spot aboard his ship for a life of adventures. He would be in the stories told back at the tavern, he would be in the legends. Jace Kit, wanna-be sailor, would be a hero.

I am the author of the Ashes Over Avalon series published with Speaking Volumes and host the Central Cincinnati Fiction Writers workshop.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Below is the query letter I used for Wildfire, The Rise of a Hero that does not follow the formula and instead uses the hook as the opening paragraph.

Hello Agent Name

Only two things stand in the way of flame-powered Abigail becoming a hero: being hired by a hero company and her romance with a villain.

Abigail is the sidekick to San Arbor’s number one hero, Volcanic. Their teamwork and combined fire powers have saved them from dangerous situations before, but even Volcanic can’t help her after she causes city-wide damage chasing a villain from her past. The hero company lets her go, citing a contract dispute.

Dreaming of donning her cape again, Abigail finds help in the most unlikely of people: Cinder. She swore she’d defeat this villain after he scarred her during their first encounter years ago, but desperate to become strong enough to protect the people in her city, she strikes a deal with him.

Abigail balances her new day job as a secretary in San Arbor’s other hero company with late-night combat sessions with Cinder. He teaches her his powerful blue flame ability and how to better control her own flames in exchange for her help getting out of San Arbor. Abigail tires of pretending to be a civilian when all she’s ever dreamt about is saving people, as the hero who saved her life as a child. She tries to deny the mutual attraction between her and off-limits villain. If she kisses him, she can kiss her hero dreams goodbye.

Complete at 80,000 words, WILDFIRE is new adult romance with series potential. The story features a corrupt superhero society comparable to that of Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson, and a fatal attraction between good and evil like in Born, Darkly by Trisha Wolfe. WILDFIRE will appeal to comic book fans who want to see heroes in a real-world setting.

I have a degree in journalism from Morehead State University with a minor in creative writing.

Thank you for your time and consideration,

*There are many ways to reach the end goal of publishing, the one listed in this blog is only one.

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