How to Write a Query Letter for a Novel Submission

You've written your novel and now you are ready to submit it to publishers. Before you mail off your manuscript, check the publisher's guidelines. Many publishers ask for a query letter before they commit to reading your entire manuscript. A query letter is like a cover letter and introduces you and your novel to a publisher. Your query letter should be short and compelling -- about one page long, with four distinct paragraphs. It should give the publisher or editor a feel for your novel and make her want to read more. If the publisher or editor likes what she sees in your query letter, she will ask you to send chapters or your entire manuscript.

Include your contact details at the top of your letter, and address your letter to the right person. Do not address your query letter "To Whom it May Concern." Call the publisher or check the publisher's website to find out the name of the editor who will be dealing with your submission. Many publishers have multiple imprints and editors, so correctly address your query letter to be sure your letter gets into the right person's hands.

Write a short introductory paragraph summarizing your novel. The editor may read many submissions in a day, so you need to catch his attention from your first word. Write a sentence or two that briefly explain the basic plot of your book. Include the title of your novel, the genre and the word count of the manuscript -- not the page count. Think of this introductory paragraph as being the kind of description you would give of your book if you only had 30 seconds to describe it.

Expand on the basics of your novel in your second paragraph. Outline the plot and the major characters in compelling language. This paragraph should be a summary of your novel, much like the summaries on the backs of published novels. It should not be a point-by-point synopsis, but more of an overview of the novel. You want to engage the editor's interest and make her want to read more.

Include your publishing history in your third paragraph. Include information about magazines where your work has appeared, awards you have won or any books you have published. If you do not have a publishing history, include any credentials you do have that make you the best person to write this book.

Write a short fourth paragraph about why you are interested in publishing with this specific publisher. Add any relevant information about your book that makes it an excellent fit with the publisher. Mention that you can send the entire manuscript -- even though the editor may only ask for chapters he needs to know the novel is finished. Close the letter with a statement such as "Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you soon." Sign off and include your name and signature at the bottom of the page.

Include a self-addressed stamped envelope so the editor can reply to your query letter.

  • Always check your letter for content, spelling and grammar. Have someone else read it and edit it since a second pair of eyes can often find errors or missing information. This is your introduction to the editor, so make sure all the requisite information is included and presented professionally.
  • Research publishers to find ones that may be interested in your novel. Read their submission guidelines carefully. Some publishers ask for manuscripts, some ask for sample chapters and some ask for query letters. Send the right kind of submission to the right editor.
  • Write an original query letter to each publisher you send a submission to. Be sure to include information in your letter that lets the publisher know you are interested in publishing with them for a specific reason. Generic, non-specific query letters will come across as disinterested -- and if you're not interested in the publisher, they'll wonder why they should be interested in you.
  • Don't worry if you have never been published -- many publishers are looking for first-time authors. If your query letter is well-written and gives a good idea of your book, you will capture the editor's interest -- and that can be more valuable than credentials or history.
  • Many editors only accept submissions from agents. Read submission guidelines carefully to be sure your letter will be read.
  • Do not include excessive personal detail in your query letter. Only include information relevant to your novel.
  • Avoid colored paper, illegible fonts and the temptation to squeeze excess information onto one page. Keep your letter to one single-spaced page, write it in a simple font and edit it down to the essential information about your novel.
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