What does a good query letter look like? Well, that depends on who you ask. Frustrating as it is, different sources will give you different query letter guidelines. I know this because I’m in the process of querying for FLYNN, and have read two books and several web sites on the subject.
Here are the guidelines which seem to be consistent. A query should: give a concise description of the work; have a hook; make the agent want to keep reading; look and sound professional; be error free.
Beyond those bare basics, I’m afraid it gets confusing. No two sources give the exact same advice. Some say to give a general overview of the story; some say to give only a paragraph-long taste of it. Some say to include a paragraph about your writing credentials; some say to keep it to one sentence. Some say to only talk about your book, while some say to mention your bio and your genre’s market.
So which source do you listen to? When crafting that all-important query, whose guidelines do you follow?
The answer is actually very easy. Follow the guidelines of the particular agent you’re submitting to.
Yup. Different agents want different things in a query, so even if you were to find the “standard” query guideline in some magical book, you’d still have to change each individual letter you sent to fit that agent’s criteria. Most agents have query letter preferences somewhere on their web site, so do your homework.
Does this mean writing a new letter for each agent? No. Your hook will stay the same, and your book’s summary will probably stay the same for most agents. Some may request a short summary of only one paragraph, and for those you might write a whole new letter. But most of their special requirements will only pertain to how much you write about yourself, and whether or not they want you to address how your book fits into the market (most agents don’t look for that in the query letter, but some do).
So look at all those “writing a good query” books and get advice from them, but in the end, craft the final draft according to the individual’s preference.
For sources of general query advice (remember, these are books, not stone tablets with eternal commands), check out:
YOUR NOVEL PROPOSAL: FROM CREATION TO CONTRACT by Blythe Camenson and Marshall J. Cook
YOUR FIRST NOVEL by Ann Rittenberg and Laura Whitcomb