Your Fiction Book Query Letter/Proposal is your first contact with the literary agents or publishers that you have chosen to pitch your work. This is your big chance to impress them and to interest them in eagerly requesting to see your full book manuscript.
This Query Letter/Proposal is very different from its Nonfiction Book Query Letter and Proposal cousin. As a result many potential authors have asked Goldilocks to help them understand the differences. You can look at the following Methodology/Process that Goldilocks works through to write a very engaging Fiction Query Letter.
Here is a handy checklist of all the components that Goldilocks has included in the more descriptive discussion as noted above.
Remember that a book is not considered as such until it is published and beforehand it is a “work” or a “manuscript.” Before you query literary agents/publishers, your fiction manuscript must be completed and fully edited as if it were to be placed directly Online or packaged with a book cover/binder and sold at a traditional bookstore.
Let’s get started…
- Create the Title Page
-All entries should be centered
-Start with “A Book Proposal for”
Continue with each of the following pieces of information on a separate line.
-the book title fully capitalized
–“A Novel” should be considered the subtitle unless you actually have a real one in that case enter this info after it.
-Mailing address (use standard two lines)
-Office: enter telephone number
-Cell: enter mobile number
-Enter submission date
- Personalization: Where You Customize the Letter for Each Recipient
-Never use the greeting “To Whom it May Concern,” totally impersonal
Instead show the name of the agent or editor you are writing to and use “Dear Mr.” or
Following the name a “:” should be inserted not a “,”
-Why you are writing the letter − seeking representation of your work (for an agent) or offering your work for potential publication (for a publisher), the latter is not the normal case.
You lead with your strongest point. Here are some common ways to begin a query, start with…
-You’ve been vouched for or referred by an agent’s existing client or if you’re querying a publisher, you might be referred by one of their authors.
-Maybe you met the agent/editor at a conference or pitch event where your material was requested (in which case, your Query Letter doesn’t carry much of a burden).
-You heard the agent/editor speak at a conference or you read something they wrote that indicates they’re a good fit for your work.
-Mention excellent credentials or awards such as, you have an advanced writing degree from a school that an agent is known to recruit clients from, you’ve won first prize in a national competition with thousands of entrants, or you have impressive publication credits with prestigious journals or New York publishers.
- Manuscript Specifications
-What you’re selling: genre/category, word count, title/subtitle
-Additional notes on genre…
How do you know what your genre is?
Think of where you’d find your novel in a bookstore.
Would it be in fantasy, science fiction, paranormal, romance, or somewhere else?
These are general genres that are safe to use. Young adult is also one, so if you write for the under-eighteen crowd, this is what you should use. Keep in mind that a memoir is a nonfiction genre but is written in story form like fiction.
-Never report the number of pages in your manuscript. This can change based on your font and spacing, so it’s not an absolute. Plus, once your novel is typeset for printing, the page number will be drastically different, the word count will likely be the same, though.
- The “Hook,” the Meat of Your Query Letter
-Mention only the main characters you meet in the beginning of the story and sidekicks can be left out. Usually, the best thing to do is to feature the character who is the focal point of the story and the antagonist.
-It should talk about the main character’s goals, motivation, and the conflict that stands in the way.
Here is a little template that you can use to construct this sentence…
I have a completed (word count) (genre) entitled (title) about (protagonist name and small description) who (conflict).
-A second method to use…
Try to answer these questions…
What does your character want? Why does he want it? What keeps him from getting it?
And a template to help you compose this version…
(Character name and description) and (the conflict being faced) and (the choices being considered).
-Three hook elements…
Protagonist + his conflict
The choices the protagonist has to make (or the stakes)
That unique little thing that sets your work apart from all others in the genre, and makes your story stand out, that shows it is uniquely yours. Sizzle means, this idea isn’t tired or been done a million times before.
-Some genres/categories should add a fourth element, the setting or time period
- Check for Red Flags in Your Novel Hook
-Does your hook consist of several meaty paragraphs, or run longer than 200 words?
-Does it reveal the ending of your book?
-Do you mention more than three or four characters?
-Does your hook get into minor plot points that don’t affect the choices the protagonist makes? Do you really need to include them?
- Author Bio/Credentials
Will a specific element be meaningful or perhaps charming to the agent/editor?
If you can’t confidently answer yes, leave it out.
In order of importance, these are the categories of pertinent info…
-Publication Credits-Print and Online
-General Writing Credibility
-Should you mention self-published books?
That’s totally up to you. Sooner or later this information will have to come out, so it’s usually just a matter of timing. Lots of people have done it, and it doesn’t really hurt your chances.
–What if you have no fiction writing credits?
-Should you say you’re unpublished?
Absolutely not, that point will be made clear by fact of omission.
- Closing/Showing Appreciation and Next Steps/Options
–Thank your literary agent, but don’t carry on unnecessarily, or be incredibly subservient, or beg.
-Avoid this type of verbiage…
I know you’re very busy and I would be forever indebted and grateful if you would just look at a few pages.
-Make sure your Query Letter/Proposal includes, somewhere, your phone number, e-mail address, and return address. (Include a self-addressed stamped envelope for snail mail queries.) -It is recommended that you put your contact information at the very top of your letter. It is not necessary to repeat it again at the bottom of your query submission unless you are sending your submission via E-Mail, in that case this is where to enter this information.
-It’s not a good idea to introduce the possibility of an in-person meeting. Don’t say you’ll be visiting their city soon, and ask if they’d like to meet for coffee. The only possible exception to this is if you know you’ll hear them speak at an upcoming conference, but still don’t ask for a meeting. Just say you look forward to hearing them speak. Use the conference’s official channels to set up an appointment if any are available.
-Remember to offer sample chapters (if the agent does not accept sample chapters in the initial query) and/or the complete manuscript (only if it is finished, of course).
-It is not necessary to state that you are simultaneously querying multiple literary agents or publishers. Everyone assumes this, send them out in batches of three to five or more, if you’re confident in your query quality.
That being said, there is a great big “BUT” and that is that each query you send out should be personalized for each literary agent/publisher you are querying. Otherwise the rest of the body of your letter/proposal can remain the same from one submission to another.
-If your manuscript is under consideration by another agent or editor, state that fact if or when someone else requests it.
- Sample Chapters Submission
Unless you are told otherwise, include the first three chapters (and yes, a prologue is a chapter), but no more than 50 pages of your manuscript. Make sure they are complete, are the first chapters, and if the third one ends at page 51 send 51 pages. If chapter three ends at page 80 then you only send two chapters. Just use good judgment. Literary agents really like authors who can make good decisions.
- Synopsis submission if required by your literary agent
If you need to include a Synopsis, Place it at the end of the package.
Do you really want people to read this first?
Remember the last thing that they read in your submission should leave them with a really great impression such that they eagerly contact you to see your whole book manuscript.
Goldilocks has provided a very detailed discussion of both the long and short forms of a Fiction Book Synopsis in her…
In addition, you can see a submission checklist for a fiction synopsis…
Check it out!
- Other Important Fiction Query Letter Considerations
–Never mention your “submission history” with your novel manuscript…
-If your manuscript is under consideration at another agency, then mention it if/when the next literary agent requests to see your manuscript.
-Resist the temptation to editorialize. This is where you proclaim how much your agent will…
Love your novel!
Find out how exciting it is!
See how it’s going to be a bestseller if only someone would give it a chance!
How much the world needs this work!
- Some Information You Shouldn’t Include in your fiction query letter/proposal
-Reviews of your work by other people
– request for advice or comments
-Submitting multiple stories per query
-Your social media presence
-Your Online platform
-Your marketing plan (send it later if requested by your literary agent/publisher)
-Your years of effort and dedication
-How much your family/friends love your work
-How many times you’ve been rejected or close accepts
-Sometimes you might mention your website or blog, especially if you feel confident about its presentation. The truth is the agent/editor is going to Google you anyway, and find your Website/Blog whether you mention it or not (unless you’re writing under a different name). Red
- Red Flags for Query Submission
-A Query that runs longer than one single page single spaced shows that you have said too much and you should look back over the page and figure out what information is less important and can be deleted.
-If your novel’s word count is much higher than 100,000 words, you have a much bigger challenge ahead of you. Eighty thousand words is the industry standard for a debut novel.
-Ensure you’ve specified your genre, without being on the fence about it.
-Direct comments on the quality of your work.
-On the flip side, don’t criticize yourself, or the quality of the work, in the letter.
-Refrain from editorializing your story for the agent/editor, almost as if you were writing a review of your work.
In this fast-paced thriller, in a final twist that will change your world, you’ll laugh, you’ll cry, …
-Explanations of how or why you came to write your book, especially if your motivation is so common as to be a cliché.
-A discussion of trends in the market or your work’s target audience. You need to sell the story, not the genre.
-For those authors who have previously self-published their work, including that detail in the query presents a minor dilemma. These days, self-publishing doesn’t usually hurt your future chances of traditional publication, but self-publishing credits don’t make you more desirable as an author either.
-Talk about how you’ve wanted to write since you were a child.
-Avoid heavy use of adjectives, adverbs, and modifiers. In fact, try creating a version of your query without any modifiers, and see what happens.
- E-Mailing Fiction Query Submissions
How can you format the E-Mail Query properly?
-Write your Query document in Word or Text Edit. Strip out all formatting. (Usually there is an option under “Save As” that will allow you to save as simple text.)
-Send the Query without any formatting including any indents (block style is preferred).
-Use CAPS for anything that would normally be in italics
-Don’t use address, date headers, or contact information at the beginning of the e-mail; put all of that stuff at the bottom, underneath your name.
-The first line should read, “Dear (Agent Name):”
-Some writers structure their E-Queries differently than their paper cousins (or make them shorter). Consider how much the agent can see of your E-Query on the first screen, without scrolling. That’s probably how far they will read before responding or hitting delete. Adjust your Query accordingly. Usually the hook should go first, unless you have a strong personalization angle.
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Goldilocks has provided a very thorough discussion of the components of a Fiction Query Letter/proposal in her…
If you have any questions or would like some help crafting your Fiction Query Letter/Proposal then contact Goldilocks and she will be very happy to assist you.
E-Mail her: email@example.com
Pick up the phone: 914-944-1474
Goldilocks Wishes You Great Success with Your Fiction Query Letter Submission