How to Pitch Your Manuscript to a Literary Agent: Writing a Query Letter
Finishing a manuscript is a moment of elation for any writer. After all that work, time, coffee, and staring into the distance (hey, that also counts as writing!), it’s finally finished! Now what? Well, if you want to get published, this is the time to pitch your book to a literary agent. You want to make sure your work is in its final stages before you do this. After all, literary agents are looking for a finished, polished product.
The first step is building a contact list of agents you would like to work with. It’s not always easy to find legitimate literary agents, but we’re here to help with our targeted lists of agents and publishers. Once you complete your list, it’s time to start sending off emails introducing yourself and your work. But what should your query package include?
Putting together your query package
Arguably, the most important component of a query package is your query letter, so that’s what we will focus on in this post. No longer than a single page, it’s essentially a short sales pitch that describes your project and aims to grab the attention of the literary agent.
Learning how to write a strong query letter will take some practice. Feel free to look up examples online so that you can get a better idea of what it should look and sound like. You want to be succinct but informative, making sure that your letter states why this agent is the perfect fit for your book.
Your package should also include a synopsis—a more detailed summary of your story meant to entice the agent to request a copy of your manuscript. If this already feels like an overwhelming task, check out our query letter packages, which will set you up with everything you need to pitch to literary agents.
If you’ve decided to write the query letter yourself, take a look at what it should include.
Hook your agent
The first paragraph of your query letter should grab the agent’s attention. Start with a formal introduction (make sure you’re spelling their name right and addressing them correctly) and state the purpose of your query. It is important to do your research on all the literary agents you plan on querying. For instance, be aware if your literary agent has preferred pronouns. You don’t want to insult them by writing generic, one-size-fits-all query letters. If you do, yours will likely be discarded without a second look. Thus, it is crucial to demonstrate that you know who this agent is.
Mention your book title, genre, and word count. Indicate how your manuscript compares to other books they’ve published, which is why it’s so important to research the agent’s professional trajectory before you pitch to them. If you have ever met the agent in person, this is your chance to remind them who you are. You want to ensure they can see why your book would appeal to them.
Basically, you should use this paragraph to explain why you chose them and why they’re the right fit for your book.
It won’t be easy, but you have to fit a short summary of your book into your second paragraph. Think of it as a robust thesis statement or logline. Mention your main characters, explain your basic premise, and identify the major themes, but don’t go into great detail about the plot—that will go in your synopsis.
Make the summary catchy and intriguing, and end it on a cliffhanger to leave the agent wanting more. Given the space limitations, you obviously can’t explore every subplot and character in depth. Make sure you are discussing only the most critical parts of your story so that the agent can get a good sense of your plot.
Your query letter isn’t just about your manuscript but about you as a writer, so use the final (and shortest) paragraph to introduce yourself. Talk yourself up, but do it humbly. Most of all, make sure the details you’re sharing are relevant to writing. Include some basic contact information and use the same voice as in your manuscript so the agent can get an idea of your style just from reading your query letter.
Having your book published is about so much more than just writing your manuscript. It’s about marketing your skills and your story to the right agent. Querying agents can be a slow and lengthy process, but don’t worry. We’re here to help you through it, from start to finish, with our query letter packages and other services for authors.