You are here: Home

Query/Pitch Letters

Introduction

When attempting to interest an agent or publisher in your story, you’ll probably need to send them a query(or pitch) letter. Regardless of whether the letter is emailed or forwarded in hard copy, the expected content is the same.

Examples used below are for my novel Who Will Save the Planet?

Before using the worksheets and checklists, please consider the general usage tips and warnings.

Format and Content

Check whether the recipient wants hard-copy or email submission.

Here is an example template. Text like this needs to be customised. Check the recipient’s web site and/or other sources for their specific requirements.

Your name
Your postal address
Your phone number(s)
Your email address

Date Month Year

Recipient’s name
Company name
Company address


Dear recipient’s name,

I am seeking an agent/a publisher for my completed XX,X00-word genre novel, Title. If applicable, introductory personalisation; eg, describing when you met the recipient, references to previous correspondence, a recommendation from one of their current clients, or something you have in common with the recipient.

One to three paragraphs about the story (see Your Novel).

If required, state what kind of readers the novel would appeal to.

If required, provide details of similar novels.

If required, provide details of manuscript assessment.

Relevant biographical details, focusing on your previous traditionally-published works, writing contest successes and/or relevant employment. Keep it to a few sentences; if you have no relevant background, say nothing.

Any particular reason why your work is especially suitable for this agent/publisher; eg, similar works they’ve published.

I have enclosed a synopsis/three sample chapters/an SSAE for your reply. Please recycle any unwanted material.

I would be elated to be able to submit sample chapters/a synopsis/the full manuscript. Thank you for considering my request.

Sincerely,

Your name
Your website/blog address, if any

Your Novel

You need to describe your novel in such a way that the agent/publisher will be fascinated, and will want to read more. (Depending on the submission, that could mean the attached synopsis or manuscript, or they may request that you provide those subsequently.)

This section breaks down the description into three paragraphs. You can use less. Moreover, you probably won’t be able to address all of the points listed in the worksheets while keeping your description below 150–200 words. Include those points that show off your story best, but you should consider the issues in bold to be essential.

Content

Items in bold are most important.

Items in italics are tips and checks; others prompt for content.

Paragraph 1: Introduce Your Novel

RequirementExample
Hook sentence:
  • protagonist (adjective, occupation, name)
headstrong student Jason; 14-year-old Jason
  • Goal and/or problem
worried about climate change (CC); wants something to be done about CC; nobody agrees with him; disappointed that PM won’t do anything about CC
Protagonist’s flaw(s) (if essential)headstrong; adamant
Back-story setting (if essential)saves PM from drowning
Setting (if essential)coastal town (not essential)
Motivation (if not implied by problem/stakes)CC could mess up his and others’ future (probably obvious)
Consequences/stakes:Jason’s future-and everybody else’s (also Jason’s pride/determination)
  • Why should reader care?
protagonist’s future well-being is at stake
  • May be sentence 2
no
  • Consistent with stakes in para 3?
yes
Intended plan/action:get PM to adopt emission controls as promised reward
  • May be sentence 3
yes
Complication/obstacle rendering initial plan ineffective:PM wants to weasel out of his promise
  • May be initial conflict
yes
  • May be sentence 4
yes
Approximately 50 words61

Paragraph 2: More Details

RequirementExample
Conflict, complications, situationsPM tries various tactics to get Jason off his back (bribe, accusation of selfishness); Jason has to match wits with the PM; media leaks; holiday gets messed up; Jason harassed by townspeople and media (passive); trips to Sydney and Canberra not fun.
  • Keeps tension rising?
yes
  • Retains focus on para 1 problem?
yes
Another character (if essential)PM, maybe professor
World-building titbits (in passing) (if possible)none critical, but country town; trips to bigger cities
Horrible realisation or new planthings aren’t as simple as he thought
  • Drags reader into next para?
yes
Approximately 70 words49

Paragraph 3: Tension

Major complication (conflict):PM gets a professor to confuse Jason
Directly related to para 1 problem?yes
No obvious way out?yes
Choice (difficult and emotional)force PM to honour his promise, or admit that he could actually be mistaken
Theme and/or character development (if fundamental)Jason learns that things aren’t always as simple as he first thought
Stakes (consequences):saving the planet
Are they high?yes
Consistent with stakes in para 1?yes
Para ends on a hook; eg, stakes or conflict?yes
Approximately 50 words66

Checklists

Content

Avoid too much ‘this happened then that happened’ (ie, plot)hopefully
Bring out emotions (tip: list words that describe what the story is about emotionally)anger, determination, arrogance, confidence, shy, confusion, pressure, harassment, hassles, selfish, tolerance, balance, impotence, adamant
Ensure protagonist initiates action (ie, isn’t passive)hopefully
If protagonist does bad things, provide a reason for reader to care about him/herN/A
For descriptions (if any), consider providing one or two specific examples rather than vague generalitiesN/A
Avoid back-storyyes

Style

Present tenseyes
Uses short, punchy sentencesyes
Avoids passive sentencesonly one (‘request caught by media’)
Uses strong nounsyes
Uses verbs that emphasise actionhopefully
Minimal adjectives and adverbsyes
Uses descriptive words to create an imagehopefully
Short parasyes
Conveys voice (eg, humour)not well
150–200 wordsyes (176)
Check for quick readabilityyes

Completed Example

Fourteen-year-old Jason is adamant that something should be done about climate change, but nobody seems to agree with him. He feels impotent—until he saves the Prime Minister from drowning. The PM offers a reward, and Jason asks for strict emission controls. The request is caught by the media, so Jason thinks the PM’s trapped. But the PM’s got other ideas.

A battle of wits ensues as Jason tries to stop the PM from squirming out of his promise. Encounters with the PM that initially sound like fun end up getting heavy, and Jason’s plan for a quiet summer holiday gets seriously messed up by pushy reporters and resentful townspeople.

Just when Jason thinks he’s won, an ally seems to be working against him. Figuring out who’s on what side gets tricky, and Jason even starts to wonder about himself. With a deadline fast approaching, he has to decide whether to force the PM to honour his promise, or admit that he could actually be mistaken. But if he caves in, who will save the planet?

Sources

Agent Kristin, Blog Pitch Workshop (Part III).

Agent Kristin, Pitch Blurbs.

Agent Kristin, Pitching And All That Jazz.

Agent Sydney, Call My Agent! (Query Letter).

Agent Sydney, Call My Agent! (Submissions).

AgentQuery, How to Write a Query.

Australian Society of Authors, Getting Published.

Australian Writer’s Marketplace Online, Agenting with Sally Harding, 27 Feb 2008.

Australian Writer’s Marketplace Online and Hamley, S., How to Get an Agent.

Australian Writer’s Marketplace Online, Tips for Submitting Manuscripts.

Australian Writer’s Marketplace Online, Writing a Cover Letter.

Behler Publications, Sample of Cover Letter.

Bransford, N., Anatomy of a Good Query Letter.

Bransford, N., Query Letters

Card, O.S. 1990, How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy, Writer’s Digest Books, Cincinnati; p. 111.

DeVille, C., Becoming Stephen King.

Flewelling, L., The Complete Nobody’s Guide to Query Letters.

Folio Literary Management, http://www.foliolit.com/sub-morequery.php (defunct, probably superseded by Basic information on query letters).

Gardner, R., Query critique.

Gardner, R., Query letters.

Kilian, C. 1998, Writing science fiction and fantasy, 2nd edn, Self-Counsel Press, Bellingham, USA; pp. 168–9.

Laufenberg, C. and Neff, J. 2004, Formatting & submitting your manuscript, 2nd edn, Writer’s Digest Books, Cincinnati, pp. 122–131

Lisle, H., How to Query an Agent.

Lownie, A., Insider Tips on Pitching to Publishers.

Marshall, E. 2004, Novel writing: 16 steps to success, 2nd edn, A&C Black, London; p. 198.

Miss Snark, Query Letters.

Meadows, J., Query Project.

Meadows, J., Slush stats.

Meadows, J., Writing A Query Letter.

Pitner, S., Writing a Query Letter That is Pitch Perfect.

Price, L., Behler Blog (Query help).

Queensland Writers’ Centre, Literary Agents.

Sambuchino, C., Guide to Literary Agents (Breaking Down the Query Letter).

Sambuchino, C., Guide to Literary Agents (Queries and Synopses and Proposals).

Sambuchino, C., Guide to Literary Agents (Successful Queries: Agent Michael Bourret and ‘Wake’).

Scriptologist.com, The Logline: What It Is, Why You Need It, How To Write It.