Recipe for a Query Letter


  • 1 thoroughly revised manuscript
  • 1 aspiring author
  • 1 fragile dream
  • 200-400 words

Prep Time: 1-5 weeks
Cook Time: 1-3 months

Step 1.
Congratulations! You wrote a book! And you revised it! You did revise it, right? Oh phew, good. Wait – you had someone else read it, too? Yes? Even better.

Okay now take those thousands upon thousands of exquisitely and painfully chosen words and condense them down to about 200-400, without losing too much meaning. Easy peasy!

…not so easy peasy?

Okay, fair.

Try this instead: explain to your dog/cat/goldfish the plot of your novel. Now, try again with your spouse/best friend/postal carrier, but this time, leave out the subplots. Now, try again with your coworker/doctor/mother-in-law, but this time try to wrap it up before their eyes glaze over or they change the subject.

If you don’t feel ready to speak of your plot aloud (I get it, I’ve been there), write it out instead. Make a chapter by chapter summary of your story. Then condense that: remove all mention of subplots but keep the flow. Let it sit for a few days to a week, then condense again. Cut everything after the first third of the plot and viola: you’ve got a very rough first draft of a query letter.

Oh, but it’s still got a long way to go.

Step Two.
Read everything about query letters you can get your hands on. Read the Query Shark archives. Read Miss Snark’s archives. Then see if your favorite authors have ever posted their query letters. Google query letters and read more examples. Read mine, if you’re interested. Sit with this accumulated knowledge. Internalize it.

Rewrite that first draft from step one. Feel free to write 10-50 different versions until it starts to feel right. It’s only 200-400 words, after all. Pick your favorite.

Step Three.
Let your query sit for at least a day, preferably a week. Then get out your fine-toothed comb and check:

  • Are there no more than 2-3 named characters?
  • Are the stakes clear? I.E. What does the main character want, and what will happen if they don’t get what they want?
  • Does every single word serve a purpose? Even a verb choice can reflect tone/worldbuilding/voice.
  • Do the ideas flow logically from one to the next?
  • If you read it aloud, do you stumble anywhere?

Step Four.
Find someone who hasn’t read your manuscript and ask them to read your query. If they get confused anywhere, revise until it’s clear. If they get bored, ask where.

Step Five.
Let it sit another day or week. Look at it again. Revise.

Step Six.
Spend some time researching agents. Follow their social media, read their submission policies, check out their client lists. There’s a lot of info out there about how to personalize your query for each agent – don’t skip it. You are choosing to query that agent for a reason, even if it’s just that they rep adult fantasy and know their shit. Don’t query an agent who only accepts literary fiction with YA sci-fi. Just… no.

Step Seven.
Send out your first query letter. As soon as it leaves your outbox, realize there’s a typo in the third line. Accept that this is your sacrifice to the query gods and – ultimately – no one’s gonna care about a single typo. Really.

But fix it before you send out your second query letter.

And viola – your query letter is fully cooked! Serve warm, garnish with anxiety. Pairs well with a glass of hope.

Author: K.A. Doore

K.A. Doore writes fantasy – mostly second world, mostly novels – with a touch of horror and a ton of adventure. Now she lives in Michigan with her one (1) small human and one (1) wife, but it's been a long road across the U.S. and back again to get here. The Perfect Assassin, is the first book in the Chronicles of Ghadid trilogy, is her debut.