Sample Query Letter - How to Write an Agent Query

Query Letter Sample – How to Write an Agent Query

Literary Agent Reading Query Letter SampleSample Query Letter – The query letter sample below will help you create a successful query letter of your own, so you can get a top literary agent, publisher, and book deal. This article explains. It’s part of our free 15-part guidelines on How to Write a Query Letter by Mark Malatesta, a former literary agent and former Marketing & Licensing Manager of a well-known book publisher.

These guidelines cover everything you need to know to write a successful query letter. For example: What is a query letter and what’s the best query letter format? What’s the best query letter length and what does a sample query letter look like? Where can you find successful query letter example or a query letter templates? What is a SASE for a query letter? And where can you find query letter help if you want to get a query letter critique?

This part of the guidelines shares
and discusses a sample query letter.

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Sample Query Letter –
Successful Query Letters

As an author you might wonder
how important your query letter is.

It’s important.

The sample query letter below (by a previously unpublished author) didn’t just get my attention when I was an agent. It made me request the complete manuscript to read. It was included in the Writer’s Digest Books Guide to Literary Agents as a sample query letter for other authors to learn from.

And…

It completely changed
the author’s life.

The sample query letter below led to:

  • Multiple offers from major publishers
  • A book contract with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH)
  • A multi-book deal
  • Hardcover and paperback publication
  • Book signing tours
  • Travel and speaking opportunities
  • Feature film options with movie studios like DreamWorks
  • Audio book adaptation
  • Dozens of awards and nominations
  • Seven books now in print

What is a query letter
you ask?

A game changer.

You can credit everything that happened above to the sample query letter below (although the author gives me a lot of credit too, since I’m the literary agent that secured her first seven book deals).

Okay, now…

After you read this sample query letter, make sure you also read my comments underneath it. They break down the different parts of this sample query letter, and explain them. This query letter critique was published in the Writer’s Digest Books Guide to Literary Agents with the sample query letter.

* * *

Query Letter Sample
by Carol Plum-Ucci

Carol Plum-Ucci Photo - Sample Agent Query Letter

Dear Mr. Malatesta:

Of all the agents listed in Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, and Literary Agents, you seemed the nicest! (Or maybe it’s just one of the other entries I saw. “Impatient, illiterate, ignorant writers I do not allow… Remember, I’m selective and cranky!” Gee, I think I’ll sign right up.)

Several reasons I feel I have a winning YA in The Body of Christopher Creed:

  • The Young Adult Market has been shrinking downward in reading level. Initially designed to market to high school students 14-17, the age bracket has dropped to junior high, with probably sophomores at the highest. Not many contemporary works have endured for the high school upper classman. I feel I have created a work that cuts with that unusual double-edged sword—would appeal to the lost age group of high school students and also has enough social redeeming value to appeal to teachers, librarians, editors.
  • While containing marketable mystiques including horror and some romance, its most redeeming qualities are the characters and the voices they yield. It hits on some contemporary issues, i.e. sexual promiscuity and discovering wayward behavior in parents. But this ms is different from other YA’s in that its essential purpose is not to examine issues and moralize (from which older teens shy away). I am simply telling a story—uncovering a mystery—with real life as a steely backdrop.
  • My bone of contention with much young adult fiction is that many stories are all character, and the plot goes nowhere. Not the case here. I went to great lengths to make sure the unfolding drama turned the pages as well as the voice. Teenagers who enjoy King, Straub, Clark would find this an easy but absorbing read—about their own age group.

My full-time position is Director of Publications for the Miss America Scholarship Foundation. I write all their publications, ghost write for Miss America, have written Miss America preliminary stage scripts. I have sold two plays, and The Body of Christopher Creed is my fifth young adult novel (I’ve hit VERY close). I have been a spokesperson for the smuggling of black market literature into former communist countries. I would love to speak at high schools and have a good background in marketing, but the best thing that qualifies me to write for this age group is that I’ve never quite grown up. I can clip Miss America’s manager in the #@! with a rubber band from 30 feet, can gargle the entire national anthem and not choke, and would still be winning belching contests against my daughter’s compatriots if she weren’t threatening constantly to disown me (she’s coming of age, so).

Sincerely,

Carol Plum-Ucci

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Query Letter Sample – Query Letter Critique

There are many things about this sample query letter that I like. I’ve organized my comments below into sections for each one of the paragraphs in the sample query letter.

* * *

Paragraph 1 – Sample Query Letter Critique

Always address your query to an individual agent–don’t say “Dear Agent.” When it comes to compliments, they don’t guarantee you’ll get an offer for representation. But they can’t hurt, either, if your praise is specific and genuine. And don’t be afraid to have a sense of humor (if you have one, don’t force it).

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Paragraph 2 – Sample Query Letter Critique

You probably noticed that this sample query letter uses an unconventional format. Carol used bullet points. That’s okay because content matters most. Who cares what a query looks like if it communicates the right things. Very few authors convey a deep understanding of their target market. If you put that much thought into your pitch letter, literary agents will assume you put just as much thought into the actual writing of your book.

If you’re not extremely knowledgeable about your genre, however, don’t get too discouraged. Instead, talk to your local bookseller or librarian about your book. Briefly explain your situation and ask questions to help you better understand your target market and how your book is unique.

* * *

Paragraph 3 – Sample Query Letter Critique

When sharing what I call the “competitive advantages” of your book,
always try to do these three things:

  1. Prove you’re knowledgeable about your target market and competition.
  2. Show that you’ve incorporated, and capitalized on, something other authors have done successfully and/or something that’s trending.
  3. Explain how you’re also doing something fresh and different.

Read this paragraph of the sample query letter (above) one more time
and you’ll see that Carol does all three of these things well.

* * *

Paragraph 4 – Sample Query Letter Critique

In this paragraph of the sample query letter, Carol continues to reveal her knowledge and mastery of the YA book genre. She then starts mentioning names of bestselling authors, to help literary agents understand what her writing style is like; she does it without saying she’s better than (or as good as) those authors.

Now, here’s something fun…

Take a quick look at the sample query letter one more time and see if you can figure out what her book is actually about. I love this part. Carol says absolutely nothing about the plot of her book. My point? Don’t go on forever about your story because it’s the easiest thing for you to do. Include at least one paragraph that puts your book “in context.” The purpose of a query isn’t just to tell literary agents what your book is about, you also need to make agents trust that you know your genre and market.

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Paragraph 5 – Sample Query Letter Critique

Did you notice, in this section of the query letter sample, that Carol told me she was an unpublished novelist? She also stated (very wisely, in my opinion) that she’d written five novels and already come close to getting published. Most authors think talking about past “failures” will make literary agents trust you less. It made me trust Carol more–I suddenly knew she’d paid her dues and was committed, and she’d probably gotten better with each book. If I didn’t ask to read her manuscript, someone else would. And I might regret letting the next big thing get away.

One last thing…

The closing of this sample query letter is well-done also. Genius, in fact. That’s because teenagers don’t do boring. So Carol was clever to use her real voice for her query–the same voice that I was pretty sure I’d see later in her novel. I could also tell (as you probably could), from Carol’s personality in this sample query letter, that she would be popular with younger readers when speaking and doing appearances. So, don’t be rigid. “Professional” doesn’t mean boring. You can be good at what you do, make a case for why it’s valuable, and have fun at the same time.

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Now that you’re seen my favorite sample query letter
read the next article in this free 15-part series with
my thoughts on Query Letter vs Synopsis.

Yellow Query Letter Next Button

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Author Success Story: Fiction  
Author Picture

"Before I revised my query letter with Mark, I got no responses. When I sent out my new query, I got four requests for more material within 24 hours The support Mark provides is fantastic. His suggestions changed my original query significantly, but they also helped me see that I had something to offer. Now I have a top agent! Mark is smart and reliable and working with him has made all the difference." [Click here to see all Mark Malatesta reviews]

Author of novels including The Wings That Fly Us Home (Penguin Random House / Ballantine Books)   
Author Success Story: Eleven Fiction and Nonfiction Titles  
Author Picture

"Finding Mark has been both a treat and a treasure. I now have two different agents for my work, and a book deal with Sky Horse Publishing. I’ve served as Creative Director of the TIME Incorporated Magazine Group; Director of Time World News Service, a Founding Director of TIME-Life Films; Executive Producer for both the CBS and NBC Television Networks; and Producer/ Director: Movies of the Week: CBS Cinema Center Films and Universal MCA. You just can’t do it alone today as an author." [Click here to see all Mark Malatesta reviews]

Author of eleven fiction and nonfiction books (Harper Collins and many others)   
Author Success Story: Memoir/Christian  
Author Picture

"Before I decided to work with Mark, I submitted my book to literary agents but didn’t get any interest. After I revised my query letter and book proposal, I got several agencies interested and decided to sign with Fine Print Lit, a top literary agency in New York. They got publishers bidding against each other and I ended up signing a contract with Thomas Nelson (an imprint of Harper Collins) for what I’ve been told by several people is a very large advance. What cloud is higher than 9?" [Click here to see all Mark Malatesta reviews]

Author of the memoir The Unbreakable Boy (Harper Collins / Thomas Nelson)   
Author Success Story: Nonfiction/Narrative Nonfiction  
Author Picture

"Berkley Books recently published my book in hardcover after Mark helped me get multiple agents interested in my work. I was able to speak with literary agents from top agencies such as Janklow & Nesbit, Trident Media, Anderson Lit, and Folio. I signed with Don Fehr at Trident Media and a short time later I had a publishing contract! Having Mark on your side is incredibly valuable." [Click here to see all Mark Malatesta reviews]

Author of the narrative nonfiction book Single Handed (Penguin Random House / Berkley Books)   
Author Success Story: Nonfiction/Self-Help  
Author Picture

"Mark helped me get five different offers for representation from top literary agents. I signed with Stephanie Tade who got me a 6-figure book deal with Penguin Books, which published my book in hardcover! When Stephanie first contacted me, she was very excited and said, ‘I can’t get your book proposal out of my head. It’s brilliant – I mean, really, it’s fantastic. Editors should be salivating by the time they get to the chapter outline.’ Working with Mark was completely worth it." [Click here to see all Mark Malatesta reviews]

Author of the self-help book Woman on Fire (Penguin Random House / Penguin Books)   
Author Success Story: Fiction/Young Adult  
Author Picture

"When I got the phone call about my publishing offer with Harcourt, I was in my office with three other people. I slammed down the phone, ran into the secretary’s office, threw myself down on the floor and said, ‘I got a deal!’ They sat there and held my hand. I was speechless. I’ve never ever been that happy in my life. On my wedding day I wasn’t that happy! Getting married and having children are wonderful experiences, but I didn’t ‘work’ to get my children!" [Click here to see all Mark Malatesta reviews]

Author of many YA novels including The Body of Christopher Creed (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)   
Author Success Story: Fiction  
Author Picture

"It has been an awfully long and bloody road towards publication but I’m finally on my way. Hard work, struggle, disappointments, and perseverance are important. So is following the advice of publishing industry experts like Mark. He helped me get a top literary agent and now my novel, The Wrong Hand is being published by Penguin Books and their prestigious Michael Joseph imprint, which is ‘principally interested in publishing Top Ten Bestsellers’. It’s hard not to be excited." [Click here to see all Mark Malatesta reviews]

Author of the novel The Wrong Hand (Penguin / Michael Joseph)   
Author Success Story: Memoir  
Author Picture

"I got the number one agent on my wish list thanks to Mark. He’s done more than 100 deals in just two year and has a long list of accolades, including being talked about in the New York Times. Within 4 minutes of sending out my revised query letter, my literary agent called me on the phone. Less than 30 days later I had three major publishers making offers. And, a few days after that, I signed a deal with Random House. Mark’s query letter did that." [Click here to see all Mark Malatesta reviews]

Author of the memoir Lights Out (Penguin Random House)   
Author Success Story: Nonfiction/Business  
Author Picture

"Not long after Mark helped me land a top literary agent, I got a call from my agent letting me know that I had three different publishing offers from well-known publishers: Amacom, Palgrave Macmillan, and McGraw-Hill who recently published my book in hardcover! It was a fantastic feeling and a huge smile came over my face. For a moment I felt like life was perfect and the angels were singing." [Click here to see all Mark Malatesta reviews]

Author of the business book Customer Focused Process Innovation (McGraw-Hill)   
Author Success Story: Fiction/Mystery/Thriller  
Author Picture

"Ballantine Books published my first two novels in hardcover and paperback after Mark Malatesta helped create an auction and bidding war for my books, resulting in a six-figure offer. Mark is one of the rare and genuine good guys, but he also has incredible information (even his ideas have ideas). One of the most important keys to success as an author is good information and support." [Click here to see all Mark Malatesta reviews]

Author of the mystery thrillers 24/7 and Black Valley (Penguin Random House / Ballantine Books)   

About Mark Malatesta

MARK MALATESTA is a former literary agent turned author coach. Mark now helps authors of all genres (fiction, nonfiction, and children's books) get top literary agents, publishers, and book deals through his company Literary Agent Undercover and The Bestselling Author. Mark's authors have gotten six-figure book deals, been on the NYT bestseller list, and published with houses such as Random House, Scholastic, and Thomas Nelson. Click here to learn more about Mark Malatesta and click here for Reviews of Mark Malatesta.