Query Letter Template - How to Write an Agent Query

Best Template for a Query Letter – How to Write an Agent Query

Photo of Formula for Template Query LetterQuery Letter Template – What’s the best template to use when writing a query letter? In other words, how can you make your agent query stand out from the crowd so you can get top literary agents fighting over the opportunity to represent you? 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.

This free training outlines everything you need to know about query letters, answering questions like: What is a query letter? What’s the best query letter length? Are their different query letter formats? What does a sample query letter look like? Where can you find successful query letter examples? What is a SASE? And where can you get query letter help if you need it?

This part of the training reveals
the best query letter template.

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Query Letter Template –
Tips for Writing a Query Letter

Before I reveal my query letter template, there’s something you should know. Literary agents have to write query letters too, because that’s how they sell books. The only difference is that (when a literary agent does it) it’s called a “cover letter.” And literary agents meet with editors and publishers first (or call them on the phone), to tell them what the book is about. Then they ask if they can send it along, and do so (by mail, email, or messenger), with a cover letter.

In other words, I didn’t just read more than 60,000 queries during the time I was a literary agent, I also wrote my fair share. And I’ve written a lot more during my time as a book publishing coach, since I retired from being a literary agent. So, the query letter template I’m about to share with you works.

It’s the same query letter template I’ve used for more than a decade to help authors get book deals (including six-figures) with major book publishers like Random House, Simon & Schuster, Harper Collins, Thomas Nelson, St. Martin’s Press, Hyperion, Prentice-Hall, Workman, Andrews-McMeel, Entrepreneur, Barron’s, Amacom, and too many more to list here.

The end result (I’m proud to say) is millions of books sold with works also being picked up for TV, stage, and feature film (with companies like Paramount Pictures and DreamWorks); countless awards; and books being licensed for foreign editions around the world. So scroll below now to see my query letter template. Perhaps in a few days or weeks from now, you’ll write to tell me that you just got a top literary agent, publisher, and book deal.

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Query Letter Template – Caution

The query letter template you’re about to see isn’t like anything you’ve seen before. It’s not available on any other website, or in books. At least not yet–it’s cutting edge. As I mentioned during an earlier portion of this training on Query Letter Examples, most of the information you’ll find published about queries, in books and online, is lacking. It’s also often conflicting.

It isn’t all bad…

But, if you follow that advice, your query letter will only be half as good as it could be (literally). And that means you’re twice as likely to get lots of rejection letters. So take a look at my query letter template below now and see if you can avoid that.

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The Best Query Letter Template – In Four Parts

The primary difference between my query letter template and those you’ll see taught by others is that I communicate a lot more “value” in my query letters (I explain this thoroughly in Part 4 of this training called Writing a Query Letter). One of the ways that I communicate more value is by dividing a query letter into four topic areas or sections. I say “sections” instead of paragraphs because every once in a while it’s better to expand one of the sections below into two paragraphs.

Here are the four main sections…

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Part One – Query Letter Template
Introduce Your Book and the Target Market

The first section of my query letter template is
where you should explain what your book is about.

This section should include the title and subtitle of your book, the primary book genre or category it fits into, and the word count. If you have a query letter hook, that should probably go at (or near) the beginning of this section. This section of your query letter is also where you should mention what your target market is, along with any important observations you’ve made about your market or your genre.

If your book was previously represented by another literary agent, reviewed by publishers, and/or published (including self-publishing) that should be communicated here as well. This section of my query letter template is also where you might mention the story or inspiration behind your book, and say whether your book is meant to be a standalone title or part of a series.

And…

Of course you’ll also want to have a “mini book synopsis” in this section, revealing what happens in your book if it’s fiction, or what type of material you cover if it’s non-fiction (I’ll talk more about book synopses later in this training).

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Part Two – Query Letter Template
Create Context for Literary Agents

The second section of my query letter template is where you should give literary agents context. In other words, show how your book is similar to, and different from, other titles that have already been published. This section is usually the hardest to write because most authors are much more knowledgeable about their own book than about books written by their competition. Most authors don’t even want to acknowledge that they have competition.

However, it’s critical that you don’t fall into that trap.

One of the main reasons that authors fail to sell their books isn’t because their books aren’t any good. It’s because the authors get so wrapped up in explaining what their books are about, that they they fail to show how they’re different from everything else that’s already on the market.

Prospective agents then think…

This author seems credible, but I feel like
I’ve seen this before or it’s already been done.

Even if you have written something that’s completely original and new, you should always reference other works to give literary agents context. This shows that you’re a professional author, knowledgeable about your genre. If you’re a discerning reader, you’re much more likely to be a discerning writer. So, show literary agents how your book is capitalizing on things that have already been done successfully in the market. And, at the same time, show literary agents how you’re doing something fresh.

That’s the formula for success.

Authors often think it’s a good thing to write something completely original–it’s not. If you say that you’ve written something like that to book agents, they’re going to think one of two things: 1) You haven’t done enough competitive research; or 2) There isn’t a market for your book. If there was, someone else would have already done something similar.

So, use this section of my query letter template to create context and communicate your book’s uniqueness. Not sure what to say? You can talk about your content, but you can also talk about your style.

Just make sure you
talk about something.

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Part Three – Query Letter Template
What Makes You a Credible Author?

The third section of my query letter template is meant to establish your credibility as an author, and your credibility (or potential) as a promotional partner that can help sell lots of books. Think of this section as an expanded biography. Of course, you should only include biographical information that’s relevant to your book though–details that reinforce your credibility as someone qualified to write your book and/or promote it.

Here are a few ideas to get you started…

You could talk about your: education and expertise; professional accomplishments; life experience, special skills; previous publishing credits or awards; honors, awards, and prizes; associations, professional groups and/or other organizations that you’re part of; relevant volunteer, community, and business affiliations; hobbies; etc.

You might share whether you’ve ever been part of any writers’ groups or attended any writers’ conferences, seminars, workshops, or retreats. Same thing if you’ve ever worked with a book coach, consultant, or editor (that shows you’re a professional and coachable). If you have influential testimonials, you might mention those as well. And you should mention any experience you have with public speaking, publicity, public relations, or the media.

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Part Four – Query Letter Template
Why Are You a Good Promotional Partner?

The fourth section of my query letter template is designed to make you look like a good promotional partner. In other words, someone who can help your publisher sell books. This is where you need to communicate your ability, willingness, resources, and plan to promote your book.

Now, before you start thinking of things to say, keep the following in mind: There are types of content that you can put in this section, and they are not created equal.

1) Promises about your willingness to promote your book

For instance: “I’m willing to participate in book signings and create a website to promote my book when it’s published.” That kind of statement is basically useless because it’s just a promise that you might–or might not–follow through on. And agents are famous for saying things like, “Give me proof, not promises.”

2) Promotional plans that you don’t have complete control over

For instance: “I recently met so-and-so at a writers’ retreat last month and she said that she might promote my book in her popular newsletter to her mailing list if I get a publisher.” This type of statement is better than nothing, but it’s not nearly as good as the next type of statement.

3) Confirmed plans that you have complete control over–or almost complete control

For instance: “I’ve already confirmed speaking engagements for the next 12 months that will put me in front of 25,000 people, and I’ll be able to promote my book from the stage. I also get 15,000 visitors to my website each month, and I have 18,000 followers on social media. I also have blurbs from [insert names of famous people here], who’ve already read my book.”

Here’s another one: “Although I don’t have a big mailing list of my own yet, one of my good friends does (he writes in my genre). We have a written agreement and he’s going to send out a 3-part promotional email campaign over a 30-day period to his list of 75,000 people.”

These types of statements aren’t empty promises. They’re solid, no BS plans that will get even the most jaded literary agents excited about working with you. Of course, they also have to love your book.

But that’s a given.

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Query Letter Template – The Final Word

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by my query letter template and all the information I just shared with you, don’t worry. Here are a couple things for you to keep in mind.

First, you don’t have to hit a homerun or do an excellent job
in every one of the four parts of my query letter template.

Really…

And I’m going to prove it.

On the next page of this free multi-part training, I’m going to share a query letter that an author submitted to me when I was a literary agent. She didn’t follow my query letter template perfectly, but she did an excellent job talking about the market for her work. I took her on as a client and got her a multi-book deal with a major publisher.

So click here now to read the next article in this query letter
training and take a look at this Sample Query Letter.

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Author Success Story: Fiction/Young Adult  
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"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  
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"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: Fiction/Mystery/Thriller  
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"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)   
Author Success Story: Nonfiction/Narrative Nonfiction  
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"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: Fiction  
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"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: Eleven Fiction and Nonfiction Titles  
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"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: Nonfiction/Business  
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"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: Memoir/Christian  
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"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/Self-Help  
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"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)   

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.
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