The query letter is quite possibly the single most important page you’ll write for your novel. You’re expected to summarize and condense and pitch your entire book in just a few hundred words! Not too mention the obscure formatting expectations involved. It can be so confusing. Wouldn’t it be helpful to see some real life examples of query letters, letters you can know for certain were successful? Well never fear, because in this post I have not one, not two, but six query letters that landed authors agents. Use these letters as templates when writing and perfecting your own query letter.
Letter #1: YA Contemporary Fantasy, Patrick Bohan
Dear [Insert Agent Name],
When sixteen-year-old amateur occultist Paul “borrows” an enchanted ankh to conjure a social life, he gets a demon instead. A demon that, unfortunately, plans on using the ankh to conquer San Francisco instead of scoring Paul a hot date to prom. The demon steals the ankh and kidnaps Paul’s crush before disappearing into the Underworld. Oops.
A demon-hunting society arrests Paul for the blunder, revealing that his spells have turned him into an underworlder — a monster with a thing for magic and evil laughs. If that wasn't stressful enough, the society assigns teenage commando Alice to be Paul’s babysitter. She doesn’t exactly appreciate the assignment, or see eye-to-eye with her people’s nonviolent approach to underworlders.
The society gives Paul just one month to retrieve the ankh and rescue his crush. If he fails, the society turns his head into a wall hanging.
Paul and Alice’s search for the ankh takes them deep into the Underworld, a world where might makes right and danger strides through the ashen streets. But when Paul gets chummy with the cutthroat underworlders, Alice tests his loyalty via broadsword. Paul must find a way to save both worlds from the demon he released, all while keeping his big head on his shoulders. Fingers crossed.
OCCULT JENGA is a YA urban fantasy novel, complete at 90,000 words. It will appeal to fans of HOLD ME CLOSER NECROMANCER by Lish McBride. I studied at Cornell University, with a focus on economics and bottomless coffee cups.
Thank you for your time and consideration,
Like a true egomaniac, I’m leaving my query letter as the first example. Sure, it’s anything but perfect. But it follows a very traditional format of presenting an inciting incident, followed by stakes, followed by what the main character must do to avert the crisis and what happens if the main character fails. It also uses an acceptable amount of voice, with sentences like Fingers Crossed and Oops telegraph that this is going to be a more light-hearted piece, one with lots of humor. Using voice is a great way to capture this element of your manuscript. The ‘comp title’ used here is HOLD ME CLOSER NECROMANCER, a book that was published within the last 5 years. It was successful, but not a wildly mainstream bestseller, showing agents that I’m reading within my genre and do not have unrealistic or even arrogant expectations for how my book will perform.
Sure, the letter anything but perfect. Some would call it basic. Hell, I would call it basic. But if nothing else, it’s traditional. The letter is roughly 350 words (average query length), opens with stakes, ends with stakes, and gives just enough details to keep plot clear while avoiding vagueness. If you’re looking for an average query letter, this is it.
Letter #2: Middle Grade Fantasy, Hélène Boudreau
I am seeking literary representation and hope you will consider my tween novel, REAL MERMAIDS DON’T WEAR TOE RINGS.
First zit. First crush. First … mermaid’s tail? Jade feels like enough of a freak-of-nature when she gets her first period at almost fifteen. She doesn’t need to have it happen at the mall while trying on that XL tankini she never wanted to buy in the first place. And she really doesn’t need to run into Luke Martin in the Feminine Hygiene Products aisle while her dad Googles “menstruation” on his Blackberry.
But “freak-of-nature” takes on a whole new meaning when raging hormones and bath salts bring on another metamorphosis—complete with scales and a tail. And when Jade learns she’s inherited her mermaid tendencies from her late mother’s side of the family, it raises the question: if Mom was once a mermaid, did she really drown that day last summer?
Jade is determined to find out. Though, how does a plus-sized, aqua-phobic mer-girl go about doing that, exactly … especially when Luke from aisle six seems to be the only person who might be able to help?
REAL MERMAIDS DON’T WEAR TOE RINGS is a light-hearted fantasy novel for tweens (10-14). It is complete at 44,500 words and available at your request. The first ten pages and a synopsis are included below my signature. I also have a completed chapter book for boys (MASON AND THE MEGANAUTS), should that be of interest to you. This manuscript has received a revision request from editor, Kathy Tucker, from Albert Whitman & Company.
My middle grade novel, ACADIAN STAR, was released last fall by Nimbus Publishing and has been nominated for the 2009/2010 Hackmatack Children’s Choice Book Award. I have three nonfiction children’s books with Crabtree Publishing to my credit (one forthcoming) as well as an upcoming early chapter book series. My writing received an Honourable Mention in the 2008 Surrey International Writers’ Conference literary competition (Writing for Young People) and I was recently awarded a juried literary grant from the Ontario Arts Council.
Thank you for taking the time to consider this project.
When asked about the letter Hélène’s agent Lauren Megibow said it has an exceptionally “strong voice, one of the things writers struggle with the most. Hélène, however, knocked it out of the park with her query letter. I find young readers are very sensitive to inauthentic voices, but you can tell by just the first few paragraphs that she is going to absolutely nail the tween voice in the manuscript.”
Hélène immediately draws us in with her fun, authentic voice. The personality of the writing shines through, which is so important, especially in humor heavy MG. Not only does she get all the information across clearly and concisely, but she uses humor to keep it fun and give us a sense of what her novel will actually read like. Using voice like Hélène is a great way to make your letter unique without breaking any query conventions.
Letter #3: YA Contemporary, Danika Stokes
Dear Mr. Smith,
At BookExpo / BookCon this week, I spoke with my editor Holly West (senior editor Swoon Reads, Macmillan) about acquiring a new agent since my current agent, Morty Mint of Mint Literary Agency, is retiring. Holly suggested you’d be a good match. I have two unpublished projects at present. One is a partial, Into The Storm, which I’m working on with Holly. The second is Coffee Run. Complete at 60K words, Coffee Run (previously titled Sip Sip Bang Bang) is a fast-paced action adventure best described as “Die Hard in a coffee shop.”
Haylee Campos is living the New York dream. She’s landed an impressive publishing internship at Folio-Echo, made great friends, and is finally starting to feel at home in the city. At work, Haylee spends her time putting out fires and, of course, making the occasional coffee run to Caffeine, the shop across the street. In spite of her mother’s worries, Haylee’s life is practically a Taylor Swift song. Until she gets caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. Trapped in Caffeine by a group of rogue criminals, Haylee and Carter (the super hot barista whose inability to get her order right is what landed Haylee in this situation in the first place) must rely on their extensive knowledge of action movies in order to save themselves and the other café customers. But time is running out… Full of heart-pounding action, close-calls, and pop-culture references, Coffee Run is similar to Field Notes on Love by Jennifer E. Smith, Layover by Amy Andelson and Emily Meyer, and Love and Other Train Wrecks by Leah Konen. A revised version of this manuscript is one of several projects Holly and I are considering down the road.
My most recent Macmillan YA, Switchback, launched May 28 and although I do not have any purchase numbers, I can share that they had to cut the signing line at BookExpo, and all copies of Switchback sold out in half an hour at BookCon. Switchback has received literary praise for its portrayal of an aroace teen who finds herself an outsider because of her asexual / aromantic identity. Switchback made Publishers’ Marketplace’s “Buzz Books”, Barnes & Noble’s “35 Most Anticipated LGBTQAP YA Books”, 49th Shelf’s “2019 Books for Young Readers Review”, A Thousand Worlds’ “Most Anticipated LGBTQ Books of 2019”, Book Riot’s “2019 YA Book Preview”, BN Teen blog’s “New Releases”, and was selected for Barnes & Noble’s “48 of the Best YA Books of May”. Support among the YA author community has been tremendous. On its release day, Switchback received Twitter shout-outs of support from Heidi Heilig, Julian Winters, Zoraida Córdova, S.K. Ali, Amanda Lovelace, Preeti Chhibber, Cyrus Parker, Sophia Elaine Hanson, C.B. Lee and many others. My other writing has received recognition and literary praise as well. Edge of Wild (previously entitled Tathagata) was a quarter-finalist in Amazon's Breakthrough Novel of the Year Award (2013), a finalist in the Horatio Nelson Fiction Prize (2015), and took second place in the Publish or Perish contest (2015). All the Feels was selected for Swoon Reads' fourth list (2015) and was nominated for YALSA's Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers (2016), and for CYBILS' Children's and Young Adult Bloggers' Literary Awards (2016). Edge of Wild was included in Chapter Indigo’s "Our Favourite Canadian Fiction" (2017) and made the “Crazy for Canlit” longlist for the Giller Prize (2017). Internet Famous was selected as one of Fierce Reads' "9 Perfect Summertime Reads" (2017) and also received a coveted “Highly Recommended” ranking from CM Magazine (2017). In 2018, Internet Famous was nominated for the R. Ross Annett award for Excellence in Writing by an Alberta author and The Dark Divide, was nominated for the High Plains Book Award (2018). In the summer of 2018, both Edge of Wild and The Dark Dividereached Calgary’s Top 10 Fiction Bestsellers List.
If you are interested in Coffee Run or Into the Storm, or would just like to chat further, please contact me at home at (XXX)XXX-XXXX or by email at XXXXXXXXXX@gmail.com. You are also most welcome to talk to Morty Mint (my previous agent), or Holly West at Macmillan, who has been my editor for all of my young adult novels.
Looking forward to hearing from you!
Maybe this isn’t your first publishing rodeo. You might have had a book published in the past but want a different agent, or maybe you self published, or have a background in short stories. But for whatever reason, this is not a query letter for your debut novel. If this describes you, then not only will you need to pitch your work, but you’ll also need to pitch your previous work, highlighting the success you’ve already had as an author. Danika does a brilliant job of this, beginning the letter by explaining she’s had an agent and is published by a Big 5 house, but is seeking new representation. Then, after a blurb explaining what happens in the book, Danika gives an estimation of sales figures, lists all the awards her work has won, and provide details to highlight how successful her book launch was. As an established author, Danika checks all the boxes, but what's so great is that she never oversells or undersells. She never makes up sales figures or exaggerates her success, but she doesn’t forget to include any positive attention the book has received. This makes her stand out as both an author and a business partner, as agents can tell from the letter that she a motivated and resourceful marketer. TLDR, they know she’ll be easy to work with.
Danika Also does amazing work with comp titles, draw creative similarities to other well know titles. She describes her book as Die Hard in a Coffee Shop, which not only gives us a sense of what the plot will be about, but also lets the reader expect a witty tone. With her plot blurb, Danika follows a short and sweet formula, presenting her character (Haylee Campos in an ordinary world), a conflict that jars the character out of their ordinary world (Rogue criminals in the shop) followed by stakes (must rely on their extensive knowledge of action movies in order to save themselves and the other café customers.) This snappy blurb coupled with an extensive biography section catches eyes, and if you do the same, your letter will too.
Letter #4: YA Fantasy, Sarah Ahiers
In the Kingdom of Lovero, where families of assassins lawfully kill people for the right price, seventeen-year-old Oleander “Lea” Saldana sets out on a path of vengeance against the most powerful assassin family of all.
The list of things Lea can count on in her life has never been long: her mother will try to poison her to make Lea a better assassin, she can beat her boyfriend, Val, in a fight, and her bone mask will keep her safe from the angry ghosts as she kills someone in the night. But when she trusts Val, a member of the powerful Da Via family, with the secret location of her home, she is betrayed and her family is slaughtered while Lea barely escapes as the sole survivor.
Now there’s only one thing left to do: make the Da Vias pay.
The only problem is, the Da Vias have gone to ground and the one person who can find them is her missing uncle, banished from her family years ago. Even if Lea can find him before the Da Vias realize she escaped their knives, Lea can’t trust him. Hells, she can’t trust anyone ever again, and definitely not her uncle’s too-attractive-for-his-own-good apprentice, Alessio, no matter what her heart and body tell her. How can she trust Alessio when the last boy she loved destroyed everything? How can she fall for Alessio when revenge is all she should care about?
But when the Da Vias kidnap her uncle, Lea has a choice: use him as a distraction to finally kill the Da Vias, or trust Alessio and save all that remains of her family.
ALL THAT REMAINS is a YA fantasy novel complete at 99,000 words. It would appeal to fans of Kristin Cashore’s GRACELING trilogy and Leigh Bardugo’s SHADOW AND BONE. I have a BA in English with an emphasis in Creative Writing from the University of Minnesota, served as the fiction editor for 2003 Wayfarer, the literary magazine of the U of MN, am a SCBWI member and have been accepted into Hamline University’s MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults (January 2014). My young adult horror short story “Smothered” appears in DARK MOON DIGEST YOUNG ADULT #1 and I have a story for the adult horror market in DARK MOON DIGEST #6.
[Redacted], editor at Harlequin Teen, read five pages for a critique session at the MN SCBWI October 2013 conference, loved them, and would like to see the manuscript when it’s ready for submission.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
Letter #5: Adult Sci-Fi, Jason M. Hough
Dear Ms. Megibow,
From your profile on Publisher’s Marketplace, I see that we share a love for John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War. I am contacting you for representation of my science fiction novel, THE DARWIN ELEVATOR. The manuscript is complete at 130,000 words, and can stand alone or become a series.
Skyler is immune to a disease that has wiped out most of humanity. Only one place on Earth is safe for those not immune: Darwin, Australia, where a space elevator of alien origin suppresses the disease. Trapped in the city, the ragged citizens of Darwin rely on food grown aboard orbiting space stations to survive. They rely on scavengers like Skyler for everything else.
With a small crew of fellow ‘immunes’, Skyler leads missions into the dangerous world beyond Darwin’s safe-zone, searching for the useful relics of old Earth. Spare parts, ammunition, books -- for a price, Skyler will find it. When a reviled political leader hires him to retrieve information from a long-abandoned telescope, and smuggle the data to scientists living in orbit, Skyler is thrust into the middle of a conspiracy.
The telescope data proves another alien ship is approaching Earth. While trying to keep the discovery secret, Skyler’s employer sparks a bloody coup, led by a faction hell-bent on total control of the Darwin Elevator. As the uprising spirals into all-out war, and the alien ship nears Earth, Skyler must risk everything to protect a secret he barely understands.
I learned the art of creating fictional worlds while designing sci-fi video games, such as Aliens vs. Predator: Extinction and Metal Fatigue. These titles featured intricate stories and complex characters. I feel this experience, and my lifetime passion for the genre, has transferred well to the medium of the novel.
I would be happy to provide additional materials at your request. Thank you for your consideration.
Jason M. Hough
Letter #6: YA High-Fantasy, Ryan P. Freeman
I’m Ryan P. Freeman. I’m already an indie author with multiple works published. As a free-lance marketer, I have multiple social media platforms, with readers in Canada, Italy, the UK, Norway, Australia, and the U.S. I head the marketing effort for this conference, and am highly active in both the St Louis and Hannibal Writers Guilds, founder/President.
The next novel I’ve written is an immersive 87,000-word YA high-fantasy novel called Nameless, which is currently being professionally edited by Kara Frazier, who I was referred to by Meghan Pinson, another editor here at this conference.
Originally written as a homage to the late Ursula LeGuin, Nameless reads like a mix of Rothfuss’ Name of the Wind meets Skyrim.
After a nameless scullery maid miraculously defeats a dragon by commanding him by his True Name, her village sends her away to Moen Mage School out of fear from the raw magical power she possesses.
Now nameless and homeless, the girl adventures from island to island across the sea towards the mage school. Along the way, she dodges the murderous Order of Oblivion, who are bent on ripping the meaning out of people and invading her Realm from their own chaotic land of Oblivion.
Nameless desperately wants to discover who she is and why she matters, in a world which has dismissed her all her life. During her journey, Nameless continues learning how her ability can tip the balance of power on the highest order.
The nameless girl, together with elemental dragons, piratic merchants, and mer-women, become pitted against the Order of Silence’s on-going apocalyptic invasion.
Her story is as much about finding meaning as it is about the drive behind why people crave to understand themselves.
Thanks for reading these 6 letters! For more free info on querying, publishing, my own work, and this crazy writing profession, sign up for my mailing list below. It would mean a lot to me. -->
1. Klems, Brian. “Read These Successful Query Letters.” Writer's Digest, 28 July 2011, www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/successful-query-letters.
2. Sambuchino , Chuck, et al. “Successful Queries: Agent Lauren MacLeod and ‘Real Mermaids Don't Wear Toe Rings.’” Writer's Digest, 5 June 2019,
3. “Successful Queries.” Writer's Digest, www.writersdigest.com/forums/topic/successful-queries.
4. Ahiers, Sarah, and Jason M. Hough. “r/PubTips - [PubTip] Agented Authors: Post Successful Queries That Garnered Agents Here!” Reddit, www.reddit.com/r/PubTips/comments/6slgyd/pubtip_agented_authors_post_successful_queries/.