How to Write a Query Letter for Novelists

Author and writer's coach Beth Barany shares valuable tips for getting your query letter in the best possible shape to get those requests from literary agents you've been working for.

By Beth Barany, guest blogger

You want to get your novel traditionally published. Great! Now all you need to do is get the attention of a literary agent who can represent you. To do that, you need to write an important marketing document: the query letter.

A good query letter’s job is to get the agent to request your book, usually the first three chapters or the entire manuscript. Literary agents list how you need to query them on their websites, so do your research.

In the over 20 years I have actively been working as a professional writer and writer’s coach, the expectations for what makes for a good query letter have hardly changed at all. 

That’s because this marketing document needs to do one thing: hook the reader, often an intern. Once you hook them, then you want them to request your book. 

So, a caveat: make sure your manuscript is polished and ready to send to an agent.

In this post, I'm going to take you through the steps on how to write a good query letter to pitch your novel to a literary agent.

As you may understand, this query letter is as important as your book—even more so, because it’s a short document, no more than 350 words - often less, so every word counts.

Once your query letter is written, you now have a template you can tailor as needed to each person you send it to.

A big no-no is to send the exact same letter to many people. The agents want to know you have done your homework.

Overall, you want your letter to be clear, concise and accurately represent your book. Tall order, I know, but it can be done. Many writers have done so successfully. 

Let's get into it. 

Three Main Parts to a Query Letter

There are three main parts to a query letter, usually in three paragraphs.

Part 1: The Introduction and Hook

Part 2: The Elevator Pitch 

Part 3. About You

I’ll go through each one and provide examples.

Part One— The Introduction and The Hook

There are 3 components to Part One.

  1. The personal opener. Skip if you haven’t met them in person.
  2. The basic details about your book.
  3. A short hook, tagline, or logline. Optional.

1. The personal opener

If you met the agent in person, most typically at a writer’s conference, then state those specifics in the first line. This is foot-in-the-door type situation and designed to get you past the intern. 

Example: I met you at XYZ Conference and you requested I send you my query package. 

If you’re querying cold (like a cold call), then skip this step and go to the basic details of your book.

2. Basic details about your book

Here’s an example of the basic book details.

I am seeking representation for No Margin for Error, my suspense novel with romantic elements. The completed manuscript has 101,000 words. 

Here’s a slightly different version as a template to fill out:

I would like to invite you to consider for representation my GENRE novel, TITLE HERE, complete at XX,XXX words. 

Part Two: The Elevator Pitch

Akin to the back cover blurb or the book description online, this pitch is designed to hook and isn’t a blow-by-blow summary of your book.

Aim for no more than 200 words. Do write it in the voice of the story. Do be concise, evocative, and enticing.

So you don’t have to search elsewhere, I’ve provided here the structure for this pitch, with examples.

Elevator Pitch Template

[State the initial situation], [Main character name and short descriptor] wants [state their goal], but [state what’s in their way]. And [what’s much worse than that…] [state what the worst-case scenario is or could].

Here are the 5 components listed out:

Situation: Also called the Initial Action or Premise, this is the beginning of the plot.)

Main Character(s): Self-explanatory

Primary Objective: At first, what does your main character want?)

Antagonist or Opponent: or Central Conflict. Who or what is keeping your main characters from getting what they want?

Disaster That Could Happen: What’s the worst that could happen, and/or what does your character want next? Can be phrased as a question.


Abandoned on his relatives’ doorstep as an infant, Harry Potter longs to understand where he came from and why he feels different. He discovers that he is a wizard and that his parents were killed by Voldemort, a powerful and evil wizard, who has been hunting for Harry, to kill him.

Part Three: About You

Your short bio reveals your relevant degrees, awards, experience, and is not a resume.


I am the features editor of a large computer programming magazine and have been an editor of computer, business, new age, and fiction books and magazines for 20 years. I am the 2003 vice president of the San Francisco Bay Area chapter of Romance Writers of America, and my illustrated novellas have been published at

Some Don’t’s:

  • You don’t need to say you’re a first-time author. 
  • Don’t sell yourself short.
  • Don’t address your letter to “Dear Sirs.”

Some Do’s:

  • Make sure you address your letter to the right person and spell their name correctly.
  • Do use “Dear Ms. [Last name] or “Dear Mr. [Last name].”

Pro Tips Q&A

Q: What if my book is part of a series?

A: Pretend it's just one book and say something like: "This is a standalone novel with series potential."

Q: How do I sign off?

A: According to one bestselling author I know who has successfully queried many books, she suggests you sign off with: “All best.” Not: “All the best” or anything else. She says it’s “a little secret handshake that shows you know the business.”

Q: How do I find literary agents?

A: Use [link:] for agents wanting your genre.

Q: Can I use ChatGPT to write my query letter?

A: No.


Beth Barany is an award-winning science fiction and fantasy novelist, master neuro-linguistic programming practitioner, and certified creativity coach for writers. She specializes in helping writers experience clarity, so they can write, revise, and proudly publish and market their novels to the delight of their readers. She also collaborates with creative entrepreneurs to clarify their message and craft powerful marketing to reach their clients.

Beth runs an online school for fiction writers, Barany School of Fiction, and offers resources on publishing, book marketing, and novel writing at her blog, for and by creative writers, Writer's Fun Zone.

She’s the author of Plan Your Novel Like A Pro, co-written with her husband, thriller writer Ezra Barany, plus four other books for writers, and runs a podcast called “How to Write The Future” for science fiction writers who want to write optimistic stories set in positive futures.

Beth Barany writes in several genres including young adult adventure fantasy, paranormal romance, and science fiction mysteries. Inspired by living abroad in France and Quebec, she loves creating magical tales of romance, mystery, and adventure that empower women and girls to be the heroes of their own lives. Her latest series is the award-winning sci-fi mystery series about a space station investigator, which starts with Book 1, Into The Black,



Podcast: How To Write The Future

School: Barany School of Fiction








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