Friday, April 9, 2010


I finished my handouts for Saturday's SCBWI LA Writer's Day, and I thought I'd share one of them with all of you...


First things first:

A query letter is a BUSINESS LETTER.

The PURPOSE is to entice an agent to request your full manuscript.

If you can, show your personality and the personality of your ms in the query letter.

Research agents! (click on the link to find out how)
- Send your query ONLY to agents who represent what you write.
- DO NOT query on a book that is not complete.


Dear Mr./Ms. (name one agent! spell their name correctly.)

1st Paragraph:

There are 2 schools of thought on how to write the 1st paragraph:

1-Some agents want you to jump right into the synopsis of your story.

2- I, along with many other agents, prefer to know why you are querying me upfront. If you are querying this type of agent, in the first paragraph include short, precise and true reason(s) you are querying a particular agent. Research agents to not only find out if they are a good fit for you but also so you can tell them why you are querying them.

In the 2nd and possibly 3rd paragraph, write a short--3 to 10 sentence synopsis of your story.

Here is how:

The query synopsis is not a plot play-by-play. IT IS A SALES PIECE. The easiest way to get started is to imagine someone asks you..."What is your book about?"

In TITLE, X-year-old Main Character needs to (define problem) before (obstacles).

Now not all your stories will fit into this neat sentence--mine didn’t--but you get the idea.

All info upfront. Agents want to know:
-the title of your manuscript-
-if you are querying on a pb, cb, mg, ya, etc.,
-genre: is it a fantasy, contemporary, dystopian, romance, tear-jerker, etc,
-the age of your main character,
-what is the mc’s problem,
-and if important, the setting.

Here is an example from my query for TWIN SISTER: I AM NOT YOU (unfortunately I now know that this book needs a lot of work and I am not sure I will ever finish it so I will share the query synopsis with you here):

In TWIN SISTER: I AM NOT YOU, Gina is a seventeen year old grappling with the death of her special-needs twin sister, her parents’ over-the-top expectations, and her boyfriend’s desire to smother her with love. We meet Gina just as her mother finds out she’s been sleeping with Steven. However when Gina realizes that her mother is not upset because Gina is ‘compromising’ herself, but is blinded by the fear that Gina is putting herself at risk for becoming pregnant with a special-needs child, Gina’s past, present and future collide. In 2004, TWIN SISTER: I AM NOT YOU won a Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) Work-in-Progress Honorary Mention.

Paragraph about you

Next is the ‘who are you’ paragraph. Agents really vary on what they want to see here. I like to see whatever you think is important about who you are. Others do not want to know that you train lemurs as a hobby. But, in general:

-mention any previously published work. If you are naming books, make sure to name the publishers and year of publication. It drives me nuts to have to look up so-called previously published books only to find out they are self-published. Self-published is not published, it is you getting your book printed. If you have sold 10,000 copies or more, then mention a self-published book.

-yes, magazine publications count, esp if they are Highlights or Cricket mags. But little known e-zines really don’t make much difference.

- Mention any legitimate awards and honors for your work.

-if you have an MFA, mention it.

-Writing a book on ancient Greece and happen to be a anthropologist who worked in Greece, mention it. You get the idea....

-I know some people don’t care if you have dogs or kids or zebras, I like that research each agent to find out what they want to hear.

-don’t mention your kids/grandkids/neighbor kids love your book. Are they going to stand up and tell you they don’t? Doubt it.

-don’t mention which agents/editors have turned you down and then quote their rejections. Even if they are glowing, they are still rejections. Plus, their opinion may vary greatly from the agent you are querying.

-Mention relevant memberships: SCBWI, RWA, etc. It shows you are active and learning.

Final Paragraph

Keep it simple---Thank you for your time and consideration.

Good luck! Now go forth and query!

The amazing polymer pictured above was created by Herman Agency client Doreen Gay-Kassel. Click HERE to see her stunning portfolio and HERE to view her wonderful picture books.

To learn how to develop your Concept, Plot, Characters, etc, watch the video below:


  1. Good Stuff! That polymer is so cool (such talent!) and your story sounds REALLY interesting!! Thanks for sharing.

  2. The breakdown is so helpful. Thank you. The thing is, like with most other aspects of the writing world, it's subjective to the agent. One prefers one way and another, another way. Research is key.

  3. So there's no excuse for making unforgiveable blunders when we query you Ms. Corcoran. As always, you have been so SPECIFIC in how you prefer to read these letters, it's just up to us to connect the dots.

    THANK YOU again.
    I'll be needing this format in the summer.
    Have a lovely weekend.

  4. Thank you so much for this, Jill. This is one of the most detailed outlines for a query letter that I've seen in quite a while. I love how you break down each section & explain how to tailor it to our own story. And yes, while each agent may have their own specific requests, I think the FORMAT you provided here is INVALUABLE! :)

  5. This is perfect. Can't stress enough how important it is to research agents that are a good fit, and follow submission guidelines.

  6. Succinct and totally relevant. Thanks Jill!

  7. Lots of great information here. Most important that query letters should get to the point and be professional.

    Great post.

  8. I've never seen query info shared like this. Very helpful! I love it!

    Great post.

  9. Extremely helpful. A clear breakdown.

  10. I appreciate the straightforward information you've shared in this post. I'm working through my first draft but have been collecting for future reference advice on querying. This specific and helpful blog goes in my file!

    Wishing you a pleasant Sunday!

  11. Thank you for not just giving a sample, but explaining what information should be in each part of the query. This really helps us be able to customize the letter for both ourselves and the agent - a win-win! :)

  12. Great post, really informative and helpful! Thanks!

  13. Well I just sent off 3 queries with a one page synopsis and it looks like I gave too much info in it. for the query you didn't mention giving a word count? is that important to do or no?

    thanks :)

  14. Help! Can you give any advice on how to format a query and partial submission without using an attached file? (the partial is in the body of an email) I just sent a few off and copied myself on them, only to be shocked to discover that the chapter titles were in a gigantic font and the first paragraph was blue! I swear the original email wasn't this way. Making it text only removes all the formating (tabs, italics, etc.) Hope you can help - I love your blog!

  15. Thank you for sharing this query information. i was very helpful.

  16. Thanks, I bookmarked this one. ;-)


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