Query Letters: The Hook, the Book & the Cook

A query letter should be like a skirt: long enough to cover the subject and short enough to keep it interesting.


Agent Katharine Sands believes that the writing you do about your writing is as important as the writing itself. A query is a one-page letter, single-spaced, with a space between three or four indented paragraphs, and without sounding self-serving–it describes the why, what, and who: the hook, the book, and the cook:

  • The hook: whatever will best justify publishing your book

            * (Optional) a selling quote about your book (or a previous book) from someone whose name will give it credibility and/or salability. The quote could also be about you.

            * (Optional) the reason you’re writing the agent:

                        –the name of someone who suggested you contact the agent

                        –the book in which the author thanked the agent for selling that inspired you to write the letter

                        –where you heard the agent speak

                        –where you will hear the agent speak and hope to have the chance to discuss your book

            * Whatever will most excite agents about your book:

                        –the opening paragraph

                        –the most compelling fact or idea about your subject

                        –a statistic about the interest of people or the media in the subject or the number of potential readers

  • The book: the essence of your book:

            * A sentence with the title and the selling handle for the book, up to fifteen words that will convince booksellers to stock it. The models for it: one or two books, movies, or authors. “It’s Harry Potter meets Twilight.”

            * A one-sentence overview of your book, and if appropriate, what it will do for your readers

            * The book’s biggest market(s)

            * Its actual or estimated length

            * The length of your proposal and how many more pages of manuscript you have ready to send

            * (Optional) The names of people who have agreed to give a forward and cover quotes, if they’re impressive

            * (Optional) A link to illustrations, if they’re important

            * (Optional) Include the subjects or titles of the next two books, if you’re proposing a series

            * (Optional) Information about a self-published edition that will help sell it

  • The cook: Why you’re the right person to write the book

            * Your promotion plan: the four or five most effective things you will do to promote your book online and off, with numbers if they’re impressive

            * Your platform: the most important things you have done and are doing to give yourself continuing visibility with potential readers, with numbers if they’re impressive: your online activities, published work with links to it, and media and speaking experience with links to audio and video

            * (Optional) Your credentials; experience in your field; or years of research; prizes, contests, and awards in your field

Include anything else that will convince agents to ask to see your proposal.

A fothcoming post will tell you how to speed up the query process.

 The Third San Francisco Writing for Change Conference: Writing to Make a Difference / November 13-14, Hilton Financial/Chinatown / www.sfwritingforchange.org / Keynoters: Million-copy selling authors Dan Millman (Way of the Peaceful Warrior) and John Robbins (Diet for a New America)