If you plan on finding a literary agent, there's no way around a strong and professional query letter. It's the first impression we get of you and your writing. If you're querying an agent who only asks for a query letter in their sub guidelines, it might even be the only impression they will get of you and your writing -- because if the query letter is weak, they probably won't even bother to request any sample pages. So I've decided to come up with a short but simple checklist to help and remind you of what you shouldn't forget to include in your query.
□ a subject line. My preferred subject line for a submission reads "Query: TITLE". Some people try to put as much information as possible in their subject line (for example: "Name of agent/ TITLE/ genre/ name of author") — so unnecessary. Stick to the simple format.
□ the agent's (correct) name. To be perfectly honest, I don't care whether you call me Julia or Ms. Weber. What I care about is that you try to personalise your query. So please, under all circumstances, please avoid lines like "To whom it may concern", "Dear Agent", "Dear Editor" (eh, what?), "Dear Sir or Madam", "Dear Madam", etc. Even worse: no salutation at all -- how rude! Why would you ever think it'd be polite and right to send out a professional letter or email without acknowledging the recipient? Finding out the agent's name (and getting it right) is quite possibly the easiest part of the whole query process. Don't mess it up.
□ your manuscript's TITLE. You think this is a joke? Nope, trust me... that happens far too often. Ideally, you already include it in your subject line (see above), but it should definitely be mentioned again in your query.
□ the genre. Non-negotiable.
□ your manuscript's word count. Again: non-negotiable.
□ the actual pitch. Its goal is to hook me, to entice me to read your manuscript. Don't confuse it with a synopsis. Or be lazy and just use your synopsis to save time -- it won't work, trust me on that. Pitch and synopsis are not the same thing; they serve different purposes. If you don't know the difference: Google is your friend, use it.
□ the HOOK! No hook, no interest.
□ your main character's age (at least in a query for children's, MG, YA fiction). If I don't know if your YA character is 14 or 18, I won't know if the plot, the dialogue, and the character development are age-appropriate. It's crucial information. Even in adult fiction, I like to know if the MC is in their 30s, 50s, or 80s. It's just something that helps me understand the story.
□ a couple of sentences about yourself. Your author bio so to speak. Mention relevant experience (previously published works, for example) and/or what you're currently working on. I don't really need to know your favourite colour or food, or your cat's name, but hey, if you wanna share that, feel free. I enjoy random bits of information. ;)
□ your name and contact information. I once got a snail mail submission without ANY information on how to contact the author. They really didn't think that through, did they? Also, please don't use weird nicknames. Once, a writer called himself Mephisto in his query and even wrote that he wouldn't give me his real name until I sent him a contract. That's more than borderline creepy. I didn't even have to look at his material to know my answer.
□ all the material asked for in the sub guidelines. Bear in mind that these guidelines can vary from agency to agency. Some only want a query, others want a synopsis and/ or reading sample... Make sure to send the right material to each respective agent. Many agents don't even consider submissions that don't follow the guidelines, so don't set yourself up for an unnecessary rejection.
Finally, a short list of things that should NOT be included in your query:
□ your idea for the cover. First of all, let me be perfectly honest: most self-designed covers I've seen in queries were absolutely hideous. Even if you're a decent artist or photographer, (professional) cover design is a whole different story. Leave it to the pros. And, seriously, the chances that a publisher will go for your cover design are pretty slim to non-existent.
□ a picture of yourself. I have to admit that I'm not even sure why this rule exists, but sending a photo is just something that's done. I mean, I don't open uninvited attachments anyway, so I probably won't even see it. So don't bother.
□ material that wasn't asked for. When I ask for the first 3 chapters, don't send random chapters. Or your full. Don't send multiple manuscripts at once. Don't send a video query; I won't open the file.
That's it. I'm looking forward to questions, comments, and/ or marriage proposals in the comments section below. And good luck on your query journey!