So, your book is finished. Congratulations. You’ve accomplished something most people simply dream of. But here’s the bad news: The hard part still lies ahead.

Unless you plan to self-publish, you’ll need a literary agent and those are mighty tough to find. The key to solving that dilemma is composing a query letter that knocks the agent into the next publishing hemisphere. In our latest column for “Mountain Whispers,” the quarterly newsletter of West Virginia Writers Inc., we offered some advice meeting that challenge.

We’ve had clients ask us about composing query letters and our best advice is to keep them concise. Remember, some literary agents see dozens, if not hundreds, of query letters each week, and they don’t have time to read proposals that are as long as the first two chapters of your book.

Chances are you’ll only get one chance to impress a literary agent and get your manuscript in front of her. That’s why brevity is essential.

We’re not suggesting that you curb your enthusiasm for your book, but rather that you exhibit it in a crisp, vigorous, and entertaining manner. Don’t exceed one page in 12-point type. Compose it in black type and use a sedate face. Comic Sans MS face, while attention grabbing, isn’t the least bit amusing to agents. They need to understand that you’re serious about your proposal and your work.

So, what does a good query letter look like? The best advice we’ve found comes from NY Book Editors ( Here are a few of its tips on how to compose an effective query letter:

  • “In essence, a query letter is a marketing page that talks up your book without overselling it. You must walk a very fine line between selling your manuscript without coming across like the parent who knows his kid is the best player on the bench.”


  • “Paragraph One is your chance to hook the literary agent. Share any connection you have with the agent. Share the title and genre of your book. Include your book’s word count. This is one of the most important information tidbits in your query letter.”


  • “Now that you’ve hooked the agent, summarize your story. Discuss your main characters, what happens, and what choice they must make now. But don’t give away the entire plot. Leave the agent wanting more by structuring this paragraph as a cliffhanger.”


  • “Add your bio, but make sure it’s relevant to writing. Impress your agent with writing awards and credibility or related writing experience. Keep it short.”


  • “Follow submission guidelines. Be careful about sending off a query letter blitz without reading individual guidelines.”

Easy, right? Hardly. But following these tips will help you impress a reputable agent, sell your work, and share your dream with readers. That, after all, is what your efforts are about.

Fran Allred and Mickey Johnson are the owners of We Edit Books, based in Huntington, W.Va. They have a combined 68 years’ experience as newspaper and book editors in West Virginia and across the South and Midwest. They can be reached at and [email protected].