I really sent out very poor query letters when I first got started, but with the help of my friend, the actor Thelma Farmer, I finally came up with one that worked. When this went out electronically, I had about six requests for partials – within an hour. What I learned was: keep it short.
The first paragraph is the ‘hook.’
The second should outline the plot in no more than 250 words.
And in the third, I think it’s helpful to let the agent know something about you and your background. Make sure your letter contains the word count, the precise name of the agent you’re sending it to, the genre, and the name of your manuscript.
Here’s what worked for me.
“When Canadian Detective Mike Ellis is framed for a shocking murder while vacationing in Cuba, lawyer Celia Jones, sent to prove his innocence, finds a devastated country where sex tourists and the spirit world share the streets, and where even the Internet is illegal.
It’s Havana, Christmas, 2007. Detective Mike Ellis is on vacation hoping to rescue his collapsing marriage. When his angry wife leaves him – and Cuba – he goes on the biggest bender of his life. He meets a charming Cuban escort who helps him forget his troubled past. He wakes up alone with a splitting headache. His wallet, badge, and money are missing and he can’t remember much of the night before. But Mike’s troubles are just beginning. The body of a brutally murdered child, a street hustler, is fished from the ocean. The brilliant Inspector Ricardo Ramirez and his cynical protégé, Rodriguez Sanchez, find evidence leading straight to Mike’s arrest. As he sits helplessly in jail, facing likely execution, Ottawa lawyer Celia Jones arrives to help. But with only three days to prove Mike’s innocence, and a vicious killer on the loose, it’s Celia’s life that’s in danger.
I was a Canadian criminal defence attorney for more than twenty years; a prosecutor for several of those, and worked as one of the first female Special Constables with the R.C.M.P. (our national police force). I taught courses on criminal trial procedure, and have published a number of op-ed pieces, newspaper columns, and articles. I spent a Christmas in Old Havana where I watched the bored young policemen on street corners along the Malecon, visited most of Hemingway’s favourite bars, and learned to make a perfect mojito.
The completed manuscript for my novel, The Beggar’s Opera, is approximately 95,049 words, available on request. The novel is in the crime mystery/thriller genre and will appeal to readers who like Scott Turow and Martin Cruz Smith.
Thank you so much for your generous time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.”
For advice on how to format a query letter, check out Nathan Bransford’s blog: