The Road to Publishing: The Big Q–How to Write a Query Letter

For this series of posts, we are writing about the road to publishing. You should start with our overview and then read this post about working with beta readers and critique groups. Today, Zoraida tackles the query letter.

By Zoraida Córdova

So you wrote a book.

First of all, congratulations. Writing a book, whether it’s fiction or non fiction, 1k words or 100k, it is no easy feat. Once you’ve revised and gone through the critique process, you’re ready to put yourself out there.

What do I need?

I’m glad you asked. First, you need a query letter. I know, you’ve already written all the words, now you’ve got to write a couple more!

Where do I start?

Round up the agents that you want to work with. Always make sure that they represent the kind of book you are shopping. If an agent says they only rep Adult Romance and Women’s Fiction, then you probably shouldn’t send them your Middle Grade Action Adventure told from the POV of a young boy.

Some good places to start are:

Agent Query

Writers Beware (I’ve been reading this site since high school and learned a lot)

Publisher’s Marketplace (Warning: keep to the agents. Don’t get discouraged if you see deals that are similar to your work.)

Writer’s Digest

Basically, do your research.

Great, so let’s write the letter.

The Vicious Deep (The Vicious Deep #1)Keep it simple, professional, but still be yourself. Let’s work with my novel, The Vicious Deep.

I’ve seen query letters start one of two ways: with something flattering about why you are querying the agent and your MS title or with your novel hook.

I like to start with the novel hook because if you’re querying the agent, then it’s a given that you a) like them b) like the work they represent c) did your research.

Dear Ms. Rosado, (From my agent, Adrienne Rosado, herself: “I’ve had authors congratulate me on placing a title for an author I don’t represent and who have started their letters to me with ‘Dear Mr. Rosado.’ A little research goes a long way.”)

Tristan Hart is a playboy, a lifeguard, and after a freak storm on his home shore of Coney Island, a merman. (A hook. No pun intended)

He discovers that his grandfather, the sea king, is getting on in years and has set up a championship for the throne. Along with four eligible mermen, Tristan must piece together the three parts of the trident and return to court in a fortnight. The trident pieces could be anywhere in the world, and armed with his good looks and a family dagger, Tristan doesn’t know where to start. With the help of two court guards, Brooklyn’s supernatural alliance, and his reluctant girlfriend, Layla, Tristan is on his way to retrieving the first piece of the trident. But the champions aren’t the only ones fighting for the throne. The Silver Mermaid, ancient and powerful, has broken from her prison. She’s got an army of vicious merrows at her disposal, and she’s got her sights on Tristan Hart. (Summaries are the hardest because how do you whittle your 100k words into a tiny paragraph? Start with your Character, Challenge, Goal, Obstacle. I know there are plenty of subplots in your novel, but try to stick to the major one for now.)

THE VICIOUS DEEP, a YA urban fantasy complete at 100k words, is the first in a trilogy. It will appeal to fans of Charles De Lint, Holly Black, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I believe my work would be a good fit for you because of your interest in fresh YA fantasy. (Make sure your manuscript is complete. Don’t lie about this. I know you want to get your book into agents’ hands, like, yesterday. But you’d do your work a disservice if an agent asks for the full manuscript and you only have half of it.  Also, include something personal about the agent you are querying. You might have heard them speak at a conference. You read their bio on the agency website, etc.)

I studied English Literature and Latino Studies at Hunter College. In 2004 and 2005, I attended the National Book Foundation Writing Camp. My short work has been published in the anthology GROWING UP GIRL. (Credentials, if any. You don’t have to have an MFA in Children’s Literature to write a novel. It’s great if you do, but don’t be discouraged if you don’t. I certainly don’t, and I still managed to get my books published.)

I look forward to hearing from you.


Zoraida Cordova

What now?

After you’ve spell checked and read your query over, it’s time to send it out. Always double check the submission guidelines. All agencies will have this page. This is an example from my agency.

Former agent Nathan Bransford says that you should always include a five page sample of your work.

I believe this is will also save time in the back and forth process with the agent. Now that they have a tiny sample of your work, they can know if they want to see more.

For further questions, comment here, email us at, or message us on Facebook or Twitter. Don’t be shy!

Good luck!

2 comments on “The Road to Publishing: The Big Q–How to Write a Query Letter

  1. Pingback: The Road to Publishing: Going on Submission | Latin@s in Kid Lit

  2. Pingback: Author Interview: Zoraida Cordova | Holly M. Campbell: Adventures in Writing

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