When attempting to interest an agent or publisher in your story, you’ll probably need to send them a query(or pitch) letter. Regardless of whether the letter is emailed or forwarded in hard copy, the expected content is the same.
Examples used below are for my novel Who Will Save the Planet?
Format and Content
Check whether the recipient wants hard-copy or email submission.
Here is an example template. Text like this needs to be customised. Check the recipient’s web site and/or other sources for their specific requirements.
Your postal address
Your phone number(s)
Your email address
Date Month Year
Dear recipient’s name,
I am seeking an agent/a publisher for my completed XX,X00-word genre novel, Title. If applicable, introductory personalisation; eg, describing when you met the recipient, references to previous correspondence, a recommendation from one of their current clients, or something you have in common with the recipient.
One to three paragraphs about the story (see Your Novel).
If required, state what kind of readers the novel would appeal to.
If required, provide details of similar novels.
If required, provide details of manuscript assessment.
Relevant biographical details, focusing on your previous traditionally-published works, writing contest successes and/or relevant employment. Keep it to a few sentences; if you have no relevant background, say nothing.
Any particular reason why your work is especially suitable for this agent/publisher; eg, similar works they’ve published.
I have enclosed a synopsis/three sample chapters/an SSAE for your reply. Please recycle any unwanted material.
I would be elated to be able to submit sample chapters/a synopsis/the full manuscript. Thank you for considering my request.
Your website/blog address, if any
You need to describe your novel in such a way that the agent/publisher will be fascinated, and will want to read more. (Depending on the submission, that could mean the attached synopsis or manuscript, or they may request that you provide those subsequently.)
This section breaks down the description into three paragraphs. You can use less. Moreover, you probably won’t be able to address all of the points listed in the worksheets while keeping your description below 150–200 words. Include those points that show off your story best, but you should consider the issues in bold to be essential.
Items in bold are most important.
Items in italics are tips and checks; others prompt for content.
Paragraph 1: Introduce Your Novel
|Hook sentence:||headstrong student Jason; 14-year-old Jason|
|worried about climate change (CC); wants something to be done about CC; nobody agrees with him; disappointed that PM won’t do anything about CC|
|Protagonist’s flaw(s) (if essential)||headstrong; adamant|
|Back-story setting (if essential)||saves PM from drowning|
|Setting (if essential)||coastal town (not essential)|
|Motivation (if not implied by problem/stakes)||CC could mess up his and others’ future (probably obvious)|
|Consequences/stakes:||Jason’s future-and everybody else’s (also Jason’s pride/determination)|
|protagonist’s future well-being is at stake|
|Intended plan/action:||get PM to adopt emission controls as promised reward|
|Complication/obstacle rendering initial plan ineffective:||PM wants to weasel out of his promise|
|Approximately 50 words||61|
Paragraph 2: More Details
|Conflict, complications, situations||PM tries various tactics to get Jason off his back (bribe, accusation of selfishness); Jason has to match wits with the PM; media leaks; holiday gets messed up; Jason harassed by townspeople and media (passive); trips to Sydney and Canberra not fun.|
|Another character (if essential)||PM, maybe professor|
|World-building titbits (in passing) (if possible)||none critical, but country town; trips to bigger cities|
|Horrible realisation or new plan||things aren’t as simple as he thought|
|Approximately 70 words||49|
Paragraph 3: Tension
|Major complication (conflict):||PM gets a professor to confuse Jason|
|Directly related to para 1 problem?||yes|
|No obvious way out?||yes|
|Choice (difficult and emotional)||force PM to honour his promise, or admit that he could actually be mistaken|
|Theme and/or character development (if fundamental)||Jason learns that things aren’t always as simple as he first thought|
|Stakes (consequences):||saving the planet|
|Are they high?||yes|
|Consistent with stakes in para 1?||yes|
|Para ends on a hook; eg, stakes or conflict?||yes|
|Approximately 50 words||66|
|Avoid too much ‘this happened then that happened’ (ie, plot)||hopefully|
|Bring out emotions (tip: list words that describe what the story is about emotionally)||anger, determination, arrogance, confidence, shy, confusion, pressure, harassment, hassles, selfish, tolerance, balance, impotence, adamant|
|Ensure protagonist initiates action (ie, isn’t passive)||hopefully|
|If protagonist does bad things, provide a reason for reader to care about him/her||N/A|
|For descriptions (if any), consider providing one or two specific examples rather than vague generalities||N/A|
|Uses short, punchy sentences||yes|
|Avoids passive sentences||only one (‘request caught by media’)|
|Uses strong nouns||yes|
|Uses verbs that emphasise action||hopefully|
|Minimal adjectives and adverbs||yes|
|Uses descriptive words to create an image||hopefully|
|Conveys voice (eg, humour)||not well|
|150–200 words||yes (176)|
|Check for quick readability||yes|
Fourteen-year-old Jason is adamant that something should be done about climate change, but nobody seems to agree with him. He feels impotent—until he saves the Prime Minister from drowning. The PM offers a reward, and Jason asks for strict emission controls. The request is caught by the media, so Jason thinks the PM’s trapped. But the PM’s got other ideas.
A battle of wits ensues as Jason tries to stop the PM from squirming out of his promise. Encounters with the PM that initially sound like fun end up getting heavy, and Jason’s plan for a quiet summer holiday gets seriously messed up by pushy reporters and resentful townspeople.
Just when Jason thinks he’s won, an ally seems to be working against him. Figuring out who’s on what side gets tricky, and Jason even starts to wonder about himself. With a deadline fast approaching, he has to decide whether to force the PM to honour his promise, or admit that he could actually be mistaken. But if he caves in, who will save the planet?