I am just finishing up reading tons of query letters from an open submission period at work. While there’s no one formula for how to write the perfect query letter, there are a few things you can do to stand out in a good way.

The whole querying process is, frankly, brutal. For authors, it’s so hard to make that connection—to find the agent or editor who’s looking for their kind of thing. A rejection can feel like someone’s downvoting your talent, even though that couldn’t be further from the truth.

One draft of one project doesn’t represent your full potential. Even if it did, agents and editors reject good books all the time because they don’t fit their current needs. (I probably do this about ten times more often than the average editor, because my company’s needs are so hyperspecific.) And sometimes, agents and editors are just plain wrong.

They get a huge volume of submissions, and it’s hard for authors to stand out. I wanted to share three hacks that can work to an author’s advantage. Even if you’re not querying right now, you might want to pin or bookmark this for future use!


THREE EASY HACKS TO IMPROVE YOUR QUERY LETTER plus a bonus tip! #how to write a successful query letter #query letter subject line #query letters for novels #how to write the perfect query letter #how to submit a novel


1. Make Your Subject Line Work For You

Your query email may be in a queue of hundreds of query emails, and chances are, many of them have subject lines like “submission,” “fantasy novel submission,” and so on. You have an opportunity to stand out and get an editor or agent’s attention right here.

No, I’m not recommending a subject line like “BEST BOOK EVER!! READ IT NOW!!” Here’s what I recommend:

(TITLE), (optional: author name), (word count), (optional: adjective or qualifier), (genre)

Here are some examples.

SISTER SHADE, 82K Twisty Upmarket Suspense 

THE WEDDING GIFT, Zara Patel, 76K Romantic Comedy

THE PARIS AERONAUT, 91K Lyrical Historical Fiction

IMPLOSION, Matthew Morris, 94K Action-Driven Scifi

I recommend not making the subject line too long, because you don’t want it to get cut off. I believe Outlook shows 54 characters (including spaces) in a subject line, and gmail is 70.

Right away, a subject line like this tells someone your submission is the length and the genre they’re looking for. The title (and the adjective, if you’ve included one) piques an agent’s or editor’s curiosity. Overall, a good subject line makes you look professional.


2. Make a Personal Connection

This one has two parts.

a. Get the salutation right.

I sometimes get query letters from authors—and from agents, who should know better—addressed as “Dear Sirs.” I don’t know if it’s weirder to be misgendered or to be multiplied. You don’t want to start a query letter in this way because most people who work in publishing are women.

As Dale Carnegie wisely pointed out all those years ago, people love hearing their own name. Addressing your query to the correct, specific person is the best way to go. (But if you’ve tried, and you absolutely cannot figure out who that person is, “Dear Editor” is fine.)

b. Show you know them.

“I heard you speak at (writing conference name here.)”

“I like the books you publish. I just finished (title of one of their books here) and enjoyed it so much.”

“I enjoyed your interview with (blog or website name here.)”

“You represent two of my favorite authors, (author name) and (author name.)”

“I enjoy following you on Twitter.”

This makes you look like you’re invested in the book publishing business, you’ll be nice to work with, and you’ll be good partner in promoting a book.


3. Give Them a Logline

An agent wants a book they can sell to a publisher. An editor often wants a book they can sell at their acquisition meeting. A publisher wants a book they can sell to retail channels, libraries, and readers.

An intriguing logline (or tag line, if you prefer) shows them exactly how to make that case. It’s a one- or two-sentence summary that conveys a little about what the book is about and what the conflict is. It makes people think, “Well, I want to see how that plays out.” 

Coming up with a great logline is hard. You can check out my list of 100 logline examples for movies and books for inspiration! You may have to try out several of them and bounce them off your friends. But if you take the time to do it, it can be a fantastic opener to a query letter, and it can make all the difference. In fact, if you’re starting a new project, I recommend doing this first.


Bonus Tip: How to Nudge an Agent or Editor

Let’s say you turn in a polished manuscript, a painstaking synopsis, and a sharp query letter…and you don’t hear back. What do you do?

Well, if it’s only been five weeks or so, or if the query was to an agent or editor who’s made it clear they don’t send rejections, the answer is “nothing.” But I would say if it’s been ten or twelve weeks, it’s fine to send a follow-up email.

Here’s how NOT to do it:

“I submitted twelve weeks ago and I’ve heard nothing. I mean…NOTHING. When can I expect an answer??”

You may be frustrated, but conveying that won’t help you reach your goals. Here’s how you nudge an agent or editor (assuming you are submitting to an email inbox and not via Submittable):

Forward your original email to them, and re-attach your manuscript and synopsis if necessary.

Write something along the lines of, “Hello! I hope everything’s going well with you. I haven’t heard back on this one yet, and I know how busy you must be, so I’m bringing it to the top of your inbox. I’d still love to work with you! I hope I hear from you soon.”

In business, “bringing this to the top of your inbox” is a useful phrase for unanswered emails in general. It’s friendly and suggests you understand the recipient gets a whole lot of emails.



If you’re querying, what’s the process like for you? Do you have any tips to share? Or do you have any questions? Let us know in the comments!

And if you can use more writing resources and inspiration, be sure to follow the blog, if you’re not doing so already—there’s a place below to sign up. Thanks for reading, and happy writing!

Related Posts

31 thoughts on “Three Easy Hacks To Improve Your Query Letter (Plus a Bonus Tip!)

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Discover more from BRYN DONOVAN

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading