As anyone who’s even been to a writers’ conference can attest, query letters cause no end of consternation and angst. That’s totally understandable, by the way—as the first introduction of a writer to an agent, it gets assigned a huge amount of importance. Plus, for a lot of writers, it’s a completely unnatural way of writing.
Going further, I think some of the frustration with queries comes from the lack of practical models—the generic queries you find in writers manuals tend to be so flat that they don’t offer much inspiration. And because the recommended query format is so basic—it’s really just intro, summary, and credits–writers often fall into the trap of thinking they need to fancy it up, and without concrete examples for guidance, the results tend not to work. On the other hand, cautionary examples typically are so laughably bad that they’re not really useful either, except for getting a rise out of a writers’ workshop.
So I was very excited to find this post on GalleyCat of actual query letters that landed authors representation. It’s a fantastic resource, and there’s a lot here that writers can learn, borrow or just plain steal. Better yet, the queries span a comprehensive range of categories—no matter what you’re writing, there should be a model here for you. At the same time, it’s worth looking at all of them, because reading them en masse reveals just how closely these successful authors hew to the basic query format, regardless of genre. Finally, if you really want to get technical about them, several are even broken down and annotated.
And in terms of querying me: I’ll side with my fellow agents from GalleyCat that short, straightforward, and on-format works best, and for author/illustrators, always include either art samples or a link to a portfolio.