11 June 2023

The Last 300 words: A Query Letter

I wrote a 80,000 word book that got shortlisted for the Arthur Ellis Award for unpublished novels and then, decided it needed work so, I did what any sane person would do and wrote a whole new 80,000 word book. 

I’ve done my final edits and my editor will do her grim reaper work on it and then it’ll be done. 

Writing the book is the best part - it’s full of long mornings getting up before the sun and quietly writing. Even when I’m not writing and, perhaps sitting for lunch with my family, a part of the book comes up that I need to add to or edit, I replay it in a few different ways and often slip away to write it. Sometimes things are maligned by saying they’re child’s play but writing is child’s play in all the best ways - it is the total immersion into a world of your creation that’s so real that the real world can sometime pale in comparison.

Now I’ve hit the next step: the query letter.

The purpose of query letter is to seduce an agent into reading your book. An agent can’t read every book sent to them so a short letter is how they choose what to invest time into and what to reject. However, the whole process of writing a query letter has my heart racing, my mouth dry and in this state I couldn’t seduce my own husband let alone a complete stranger. But sure, let’s be seductive.

Did I explain that there are sections? Yes, sections. In 300 words.

I can barely say hello to an old friend in less that 300 words and that’s with no sections. 

First, there is a warm greeting to the agent and an explanation of why you want to work with them. For the agents I want to work with, I would need the whole 300 words to explain why they’re amazing, it would be an honour to work with them and why a future of having tea and chatting about books is both of us living our best lives.

Ok, maybe just me living my best life. 

Then I need a hook to get them interested in my book. A hook is a sentence or two to make them want - nay need - to dive into my book even if it means neglecting their children, pets or dinner in the process. This is the ultimate seduction and I’m not sure I’m up for that.

Can I beg off with a headache? 

Then I need to summarize my book. Summarizing a 80,000 word novel would take me (checks notes) 80,000 words.

That’s why I wrote the darn thing in the first place. 

Then there’s a little bit about me. I am down with that part and can do it in a few words. It’s the rest of it that’s driving me around the bend.

I have always loved reading. I can’t remember even a day in my life where I wasn’t immersed in a book and, whenever I finish all the books by an author I love its almost as bad as a death in the family. These constant companions of mine, writers, have always been my heroes who create worlds from nothing but ink. I have a new found respect for authors because they also they managed to wrangle this dreadful beast called a query letter. It is no small feat and may well be a bigger feat than writing their books in the first place.

This leads me to my next problem: should I write the query letter or just write another book instead? As an escape from the anxiety of the query letter, I’ve already mapped out another book and it’ll take less time and be less stressful than writing a query.

A summary of my writing experience is this: the first 80,000 words are a delight to write but the last 300 words are hell.


  1. Provoking article, Mary. All this selling falls on people who write because they don't like selling!

  2. Mary Fernando11 June, 2023 07:39

    So true, Leigh. They call it a seduction, but it's really a sell.

  3. I hate writing query letters of any kind. Grr....

    1. Mary Fernando11 June, 2023 17:37

      I’m so glad it’s not just me!

  4. Oh Mary, I so agree! One of the advantages of being an established author with a trad publisher is they give you advances before you write the book. But that means you have to give them a 1 page full synopsis, written in a way to entice, BEFORE you write a word of the book! 500 words in exchange for 75,000. It's hell, smile.

    1. Mary Fernando11 June, 2023 17:38

      I did not know this, Melodie. May I cry instead?

  5. Oh, lord, query letters. The only thing I hate more is writing the synopsis, or that might be a tie with back cover copy.

    Years ago, I was conducting a workshop and someone asked me why I self-published my most recent novel. Without thinking about it, I answered, "So I wouldn't have to write another #%*&! query letter.

  6. Mary Fernando11 June, 2023 17:40

    It’s so good not to feel alone in my angst!


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