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Query Letter Hook - How to Write an Agent Query

Best Hook for a Query Letter – How to Write an Agent Query

Well-dressed Literary Agent - Hook Query LetterQuery Letter Hook – What is a hook for a query letter and what are the best query letter hooks? This article explains. It’s part of our free 15-part guidelines on How to Write a Query Letter by Mark Malatesta, a former literary agent and former Marketing & Licensing Manager of a well-known book publisher.

These guidelines answer any questions you might have about query letters, and others that you might not think to ask. For example: What is a query letter? Where can you get query letter help or a query letter critique? What is the best query letter format and where can you see successful query letters or agent query examples? How long should a query letter be? And what is a SASE for query letters?

This article reveals how to write
the best query letter hook.

* * *

Query Letter Hook Definition

Ready, set, go.


You only have 8 seconds
to impress me…

Most literary agents won’t say that to you,
but that’s pretty much how it works.

What is a query letter hook?

It’s your chance to get past 8 seconds. In other words, a query letter hook is a sentence or two at the beginning of your query that’s meant to make agents keep reading. That’s critical because literary agents don’t really read query letters–at least not completely, all of the time. The best book agents won’t read your entire query unless the first few sentences grab them and don’t let go. That means you have approximately 8 seconds to get their attention.

Now, I know what you’re thinking:

1. Literary agents are idiots for doing this.

2. How can a literary agent know if my book is good based on just one sentence?

3. Literary agents are going to miss out on some talented authors and books doing that.


Why do literary agents make snap
judgments about an authors’ books?

Good question.

Think about the last time you were browsing books online, in a bookstore, or at an airport… scanning titles written by authors you weren’t familiar with. How much time did you (on average) spend reading those authors’ work before deciding whether you liked their book or not? Were there any titles that you quickly “dismissed” after reading the first few paragraphs–or just the first few sentences?

It’s okay,
you can admit it.

In fact, I bet there were one or two books that you “rejected”
just because you didn’t like the title or cover design.

Agents do the same thing.The Best Query Letter Hook – Who Has Time?

Another reason book agents read queries too fast (or not completely) is that they don’t have time to read every sentence of every agent query. It’s simply not possible. The best book agents get over a thousand queries each month. I know, it’s frustrating. But think about how long it would take YOU to read a thousand letters, in addition to everything else you have going on in your life. I know, it’s an agent’s job to read query letters.

But it’s also an agent’s job to take care of his (or her) existing clients.

* * *

Query Letter Hook – Does a Great Query Mean a Great Book?

Like it or not, most literary agents believe that a great query letter means a great book. Of course, that’s not always the case, but (as a former literary agent, I can assure you) there is often a correlation between a good query letter and a good book. So literary agents are sometimes too quick to dismiss queries that aren’t well-written.

Yes, I’ve been guilty of this too.

I’m not always right,
but I usually am.

That’s because literary agents have the experience and skill to make quick decisions about query letters. I’ve personally read more than 60,000 agent queries. At this point, if you hand me a query letter, I can practically blink and tell you if literary agents are going to be interested in your book; I can tell you, almost as quickly, how to fix your query if it’s “broken.”

There’s just no way around it–you have to write a great query letter hook. Literary agents (especially top literary agents) aren’t going to read your entire query letter, unless you give them a darn good reason.

In the first 8 seconds.

Now, here are a few tips to
help you do just that…

* * *

Query Letter Hook – Tip #1

Don’t bury the lead. Now that you understand the fact that literary agents probably won’t read your entire query letter unless you hook them… put something at the beginning that will, well, hook them.

* * *

Query Letter Hook – Tip #2

Get creative. A query letter hook can be about anything: you, your book, your target market, or a relevant quote or statistic. Anything. Just make sure it’s unusual.

* * *

Query Letter Hook – Tip #3

Get help. If you don’t know what you should say first in your query letter, get support. Just make sure (when you do) that the person “helping” you is qualified. If you haven’t already done so, read this Literary Agent Query Letter Warning about “experts” that can cause more harm than good.

Now that you know how to write a query letter hook
let’s talk about the best Query Letter Format.

Yellow Query Letter Next Button


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Author Success Story: Fiction  
Author Picture

"Before I revised my query letter with Mark, I got no responses. When I sent out my new query, I got four requests for more material within 24 hours The support Mark provides is fantastic. His suggestions changed my original query significantly, but they also helped me see that I had something to offer. Now I have a top agent! Mark is smart and reliable and working with him has made all the difference." [Click here to see all Mark Malatesta reviews]

Author of novels including The Wings That Fly Us Home (Penguin Random House / Ballantine Books)   
Author Success Story: Nonfiction/Business  
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"Not long after Mark helped me land a top literary agent, I got a call from my agent letting me know that I had three different publishing offers from well-known publishers: Amacom, Palgrave Macmillan, and McGraw-Hill who recently published my book in hardcover! It was a fantastic feeling and a huge smile came over my face. For a moment I felt like life was perfect and the angels were singing." [Click here to see all Mark Malatesta reviews]

Author of the business book Customer Focused Process Innovation (McGraw-Hill)   
Author Success Story: Fiction/Mystery/Thriller  
Author Picture

"Ballantine Books published my first two novels in hardcover and paperback after Mark Malatesta helped create an auction and bidding war for my books, resulting in a six-figure offer. Mark is one of the rare and genuine good guys, but he also has incredible information (even his ideas have ideas). One of the most important keys to success as an author is good information and support." [Click here to see all Mark Malatesta reviews]

Author of the mystery thrillers 24/7 and Black Valley (Penguin Random House / Ballantine Books)   
Author Success Story: Fiction  
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"It has been an awfully long and bloody road towards publication but I’m finally on my way. Hard work, struggle, disappointments, and perseverance are important. So is following the advice of publishing industry experts like Mark. He helped me get a top literary agent and now my novel, The Wrong Hand is being published by Penguin Books and their prestigious Michael Joseph imprint, which is ‘principally interested in publishing Top Ten Bestsellers’. It’s hard not to be excited." [Click here to see all Mark Malatesta reviews]

Author of the novel The Wrong Hand (Penguin / Michael Joseph)   
Author Success Story: Nonfiction/Self-Help  
Author Picture

"Mark helped me get five different offers for representation from top literary agents. I signed with Stephanie Tade who got me a 6-figure book deal with Penguin Books, which published my book in hardcover! When Stephanie first contacted me, she was very excited and said, ‘I can’t get your book proposal out of my head. It’s brilliant – I mean, really, it’s fantastic. Editors should be salivating by the time they get to the chapter outline.’ Working with Mark was completely worth it." [Click here to see all Mark Malatesta reviews]

Author of the self-help book Woman on Fire (Penguin Random House / Penguin Books)   
Author Success Story: Eleven Fiction and Nonfiction Titles  
Author Picture

"Finding Mark has been both a treat and a treasure. I now have two different agents for my work, and a book deal with Sky Horse Publishing. I’ve served as Creative Director of the TIME Incorporated Magazine Group; Director of Time World News Service, a Founding Director of TIME-Life Films; Executive Producer for both the CBS and NBC Television Networks; and Producer/ Director: Movies of the Week: CBS Cinema Center Films and Universal MCA. You just can’t do it alone today as an author." [Click here to see all Mark Malatesta reviews]

Author of eleven fiction and nonfiction books (Harper Collins and many others)   
Author Success Story: Memoir  
Author Picture

"I got the number one agent on my wish list thanks to Mark. He’s done more than 100 deals in just two year and has a long list of accolades, including being talked about in the New York Times. Within 4 minutes of sending out my revised query letter, my literary agent called me on the phone. Less than 30 days later I had three major publishers making offers. And, a few days after that, I signed a deal with Random House. Mark’s query letter did that." [Click here to see all Mark Malatesta reviews]

Author of the memoir Lights Out (Penguin Random House)   
Author Success Story: Memoir/Christian  
Author Picture

"Before I decided to work with Mark, I submitted my book to literary agents but didn’t get any interest. After I revised my query letter and book proposal, I got several agencies interested and decided to sign with Fine Print Lit, a top literary agency in New York. They got publishers bidding against each other and I ended up signing a contract with Thomas Nelson (an imprint of Harper Collins) for what I’ve been told by several people is a very large advance. What cloud is higher than 9?" [Click here to see all Mark Malatesta reviews]

Author of the memoir The Unbreakable Boy (Harper Collins / Thomas Nelson)   
Author Success Story: Fiction/Young Adult  
Author Picture

"When I got the phone call about my publishing offer with Harcourt, I was in my office with three other people. I slammed down the phone, ran into the secretary’s office, threw myself down on the floor and said, ‘I got a deal!’ They sat there and held my hand. I was speechless. I’ve never ever been that happy in my life. On my wedding day I wasn’t that happy! Getting married and having children are wonderful experiences, but I didn’t ‘work’ to get my children!" [Click here to see all Mark Malatesta reviews]

Author of many YA novels including The Body of Christopher Creed (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)   
Author Success Story: Nonfiction/Narrative Nonfiction  
Author Picture

"Berkley Books recently published my book in hardcover after Mark helped me get multiple agents interested in my work. I was able to speak with literary agents from top agencies such as Janklow & Nesbit, Trident Media, Anderson Lit, and Folio. I signed with Don Fehr at Trident Media and a short time later I had a publishing contract! Having Mark on your side is incredibly valuable." [Click here to see all Mark Malatesta reviews]

Author of the narrative nonfiction book Single Handed (Penguin Random House / Berkley Books)   

About Mark Malatesta

Photo of Mark Malatesta - Former Literary Agent MARK MALATESTA is a former literary agent turned author coach. Mark now helps authors of all genres (fiction, nonfiction, and children's books) get top literary agents, publishers, and book deals through his company Literary Agent Undercover and The Bestselling Author. Mark's authors have gotten six-figure book deals, been on the NYT bestseller list, and published with houses such as Random House, Scholastic, and Thomas Nelson. Click here to learn more about Mark Malatesta and click here for Reviews of Mark Malatesta.
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