A typical query letter starts out with a hook, which is followed by the most important information an agent wants to know upfront: genre and word count.
The next two paragraphs are the pitch: what happens. The hard part is fitting this into two paragraphs at the most while leaving something for the agent to wonder about– a little tease. (In mine, for example, I purposely didn’t reveal what the main character’s “horrifying truth” is. I didn’t give away Joe’s secret, either, but I felt mentioning that he has one was important. Otherwise, why would anyone care about him? There was also a time leap between paragraphs that indicates a lot happens in Angelica’s life– a divorce, two kids, an ex in jail– that would raise curiosity, but writing anything more was unnecessary.)
The query ends with your bio and then, “If you’d like to know more about XXXX, please let me know. Thank you for your time.”
Ann Collette, an agent from Helen Rees Literary Agency, was at Stonecoast during my graduation residency at Stonecoast, helping students with their letters. She told me not to bother writing anything obvious such as, “I am seeking representation….” It makes her eyes glaze over.
I think the most important thing about fiction queries is to include colorful aspects of the story that will help to reveal character and show off your writing style.
At the same time, you should avoid vague language. (such as “Angelica’s life takes a dark turn” because what, exactly, is a dark turn?)
It never hurts to get someone else’s perspective on your story. Sometimes they can encapsulate it better than you can, but by the time you’re finished with a novel, you should know what it’s really all about! And that’s the main thing– getting the heart of your story in the query letter.