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Query Letter Genre Essentials: Pitching Mystery And Thriller Novels | Writer’s Relief

Writing a query letter for your mystery or thriller novel? Here are the things that Writer’s Relief recommends you keep in mind when pitching a book to literary agents:

How To Write A Query For A Mystery Or Thriller Novel

Know your genre (and your subgenre). Because the line between mysteries and thrillers is blurry, booksellers tend to put them together on a single bookshelf labeled, “mysteries and thrillers.” For readers in physical bookstores, this makes for effective book browsing.

But readers shopping online can sort their search results by subgenre. So if you can target your reader by pinpointing your subgenre within the larger mystery/thriller genre, you may be a more attractive prospect to literary agents and publishers.

Here’s a list of the major subgenres within the world of mystery. And here’s a list of thriller subgenres.

Nail your word count. Different subgenres of mystery have different word-count guidelines. For example, a cozy mystery might be as short as 65,000 words, whereas an epic international espionage thriller might run to 110,000 words. Be sure your word count approaches the typical guidelines of your book’s novel subgenre if you’re hoping for a traditional book deal. Learn more by reading Genre Fiction Rules: Find Out If Your Novel Meets Publishers’ And Literary Agents’ Criteria For Publication.

If you’ve written a series, take precautions. Mystery is one of those genres that lends itself to series writing. Amateur sleuths in sweet cozy mysteries appear from one book to the next. Hard-nosed private investigators can carry a grittier series for decades. But before you announce in your query letter to literary agents that you’ve already written ten books—without having sold the first one—consider instead mentioning this after an agent has expressed interest.

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Compare with care. Comparing your book to another title might seem like a great idea, but it can easily backfire. Here’s what you need to know about making book comparisons in your query letter.

Build an author bio that demonstrates dedication to your genre. One of the best things about writing a mystery is how many resources are at your disposal. From trade organizations for writers to smaller local writing groups, mystery is a hugely popular genre among both readers and authors. Even if you haven’t been published in any of the many literary journals that are open to mystery/thriller stories, you can use the author bio section of your query letter to demonstrate that you’re committed to learning about your craft by listing your many mystery-related writing activities.

And The Most Important Thing About Pitching A Mystery Or Thriller To A Literary Agent

Working in a saturated book market is a double-edged sword. On one hand, mysteries and thrillers have a huge readership. (Fun fact: It’s one of the most popular forms of audio book.) But on the other hand, literary agents and publishers have seen it all when it comes to genre books, so they’re looking for something new. Traditional—yes. But with a new twist. And that makes it difficult for writers to break in using classic mystery tropes.

4 of the most common mystery and thriller tropes:

  • Fallen FBI agent has to save the world from terrorists
  • A quirky elderly person is drawn into solving mysteries in the neighborhood
  • A hard-boiled former cop takes on a client who might be more dangerous than the mark he’s chasing
  • A young lawyer struggles to prove himself but finds himself in the middle of dangerous international espionage

If you are already writing one of these familiar mystery stories—don’t panic! Just be sure you’re taking steps to distinguish your story from all the others, and that your plot is an homage, not a copycat.


QUESTION: What’s your favorite mystery or thriller genre?



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