query letter template from Nathan Bransford, agent
This query letter template from Nathan Bransford's blog. Two steps.
Step 1. Here's what you need to have:
[Agent name], [genre], [personalized tidbit about agent], [title], [word count], [protagonist name], [description of protagonist], [setting], [complicating incident], [verb], [villain], [protagonist's quest], [protagonist's goal], [author's credits (optional)], [your name]
Step 2. Here's the template, filled in with the above information.
Dear [Agent name],
I chose to submit to you because of your wonderful taste in [genre], and because you [personalized tidbit about agent].
[protagonist name] is a [description of protagonist] living in [setting]. But when [complicating incident], [protagonist name] must [protagonist's quest] and [verb] [villain] in order to [protagonist's goal].
[title] is a [word count] work of [genre]. I am the author of [author's credits (optional)], and this is my first novel.
Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.
(These are Mr. Bransford's updates to this post on his blog, March 31, 2008.)
UPDATE: I should note that "villain" does not necessarily have to mean an actual person, alien, monkey, spore, or etc. It could be a personality trait, nature, society... basically whatever is standing in between the protagonist and his/her/its goal.
UPDATE 2: If you mention a previously published book in the query letter I need 1) the publisher and 2) the year. Otherwise I'll just assume it was published by a small press sometime in the 1850s, and you don't want me to assume that.