Elizabeth once received a query letter addressed to “Gentlemen.” When she returned it, she wrote: “I am no gentleman.”
When it comes to query letters, how you write is as important as what you write. Thanks to the Internet, it’s faster and easier to query more agents than ever. However, your query letter must not give agents a single reason not to want to see your work. Here are easy seven ways to get an instant rejection or no response from an online query:
1. Include tell-tale signs of a multiple submission.
Beginning with “Dear Reader” or “Dear Publisher,” or including the list of the agents to whom you are sending the query letter will not endear you to prospective agents.
The Solution: Query as many agents as you wish simultaneously, but personalize your letters.
2. Include an attachment.
Because of viruses, agents won’t open attachments from strangers.
The Solution: Send what their guidelines request in the body of your email.
3. Write to the wrong agency.
Our agency receives queries for poetry and screenplays, which we don’t handle.
The Solution: Research what agencies want and how to contact them before querying them.
4. Write to the wrong agent.
I only do nonfiction but receive fiction queries often.
The Solution: Find agents who represent the kind of book you write. Read their blogs. Follow them on Twitter. Friend them on Facebook. You’ll have a much better idea if they’re the right agent for you.
5. Waste an agent’s time.
Telling agents why you’re writing or providing information they don’t need annoys them because it wastes their time.
The Solution: Use three or four paragraphs to describe the hook, the book, and the cook on one page:
- why book buyers will care about your book
- what it is, the model(s) for it, how long it is or will be, and what you will submit
- who you are: track record, credentials, and the strongest parts of your platform and promotion plan
If you have a specific reason for contacting a particular agent, such as a recommendation or other books they’ve sold, start your letter with a sentence about that.
6. Write badly.
Misspellings, grammatical errors, poor word choice, faulty sentence structure; agents see these mistakes every day. An agent maxim: If you can’t write a letter, you couldn’t write a book. As agent Katherine Sands says, the writing about your writing is as important as the writing itself.
The Solution: Do as many drafts as it takes to make it irresistible and get feedback on it from writers who can provide it. The only time to approach agents is when you have something ready to sell.
7. Not proofreading your letter.
Agents endure letters with obvious mistakes that prove that the writers had never proofread them. Because agents only read far enough to make a decision, one mistake in the first line may be as far as they go.
The Solution: You will see different things on the screen, in hard copy, and hearing it aloud. Do all three steps to ensure the words are right, and have at least one other reader to catch what you miss.
Just by avoiding these pitfalls, you are far more likely to get your work read. The tougher the business gets, the more eager agents are to find new writers. So follow these suggestions and query away!
Previous posts have more about query letters. If you have a letter you’d like to share, please do.
Comments, questions, and rants welcome.
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