I have written two novels: One is fiction, one is nonfiction.
–the beginning of a query letter we once received
Agents only read queries far enough to make a decision. They know that if someone can’t write a letter, they can’t write a book. One query letter we didn’t have to finish reading began: “Not that I compare myself with Shakespeare’s Hamlet…” Avoiding these common mistakes will help you:
Typos, spelling our names wrong, poor grammar and word choice such as fiction novel, which is redundant
Proofread your letter online and in hard copy, and have at least one other knowledgeable reader do it as well. You will avoid having to look at the letter after you sent it and saying “Oops!”
- Impersonal salutations: Dear Sir, Gentlemen, To Whom It May Concern. Use the agent’s name.
- A list of agents you’re emailing. Use individual letters.
- Handwritten letters. In the age of computers?
- Sending work we don’t handle. Only contact agents who handle what you write.
- Writing to both of us. Send to only one person at an agency. Whoever it is will pass it on, if necessary.
- Long paragraphs. Aim for three or four paragraphs on the page.
- Asking about a smorgasbord of unrelated books or kinds of writing. Only ask about your best, most salable book.
Agents would rather receive unique submissions, but you can speed up the query process by sending a one-page query letter to as many agents as you wish simultaneously online or off. Write the letter that would excite youyou’re your readers about your book, and if you have a salable book, agents and editors will be glad to see your work.
The Third San Francisco Writing for Change Conference: Writing to Make a Difference / November 13-14, Hilton Financial/Chinatown / www.sfwritingforchange.org / Keynoters: Million-copy selling authors Dan Millman (Way of the Peaceful Warrior) and John Robbins (Diet for a New America)