Learn how NOT to get a positive response from literary agents: Avoid these 10 paths to auto-rejection when you’re writing your query letter.
TOP 10 PATHS TO AUTO-REJECTION
Want to get rejected? These 10 approaches to your query letter will shut down your submission in a hot second.
- Queries that have typos in the first sentence
- Queries that start with a nugget of wisdom: “Every step we take in life moves us in a direction.”
- Queries with very small type, florid or unconventional fonts, and whacky background colors are frowned upon. You can assume that just about everyone in publishing suffers from eyestrain.
- Queries longer than one page.
- Queries with overcomplicated directions for replying: “I’m going to Tortola for the next three weeks. If you need to reach me, please call my cell number. Don’t leave a message at my home number because I won’t get it until I return.” A simple street or email address will do.
- Queries with all the agents in New York in the “To” line
- Queries that start: “I know how busy you are, so I’ll get straight to the point and not take up too much of your valuable time.” By writing this, you’ve already taken up a full sentence of my valuable time.
- Queries that make grandiose claims: “My novel will appeal to women, and since there are 150 million women in the United States, it will sell 150 million copies.”
- Queries that read: “I’ve worked very hard on this novel.” Does that fact alone make it a good novel?
- Queries that declare: “I have written a fiction novel.” Every novel is fiction. When an agent sees the above sentence in a query, they quickly draw the conclusion that a writer who doesn’t know that a novel is, by definition, is a writer who isn’t ready to be published.
On a more positive note, a good query:
- doesn’t state the obvious—if it does, agents will think your book is all “telling,” no “showing”
- is never longer than one page—if it is, agents will think your book is overwritten
- is not about you—if it is, agents will think your book will be too navel-gazing to invite the reader in
- never sounds generic—if it does, agents will think your book won’t have a unique or appealing voice
- makes the book sound interesting—if it doesn’t, agents will know the book isn’t.
Now that you know what not to do, try your hand at a query letter that meets these criteria instead.
Excerpted and adapted from Your First Novel Revised and Expanded Edition © 2018 by Ann Rittenberg, Laura Whitcomb, and Camille Goldin, with permission from Writer’s Digest Books.
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