8 Quick Query Letter Tips

Last night, I attended a fabulous free seminar, “Secrets of Publishing,” in Greenwich Village moderated by Susan Shapiro, journalism professor, editor and author of two comic novels, Overexposed and Speed Shrinking, as well as several nonfiction books. Her panel included an incredible mix of authors, editors and agents, and one of the topics – among many – that was discussed was what not to do in a query letter. Here is the Top 8:

  • Do not spell the agent’s name wrong.
  • Do not have grammatical or spelling errors in your query.
  • Do not oversell your manuscript. “I would be more impressed, if you’re a thriller writer, if you compared your writing to, say, Michael Connelly, who is a successful thriller writer rather than calling it the next Da Vinci Code,” said Rebecca Oliver, an agent at WME (William Morris Endeavor).
  • Do not blindly send out queries to a blanket of agents without researching the types of books they’re interested in. “I feel terrible because I end up rejecting a manuscript that I would have never accepted in the first place,” said Oliver.
  • Do not ask rhetorical questions at the beginning of your query, such as “Have you ever wondered…?” or say, “Imagine a world where…” It’s been done. Lots.
  • Do not look like you’re trying too hard. When listing your experience, do not mention the local grocery newsletter or high school newspaper. If it feels inauthentic or like you’re reaching, don’t do it.
  • Do not send your query to multiple agents in the same email. Although some of the agents were cool with multiple submissions – make sure you do your homework and know which ones are – contact each one separately with a pitch that is specific that particular agent.
  • Do not lie or plagiarize. “For me, those are the most important,” said New Yorker editor Ben Greenman.

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