A some point in your career as an author you will begin writing query letters. What is a query letter? Basically it’s a business letter, professionally written, carefully proofread that introduces your book and asks the literary agent “would you like to read this?”
Mind you now, it is not a synopsis and it’s not your autobiography. It’s short, pithy, and very well written. It’s a chance to showcase your writing to the agent. A poorly written query letter will axe any chance you have of the agent wanting to read your manuscript.
Here are 7 common mistakes authors make when writing a query letter:
- Making it too long. A good query letter is brief – no more than one page. One page means a few hundred words, not one page stuffed from top to bottom with non-existent margins.
- Making it a synopsis instead of a “sound bite”. Don’t try to write an effective synopsis of a novel in fifty words or less. You can’t do it. What you can do is write a “verbal snapshot” of the book. A dynamic and fascinating verbal sneak peek. That’s the “sound bite.”
- Telling too much about yourself and your life. Agents, editors and publishers don’t care about your hobbies or your family and hardships – unless they are directly related to your book. Everything in the query letter MUST relate to your book and your ability to write it.
- Detailing how much your friends and family love the book. Or the published authors who loved the book. This is a natural mistake to make. But resist! Agents don’t care what your friends and family thought. What they care about is can they sell your book.
- Telling the literary agent what to think. “This book is a surefire bestseller!” is not something you want to include in your query.
- Making their writing experiences look like credentials. The ONLY thing that counts is writing you were PAID to do, or writing for a venue the agent will recognize.
– Don’t sweat it if you have no writing credentials. Many debut writers don’t have anything resembling a writing resume. If that’s the case for you, just don’t mention credentials at all in your query.
- Informing the agent that the book is the first in a 10 book series they’ve spent the last twelve years writing. Obsessed much! An agent will run from this. Concentrate on the book you’re trying to sell. If you plan on writing follow-ups, or have other manuscripts available, mention this at the end of the query — but query for one book at a time.
There are two different approaches when writing a query letter.
The first type of query letter is a good, workmanlike business letter. This kind is short, to the point, written in dynamic, specific language, with NO errors of any kind — no typos, punctuation, spelling, grammatical, etc. Remember, letter-perfect!
The other kind of query letter is weird, quirky, but so irresistible and creative that it will capture the attention of an agent even though it’s far outside the “accepted” model. This kind of query letter springs from true talent and writing genius, and really can’t be taught
I’d love to hear your thoughts. You can leave leave a comment here…