Agent Jon Sternfeld On: 4 Ways to Make Your Query as Professional as Possible

Jon Sternfeld is an agent with the Irene Goodman Literary Agency representing literary fiction and narrative nonfiction.

Jon’s co-agent, Irene Goodman, offers manuscript critiques on eBay every month, starting on the first day of each month, with all proceeds going to charity. Click on the link for more details on these critiques and charity auctions.

How do writers distinguish their query
among the thousands of others?


There are lots of dos and don’ts list out there (and I’ve added to that pile), but overall, it’s an approach that agents and agents’ assistants look for:

1. A professional style and format that says, “I am a writer, I take this seriously, I understand that how I write, structure, and format a query letter (shocker!) affects how people view my writing as a whole.”

2. Stay formal, specific and direct. Definitely mention why you’re querying this agent/agency (e.g., an interview you read with them, titles they represent) so it shows you’ve done your research and aren’t just sending this into the stratosphere hoping for a reply.

3. Recognize your audience. An agency fields hundreds of these a day.  Your premise should be at the top, your synopsis shouldn’t be exhaustive, you should respect the reader’s time and attention span. It’s so easy for an agent to move on to the next one. Give them a reason not to.

4. You want to stick out—not in a cute way, but in a “my talent and professionalism speak for itself” kind of way. Literally, the goal is to make an agent ask for more—so set about creating something that is built with that in mind.

And remember: If you’re looking for a professional manuscript critique for a good cause, go to for more details.


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