Agent Mollie Glick Talks: 7 Things Agents Want to See in a Query, and 9 Things They Don’t

Editor’s note: I am declaring November 2010 to be “Agent Guest Column Month,” and therefore, every weekday, I will be posting a guest column by a literary agent. Day 9: Today’s guest agent is Mollie Glick of Foundry Literary + Media.

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The first thing to think about when you sit down to write a query letter is that, in a lot of ways, its similar to writing a cover letter for a job application. You’re addressing your letter to a person who’s never met you before, and who sorts through hundreds of such letters a day. Your query letter is your chance to demonstrate that you’re smart, professional, and interesting. The way to convey those traits is through the tone and content of your letter. The tone should be professional, specific and engaging—never general, overly familiar or abrasive. Make sure your letter is well-written and grammatically correct. Let’s take a closer look at components of a query letters agents do and do not want to see.

Mollie Glick is an agent at
Foundry Literary + Media.


7 THINGS AGENTS WANT TO SEE IN A QUERY

  1. An entertaining but polite and professional tone
  2. Multiple forms of contact information
  3. Proof that you have researched and hand-picked an agent. (If you’ve got a connection, were referred by a client or met the agent
    at a conference, make sure to point that out early in your letter.)
  4. Especially for nonfiction: An author bio that demonstrates your platform and why you’re the right author for this project
  5. A quick, catchy hook or “elevator pitch”
  6. Making a case for the book’s built-in audience
  7. Especially for nonfiction: Showing why your expertise and media contacts make you the best author for your project

 

9 THINGS AGENTS DON’T WANT TO SEE IN A QUERY

  1. Asking what the agent can do for you, rather than demonstrating what you can do for him/her
  2. Asking for a phone call or in person meeting before the agent has requested one
  3. Querying for multiple projects at the same time
  4. Listing personal information unrelated to your book
  5. Giving references from people outside the publishing industry (such as saying your writers group, your
    congregants, or your mother’s next door neighbor’s cockerspaniel loved
    your book)
  6. Comparing your book to a commonly-quoted bestseller
  7. Making broad claims that you can’t back up
  8. A pitch for an incomplete novels. (It’s OK
    to query with an unfinished nonfiction project, as long as you’ve
    written a proposal, but novels should be finished before you start
    contacting agents.)
  9. Overly familiar, aggressive, or incorrect salutations




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5 thoughts on “Agent Mollie Glick Talks: 7 Things Agents Want to See in a Query, and 9 Things They Don’t

  1. Alex

    I think the only thing an Agent should worry about is, if the story the writer sends in is any good and sellable. Who, what or how the writer is should be of second importance.

    A writer should only concern him/herself with making sure the agent can do what the agent promises.

    It is a business relationship, a good personal relationship is only of second importance. Making money and protecting your assets should be the primary goal.

    I don’t understand writers fawning over agents and yearning for personal relationship and partnership with said agent. An agent is nothing more than someone you hire to do a job for you and who earns money if he/she succeeds with said job.

    If you have to go to so much trouble to get an agent so he/she can sell your book to a publisher and earn 15-20% of your royalties, you may better send your work directly to the publishers and safe the 15-20% for yourself.

    My opinion is agents should quit the approach as if the writers are employees of the agent and writers should quit allowing this.

  2. Graham Storrs

    Thanks for this. I’m busy querying right now and I’m glad of the help. One thing that bothers me though is number three: "Proof that you have researched and hand-picked an agent. (If you’ve got a connection, were referred by a client or met the agent at a conference, make sure to point that out early in your letter.)"

    I live a full day’s travel from the nearest agent in my genre, and 9,500 miles from New York. I don’t have the money to get to more than one conference a year. So I just don’t meet that many of the critters. I find agents and research them on the Web. Presumably it doesn’t impress an agent all that much to say I found their agency website and they looked like the go-to guy for my genre.

  3. Pip Hunn

    Thanks for the advice!
    It really is all about building relationships, right? If you can’t feel comfortable in your discussions with your agent, which includes bringing up things like deadlines, then that’s a sign that something’s out of kilter.

    Really, why should something like deadlines be an issue? you’re both professionals. Or meant to be, anyway. People working in other industries deal with deadlines and getting things done on time regularly, and it’s no different to expect it in the field of writing.

    Cheers;
    Pip
    Write Thing

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