is my definitive No Rules series on novel queries. It’s meant
particularly for writers who are new to the query process. (A series on
nonfiction book queries will come later.) Go back to the beginning of the series.
QUERY LETTER RED FLAGS
Here is an overall list of red flags to look for in your query letter.
- If it runs longer than 1 page (single spaced), you’ve said far too much.
- If your manuscript’s word count is much higher than 100,000 words, you’re more likely to be rejected. See this post for a definitive list of appropriate word counts by genre.
- Ensure you’ve specified your genre, without being on the fence about it.
- There should be no need for headings/subheads in your letter.
- Avoid directly commenting on the quality of your work. Your query should show what a good writer you are, rather than you telling or emphasizing what a good writer you are.
- On the flip side: Don’t criticize yourself or the quality of the work in the letter.
- Don’t editorialize your story for the agent/editor, almost as if you were writing a review of the work. (“In this fast-paced thriller”, “in a final twist that will change your world”, “you’ll laugh, you’ll cry, …”
- Do not explain how or why you came to write the story, unless it is really interesting or integral to the hook.
- Do not talk about how you’ve wanted to write since you were a child.
- Do not talk about how much your family and friends love your work.
- Avoid heavy use of adjectives, adverbs, and modifiers. In fact, try creating a version of your query without ANY modifiers, and see what happens. (Slowly add back the essential ones.
- Do not attach any documentation. Do not attach a resume. Do not attach rejection letters. If you want to risk it, enclose the first 1-5 pages of your manuscript.
And don’t forget my earlier advice about query hooks: They only need to be about 100-150 words, and they shouldn’t comprise more than a few brief paragraphs (at most!).
Note: For my final installment in the series (#10), I’ll offer up final FAQs. Use the comments to ask a question.
Next up: full letter samples
Looking for more great query letter advice? Check out the Writer’s Digest official guide to queries, which includes examples and instruction by genre.