Talking Agent Queries With Wendy Burt-Thomas

Publish date:

I was fortunate enough to talk recently with "Query Queen" WendyBurt-Thomas, who authored the new book, The Writer's Digest Guide to Query Letters. To learn more about Wendy or her three books, visit Below you will find some helpful Q&A with Wendy about sending queries to agents.

Image placeholder title

Regarding queries to agents, when reviewing queries that worked and queries that didn’t, what recurring aspects were you coming across in good queries and what recurring aspects were you coming across in bad queries?

WBT: First, a disclosure: I wrote all the bad queries in the book myself because I didn’t have the heart to rip apart real writers. With that said, I can tell you that they were all based on the concepts I’ve seen in bad query letters over my years as an editor and author consultant.

The recurring aspects in the bad queries are often the following:

1. Sending queries for novels that aren’t finished 
2. Telling ("I’m a great writer! This is a great book!") instead showing (letting your writing speak for itself)
3. Mentioning that everyone who has read it (especially your mother) loves it
4. Talking about money, movie deals or TV shows based on your manuscript
5. Comparing yourself to Stephen King, Nora Roberts, etc.
6. Pitching a general query with no hook ("I’d like to send you my romance novel.") 
7. Sending a sci-fi manuscript to an agent that represents romance (i.e., choosing the wrong agent for your genre)
8. Not mentioning why you choose that agent/agency
9. Not offering to take the next step ("I’d be happy to send you the complete manuscript…") 
10. Including too much irrelevant information ("It took me four years to write this book.")

As one might guess, the best queries were the ones that did the opposite of anything listed above. But to be more specific, many of the recurring aspects of the good queries included:

1. An appropriate word count for the completed novel.
2. A request for representation.
3. A request to send the appropriate materials as per the agency’s guidelines (proposal, first 30 pages or completed manuscript)
4. A referral, mention of previous books the author represented, or some acknowledgement that you chose the agent on purpose
5. An interesting, well-written hook to draw the agent’s interest
6. A "teaser" that left the agent wanted to know how the book ends ("What will happen when her husband learns his baby is part alien?")
7. An interesting title
8. Published pieces and/or relevant experience ("I lived with the Amish for a year to make sure the book was accurate.")
9. A good platform (blog, Web site, media contacts, e-newsletter subscribers, etc.)
10. For nonfiction especially, a clear understanding of your book’s purpose, niche and market. (You can save the details for your proposal, but the query should help the agent see where the book is going and who it’s for.

GLA: What do you think is the most common reason that good writers don't get published?

WBT: Poor marketing skills. I see so many writers that are either too afraid, too uniformed, or frankly, too lazy, to market their work. They think their job is done when the write "the end" but writing is only half of the process. I've always told people who took my class that there are tons of great writers in the world who will never get published. I'd rather be a good writer who eats lobster than a great writer who eats hot dogs. I make a living as a writer because I spend as much time marketing as I do writing.

GLA: What are some of the biggest misconceptions that writers have about getting a book deal?

WBT: That they'll be rich overnight, that they don't need to promote their book once it's published, that publishing houses will send them on world book tours, that people will recognize them at the airport. Still, you can make great money as an author if you're prepared to put in the effort. If it wasn't possible, there wouldn't be so many full-time writers.

GLA: What must-read books do you recommend to new writers?

WBT: Christina Katz (author of Writer Mama) has a new book out called Get Known Before the Book Deal - which is fabulous. Also, Stephen King's On Writing and David Morrell's Lessons from a Lifetime of Writing. Anything by Anne Lamott or my Dad, Steve Burt.

Want more on this topic?

April PAD Challenge

2021 April PAD Challenge: Day 19

Write a poem every day of April with the 2021 April Poem-A-Day Challenge. For today's prompt, write an animal title poem.

Writer's Digest May/June 2021 Cover Reveal

Writer's Digest May/June 2021 Cover Reveal

Presenting the May/June 2021 issue of Writer's Digest featuring a collection of articles about how curiosity fuels writers, including the 23rd Annual 101 Best Websites for Writers and a new interview with Chris Bohjalian.

Through Another’s Eyes: An Auschwitz Survivor Inspires His Biographer

Through Another’s Eyes: An Auschwitz Survivor Inspires His Biographer

Popular lecturer and biographer Joshua M. Greene discusses the hardship of writing the biographies of Holocaust survivors, and the biography that convinced him to continue writing.

writer's digest wd presents

WD Presents: The May/June 2021 Issue, a Chance at Publication, and more!

This week, we’re excited to announce that the May/June 2021 “Curiosity” issue is now live in the WD shop, there’s still time to have your From Our Reader’s response selected for publication in the July/August 2021 “Bravery” issue, and more!

April PAD Challenge

2021 April PAD Challenge: Day 18

Write a poem every day of April with the 2021 April Poem-A-Day Challenge. For today's prompt, write an ekphrastic poem.

Personal Essay Awards

Announcing the First Annual Personal Essay Awards Winners

Congratulations to the winners of the first annual Writer's Digest Personal Essay Awards!

From Script

Movie Theatres Return While Indie Cinema and TV Turns to Horror and Beyond (From Script)

In this week’s round-up brought to us by, read movie reviews from cinephile Tom Stemple. Plus, exclusive interviews with Amazon’s Them creator and showrunner Little Marvin, horror film Jakob’s Wife director Travis Stevens, a history lesson with Dr. Rosanne Welch about trailblazer screenwriter Anita Loos, and much more!

April PAD Challenge

2021 April PAD Challenge: Day 17

Write a poem every day of April with the 2021 April Poem-A-Day Challenge. For today's prompt, write a waiting poem.


Your Story #112

Write the opening line to a story based on the photo prompt below. (One sentence only.) You can be poignant, funny, witty, etc.; it is, after all, your story.