Top 10 Paths to Auto-Rejection: How NOT to Write a Query Letter

Learn how NOT to get a positive response from literary agents: Avoid these 10 paths to auto-rejection in your query letters and pitches.
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Learn how NOT to get a positive response from literary agents: Avoid these 10 paths to auto-rejection when you're writing your query letter.

 TOP 10 PATHS TO AUTO-REJECTION

Want to get rejected? These 10 approaches to your query letter will shut down your submission in a hot second.

  1. Queries that have typos in the first sentence
  2. Queries that start with a nugget of wisdom: “Every step we take in life moves us in a direction.”
  3. Queries with very small type, florid or unconventional fonts, and whacky background colors are frowned upon. You can assume that just about everyone in publishing suffers from eyestrain.
  4. Queries longer than one page.
  5. Queries with overcomplicated directions for replying: “I’m going to Tortola for the next three weeks. If you need to reach me, please call my cell number. Don’t leave a message at my home number because I won’t get it until I return.” A simple street or email address will do.
  6. Queries with all the agents in New York in the “To” line
  7. Queries that start: “I know how busy you are, so I’ll get straight to the point and not take up too much of your valuable time.” By writing this, you’ve already taken up a full sentence of my valuable time.
  8. Queries that make grandiose claims: “My novel will appeal to women, and since there are 150 million women in the United States, it will sell 150 million copies.”
  9. Queries that read: “I’ve worked very hard on this novel.” Does that fact alone make it a good novel?
  10. Queries that declare: “I have written a fiction novel.” Every novel is fiction. When an agent sees the above sentence in a query, they quickly draw the conclusion that a writer who doesn’t know that a novel is, by definition, is a writer who isn’t ready to be published.
 Your First Novel Revised and Expanded Edition

Your First Novel Revised and Expanded Edition

On a more positive note, a good query:

  • doesn’t state the obvious—if it does, agents will think your book is all “telling,” no “showing”
  • is never longer than one page—if it is, agents will think your book is overwritten
  • is not about you—if it is, agents will think your book will be too navel-gazing to invite the reader in
  • never sounds generic—if it does, agents will think your book won’t have a unique or appealing voice
  • makes the book sound interesting—if it doesn’t, agents will know the book isn’t.

Now that you know what not to do, try your hand at a query letter that meets these criteria instead.

Excerpted and adapted from Your First Novel Revised and Expanded Edition © 2018 by Ann Rittenberg, Laura Whitcomb, and Camille Goldin, with permission from Writer’s Digest Books.

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