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.
Author:
Publish date:

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.

Image placeholder title
Funny You Should Ask: What Is Going to Be the Next Big Trend in Fiction?

Funny You Should Ask: What Is Going to Be the Next Big Trend in Fiction?

Funny You Should Ask is a humorous and handy column by literary agent Barbara Poelle. In this edition, she discusses the next big fiction trend, and whether or not all books are the same.

From Script

A Change in Entertainment Business Currency and Disrupting Storytelling with Historical Significance (From Script)

In this week’s round up brought to us by ScriptMag.com, learn about how crypto currency is making a wave in the entertainment business, what percentages really mean in film financing, the pros and cons of writing partnerships, an exclusive interview with three-time NAACP Image Awards nominee, co-creator and former showrunner of CBS’ 'S.W.A.T.' Aaron Rahsaan Thomas and more!

Writing Mistakes Writers Make: Putting Off Submissions

Writing Mistakes Writers Make: Putting Off Submissions

The Writer's Digest team has witnessed many writing mistakes over the years, so we started this series to help identify them for other writers (along with correction strategies). This week's writing mistake is putting off submissions.

The Transformative Power of a Post-First-Draft Outline

The Transformative Power of a Post-First-Draft Outline

Have you ever considered outlining after finishing your first draft? Kris Spisak walks you through the process.

Poetic Forms

The Skinny: Poetic Forms

Poetic Form Fridays are made to share various poetic forms. This week, we look at the skinny, a form created by Truth Thomas.

The Benefits of Writing Book Reviews

The Benefits of Writing Book Reviews

A book review is more than sharing an opinion—it's a conversation between readers. Sam Risak shares the benefits of writing books reviews, as well as best practices for getting started.

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Give In

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Give In

Every good story needs a nice (or not so nice) turn or two to keep it interesting. This week, have a character give in to something or someone.

Essential Versus Non-Essential Mystery

Essential Versus Non-Essential Mystery

What gets a reader to keep turning pages? Author Amanda Kabak seeks to answer that question here.

5-Minute Memoir: Anonymous Fame

5-Minute Memoir: Anonymous Fame

5-Minute Memoir is exactly what it sounds like—a personal essay on some facet of the writing life, be it a narrative or a reflection, pensive, touching or hilarious. Enjoy this installment from Barbara Neal Varma.