Skip to main content

Literary Agent Sound Off: Query Letter Basics

"Queries are business letters. Agenting is business. Publishing is business. I try to be nice and friendly and funny and all, but the bottom line is that I expect those with whom I work to be professional and take what they’re doing seriously." —Linda Epstein (Jennifer De Chiara Literary)

Below find a collection of helpful quotes from literary agents regarding how to write & submit a query letter. 12 reps chime in with helpful advice.

Screen Shot 2015-02-24 at 11.04.09 PM

(This post excerpted from the new writing guide Get a Literary Agent: The Complete Guide to Securing Representation For Your Work, which you can find wherever books are sold, in person or online, including the WD Shop.)

----------------------

Queries are business letters. Agenting is business. Publishing is business. I try to be nice and friendly and funny and all, but the bottom line is that I expect those with whom I work to be professional and take what they’re doing seriously.
—Linda Epstein (Jennifer De Chiara Literary)

The best query letters convey the tone of the book.
—Mollie Glick (Foundry Literary + Media)

I dislike it when a query letter focuses too much on the author’s bio and doesn’t tell me what the book is about. Make sure you include essential story details.
—Shira Hoffman (McIntosh & Otis, Inc.)

First, take heart—agents really will read a great query. For queries, here’s a secret: Any agent will read a well-researched, personal query. Show the agent that you know a little about the list that she pours so much time and care into. You can do this by stating something such as, ‘I’m writing to you because I loved Book X and I know that you represent Writer Z.’ Then write a smart, focused query.
—Lindsay Edgecombe (Levine Greenberg Rostan Literary Agency)

I’m sure it has been said before but the best queries are the ones that are pitched to agents who share your sensibilities. Don’t pitch an agent who specializes in science fiction a book about financial markets, and vice versa. Also, avoid the term ‘fiction novel.’
—Melissa Flashman (Trident Media Group)

I love a query that reads like the back of a book cover. Also, I do encourage all writers to treat their query as a job interview. Be professional. Be concise.
—Nicole Resciniti (The Seymour Agency)

Spell-check your letter. Follow all the agent’s directions for submitting a query.
—Dawn Dowdle (Blue Ridge Literary Agency)

Being able to really articulate what you want to say in a short query is difficult yet extremely important. We need to see something that jumps out at us as different, passionate, and expressive. On a daily basis, our team reads and considers several submissions, so it is those ideas that promise change and innovation that catch our eye.
—Jan Miller (Dupree/Miller & Associates)

The silliest mistake I see in a submission (and I see it surprisingly often) is an unprofessional query letter. I’ve received queries for ‘Dear Editor,’ ‘Dear Agent,’ ‘Dear Publisher,’ as well as e-mail queries that are addressed to ten different agents together. I wonder if people really think someone will want to work with you if you can’t be bothered to get their name right. A little homework and a professional letter that provides all the information we request in our submissions guidelines on our website is the best way to showcase your work and send the message that you will be pleasant to work with.
—Jacqueline Flynn (Joelle Delbourgo Associates)

Query letters do need a voice. Some voice. Your voice. You can tell when a writer is a natural, and can convey simple ideas and plot summary without being boring or giving away too much.
—Elana Roth (Red Tree Literary)

Avoid a sentence such as ‘This is my third (or fourth, or fifth, or sixth) unpublished novel, so I am clearly very dedicated and hardworking…’
—Alex Glass (Glass Literary)

Watch those typos, folks! We do notice.
—Peter McGuigan (Foundry Literary + Media)

Ever since I started taking electronic submissions, I’ve found that many people don’t put the care into query letters that they would have in a hardcopy submission. It’s as if they see an electronic query letter more as another random e-mail than a professional introduction to their work. So I’m seeing the disturbing, ‘Hey, I’ve got this manuscript I think is right up your alley. Can I send it?’ sort of letters. Writers should think of the query as they would a cover letter that goes along with a résumé. You wouldn’t dash that off carelessly (or CC it to everyone in the field, another common mistake), so don’t do it with query letters.
—Lucienne Diver (The Knight Agency)

*************

Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:

November PAD Chapbook Challenge

2022 November PAD Chapbook Challenge: Next Steps

Here are the final steps for the 15th annual November PAD Chapbook Challenge! Use December and the beginning of January to revise and collect your poems into a chapbook manuscript. Here are some tips and guidelines.

Valeria Ruelas: On Teaching Tarot, Brujeria, and Witchcraft

Valeria Ruelas: On Teaching Tarot, Brujeria, and Witchcraft

Author Valeria Ruelas discusses the process of writing her new book, The Mexican Witch Lifestyle.

What Is the Hook, the Book, and Cook Query Pitching Technique for Writers?

What Is the Hook, the Book, and the Cook Query Pitching Technique for Writers?

Find out what "the hook, the book, and the cook" are in relation to writing query letters and pitching books to literary agents and book editors. This post answers the question of what each one is and how to successfully assemble the pieces.

Romance Retellings of Literary Classics

Romance Retellings of Literary Classics

Author Chloe Liese makes a case for the romance genre being the natural home for retellings, and shares some tips on how to write a successful romance retelling of literary classics.

November PAD Chapbook Challenge

2022 November PAD Chapbook Challenge: Day 30

For the 2022 November PAD Chapbook Challenge, poets are tasked with writing a poem a day in the month of November before assembling a chapbook manuscript in the month of December. And now we're on Day 30.

Rae Meadows: On a Personal Passion Inspiring Literary Fiction

Rae Meadows: On a Personal Passion Inspiring Literary Fiction

Award-winning author Rae Meadows discusses how her lifelong love of gymnastics helped inspire her new literary novel, Winterland.

The Fae

The Fae

Every writer needs a little inspiration once in a while. For today's prompt, your character discovers that there are fae in their backyard.

November PAD Chapbook Challenge

2022 November PAD Chapbook Challenge: Day 29

For the 2022 November PAD Chapbook Challenge, poets are tasked with writing a poem a day in the month of November before assembling a chapbook manuscript in the month of December. Day 29 features our fifth (and final) Two-for-Tuesday prompt.

From Script

A Twist on the Holiday Romantic Comedy (From Script)

In this week’s round up brought to us by Script magazine, acclaimed filmmaker Charles Shyer shares with Script his twist on the holiday romantic comedy in his new film The Noel Diary, and more.