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:

A Conversation With Baron R. Birtcher On Social Media

A Conversation With Baron R. Birtcher on Social Media: Bestseller. No Website. No Me. (Killer Writers)

Killer Nashville founder Clay Stafford continues his series of interviews with mystery, thriller, and suspense authors. Here he has a conversation with bestselling novelist Baron R. Birtcher about author websites and social media.

How a Book Distributor Ended Up Selling Her Own Book

How a Book Distributor Ended Up Selling Her Own Book

Davida G. Breier’s publishing story is certainly one for the books. Here she discusses how, as a books distributor, she ended up selling her debut novel.

Writing Mistakes Writers Make: Not Submitting Your Work

Writing Mistakes Writers Make: Not Submitting Your Work

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 not submitting your work.

Making Your Fiction a Place You Want To Be

Making Your Fiction a Place You Want To Be

Author Janet Key shares the feeling of not wanting to revisit the world she was creating and the tools she used to help make her fiction a place she wanted to be.

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Backstory Change

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Backstory Change

Every good story needs a nice (or not so nice) turn or two to keep it interesting. This week, have a character's backstory change.

Writer’s Digest Official Book Club Selection: Portrait of a Thief

Writer’s Digest Official Book Club Selection: Portrait of a Thief

The editors of Writer’s Digest are proud to bring you the first book club pick, Portrait of a Thief, to read along with us.

6 Ways To Fight Your Inner Critics

6 Ways To Fight Your Inner Critics

For many writers, self-critique gets in the way of making much progress. Here, author Julia Crouch shares 6 ways to fight your inner critics.

Writing Allegory: A Convenient Place to Hide

Writing Allegory: A Convenient Place to Hide

Where realistic fiction felt both too restrictive and too revealing for author Susan Speranza’s transition from poetry to fiction, she turned to allegory. Here, she shares examples of famous allegories throughout history and how allegorical writing helped shape her novel, Ice Out.

Instagram: An Underutilized Tool for the Freelance Writer

Instagram: An Underutilized Tool for the Freelance Writer

In this post, author C. Hope Clark shares tips on how freelance writers can use Instagram as a tool to find more freelance writing connections, assignments, and overall success.