Query letters to literary agents: Don’t be weird

By Roz Kay

Literary agent Janet Reid runs the Query Shark web site. There are some of my notes from her talk at the 2015 Writer’s Digest Conference in New York City.

I’ve posted about the right way to query literary agents about your book. In the same conference talk, Janet Reid covered things that will get you rejected. Here you go—these are things she mentions because she sees them often.

Don’t include these words
Fiction novel Words are your tools. If you can’t get it right in a query, the agent has no faith in your writing.

Surefire bestseller This demonstrates your sense of reality is askew; you’re going to be hard to work with.

Oprah If you’re not married to her, you’re done

Film potential You’re sending this to a literary agent; their job is to sell it to a book publisher

Dear Sir/Madam It makes you look lazy: you’ve sent this to the agent’s email. Which includes his or her name.

The body of the letter
Your greeting, your tone, and the way you present yourself are just as important as what you’re sending along.

Don’t let your salutation set a tone you don’t want in your query letter. Don’t beg the agent to read your work. Don’t flatter him or her. In short—don’t demean yourself. This is a business letter.

Don’t quote your rejection letters—no matter how helpful they seemed to be. Agents write polite rejection letters because they’re nice people. In the same vein, don’t quote your paid editor, your friends, your writing groups, or your writing conference contacts.

Don’t start with questions for the agent. Or it could go like this: What would do if your child died? (Agent: stop reading your query letter.) What would you do if your dog turned into a zombie? (Agent: run.)

Don’t attach a file. Agents don’t open attachments. And if you tell the agent about your blog or other social media platforms, include the links but disable the hyperlinks. Many agents have spam filters that send emails with live links straight to that giant folder in the sky.

Don’t be afraid to sound stark. Be specific. Most query letters are too verbose. That is, they contain too many words. They’re overloaded with unnecessary detail. They go on too long … you get the point.

Don’t use big blocks of text. Hard enough to wade through on a laptop, a show stopper on a phone. And your agent’s quite likely to be reading email on her phone. Swipe.

Don’t submit from somebody else’s email. Apparently, women writers submit from (for example) their husband’s email. Set up an author email account … of your own.

In short, Janet Reid says, don’t be weird.

For great examples of query letters, go to the web site that Janet runs, QueryShark. And good luck!

© Roz DeKett

Follow Roz on Twitter here and on Facebook here


About Roz Kay

Roz Kay is a writer and former journalist. Her debut children’s novel, THE KEEPER OF THE STONES, was published in 2020 by Hayloft Publishing. Her debut novel for adults, FAKE, (contemporary fiction) was published in September 2020 by her own imprint, Darley Press. Roz's short fiction has appeared under the name Roz DeKett in Fish Publishing’s 2017 Anthology, The Nottingham Review, The York Literary Review, and the Bedford International Writing Competition’s 2018 Anthology. She has also appeared as Roz Kay in the American children’s literary magazine, Cricket. As a news journalist, Roz worked for The Journal in the North East, the Liverpool Echo, and BBC local and national radio. She is a graduate of the University of Leeds and lives in Wiltshire.
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2 Responses to Query letters to literary agents: Don’t be weird

  1. Jack says:

    Reblogged this on Wyrdwend.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: The right way to query a literary agent about your book | Roz DeKett

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