Guest Post by Andrea Hurst (Author and Literary Agent)
Squeezing an entire manuscript into a 250 word query letter is a challenge for writers when seeking an agent. No perfect form exists for query letters, but there are common mistakes every aspiring author should avoid. These are five of the most prevalent:
1) Failing to Address the Agent
A mistake that has most agents deleting your query before they read it is, rather simply, failing to address the query to a specific agent. This occurs at an alarming rate and can blow a hole in your dream of becoming an author. Agents understand and encourage writers to submit a query to several agents—just, not in the same email. Each agent should receive an individual, personalized query. The email should not have ten, five, or even two recipients, just one. It should also be addressed:
Dear First Name Last Name (both spelled correctly!),
Do not address the query to “Dear Agent”. If you want to show an agent you’ve done your research, then adjust the letter to him/her. Tell the agent why you are querying them specifically. Doing the research may take some time, but it is worth the effort.
2) The Writer’s Biography
Another common problem in query letters is the writer’s biography. Too often agents are told about someone’s favorite football team, family pet, and/or dreams. The hard fact is agents don’t care about this information. Don’t misunderstand. You are important; those things are important, but they are in no way relevant to pitching your book and have no place in a query letter. Think about it like this: a query letter is like your book’s resume. So the writer’s bio should list writing credentials, a history of past accomplishments and/or rewards that will convince the agent you know how to write and that you have a platform.
3) Query Length
Too many writers submit queries longer—and sometimes much longer—than a page. Queries should average 250 words, not 500 plus. A writer will often overload his/her query with every plot detail and character, turning it into a synopsis. A query letter is not a plot summary. It is more like the blurb at the back of the book, the hook that makes the agent want to read your story. That being said, you should establish your main character and what he or she has to lose, in other words, show tension, conflict, and emotional appeal.
4) Failing to Follow an Agent’s Guidelines
Each agency, and sometimes each agent within that agency, wants the query submitted in a unique way. Be sure to follow the guidelines precisely or else you’re just wasting your time and the agent’s. GO TO THEIR WEBSITE and check to see if the agent wants the first chapter or ten pages pasted in the body of the email. If they do, then paste it in the body of the email. Do not attach it and do not send them your entire manuscript. Follow their rules. If they don’t want any work samples, don’t give it to them. If they want the word “Query” in the subject line, put it there. Follow directions, simple as that.
5) The Query’s Tone
This last common mistake, the query’s tone, is a bit of an umbrella problem. First, do not tell the agent you have the next Harry Potter or Twilight or Fault in Our Stars. If you do, then the writing will speak for itself.. On the flip side, do not self-deprecate. Don’t tell the agent how many other agents have rejected your book or beg them to “please, please represent this book because it’s my dream.” Lastly, research what this agent has represented that is similar to yours and let them know that your book fits that audience as well.
The query letter, especially the plot paragraphs, should read like your story.
Getting an agent can be difficult. For some authors, it seems self-publishing is the answer. Even as an agent, I decided to self-publish my novels, Always With You and The Guestbook. Self-publishing is a respectable way to publish your book and should be considered as well. Still the perks of having a publishing company behind your book cannot be denied. If you want an agent, then right a killer query and avoid those mistakes listed above. Remember too that agents taste are subjective. If one or a hundred of them don’t like your story, just keep trying. You only need one to say yes.
To learn more about Andrea and her books, visit www.AndreaHurst-author.com. Also see the post previous about her newest release on tour Always With You.