Friday, April 11, 2014

Making a good impression with your query letter--a post by Gemma

Having just been away at the Bologna and London Book Fairs, my queries have got a bit backed up, so I’ve just read quite a few and have noticed some similar mistakes cropping up.  Molly and I analysed a lot of queries on our regular Ask Agent column last year (here, here, here, here and here) so for today’s blog post, I thought I’d talk about things outside of the meat of the actual pitch.

You all know to avoid the basic errors like cc’ing multiple agents, not personalising to the agent’s name, comparing your book to Harry Potter or The Hunger Games, etc. (check out this post for a more detailed list of these). 

But there are other things that you can avoid to ensure you make the best impression with your submission letter: 

  • Don’t apologise for taking up an agent’s time. If they are open to submissions then they are happy to hear from you. Reading submissions is an important part of our job. 
  • Don’t put down your own work or your writing skill. If you are negative, it’s going to rub off on the agent and they will look at your work already expecting it to be bad. 
  • Don’t be too over-familiar – commenting on photos agents post on social media may seem like a compliment, but it can come across creepy.
  • Not attaching massive files seems obvious. But don’t add in smiley faces and other small images, either. These often look like they are embedded in the email when you send, but come though as an attachment, so your email will be deleted or get stuck in spam. (And also, don’t use smiley faces – this is a business email).
  • In an email, there is no need to put the agency address at the top. It’s an email, not a letter. You can put your own address under your name. We shouldn’t have to scroll through a page of addresses to get to the actual query. Speed is everything, so help us get to the best bit quickly!
  • Make sure you title your email – not just ‘A book,’ ‘Query’ etc. That isn’t very descriptive. If I see a query come in while I’m at my desk and it has a really snappy title, I’ll be more likely to take a look at the pages sooner. ‘My book’ says nothing to me, but  ‘YA romance/REALLY AWESOME TITLE/Author Name’ will get me excited without even reading a word.
  • Don’t ignore submission details – we all get a lot of queries with the words, ‘I know your submission requirements are pasting the first 10 pages, but instead I have...DONE SOMETHING ELSE.’  We have to have a system, and it will immediately get an agent’s back up if you can’t follow our first simple rule. 
  • Don’t give extensive details of your availability to talk on the phone, with all your holiday dates and hospital plans (yes, that has happened). Just give your contact details and we’ll get in touch. It’s very rare we wouldn’t email you first to arrange a call as we want you to be prepared with questions.
I always say that people over think query letters. Keep it simple is my best advice.

Dear [Agent’s Name],

I am seeking representation for my [age - MG/YA etc.] [genre] manuscript [title] complete at [word count rounded to nearest 1000 words].

[Insert Pitch - 1 or 2 paragraphs explaining your plot. Introduce your main character. What does she want? What’s preventing her from achieving those goals? And what are the stakes if she doesn’t achieve them?]

According to your submission guidelines I have [consult the specific guidelines for the agency, posted on its website. For the Bent Agency, you’d say, ‘pasted the first ten pages of the manuscript below.’]

I am a member of [any writing organisations] and have won [any relevant writing prizes]. [Then add anything relevant to your role as the best person to write this book.] Thank you for your time.

All best,

[your name]


  1. Bravo. Thanks for the clarity. A whole heap of folks will benefit from this clear & concise advice.

  2. Writing a query is so enormously stressful. Thank you for providing easy to understand and simple advice. So many of us make this over-complicated.