Following her highly popular #querytip series on Twitter, literary agent Julia Weber will be sharing more valuable query advice, and real examples, here with Writers and Artists. Follow Julia on Twitter @jawlitagent
What (not) to put in your query letter
Disclaimer: All examples are 100% real… no, honestly they are!
Your query is your (one) chance to sell yourself and your manuscript. With agencies receiving dozens of new queries each week, you have to make sure to make your query is the best it can be. Be professional and polite. Provide the information an agent requires to assess your manuscript. Make the agent want to read more. And, most importantly, don’t do any of the things mentioned below.
1.) Don’t pre-query:
“I've read that you represent thrillers. I’ve written a thriller. May I query?” I don’t know. I’ll have to think about this... #duh #queries
I swear this kind of email is on every agent’s list of top query pet-peeves. There is absolutely no need to query to see if you can query. You (should) have read the submission guidelines and you (should) know what we (don’t) represent. Does your material fit into one of the genres listed on my website? Great, query away.
2.) How not to begin your query:
Writers, I know I’m not the only one you’re querying. But I’d appreciate it if I at least got my own query email. #saynotomassemails #querytip
Beware of impersonal mass queries! I know it can be time consuming to query each agent on your list individual, but mass queries are not only terribly rude; they also rarely follow the guidelines. As mentioned last week, each agent has different preferences. Bear that in mind.
"I've written a book. Send me a request if you want to see it." Umm… no query letter, no background info… think my answer is no. #queries
This is NOT a query. Same goes for emails with nothing more than a link to a website. Happens all the time and it is never met with success. So don’t do it. Ever.
Writers, a 200-word rant about the publishing industry is not really the best way to kick off your query. #querytip
Never mind your opinion on the publishing industry (why again are you querying?), but if you come across as angry and passive aggressive, I won’t want to work with you. For me, and most other agents, the author’s personality plays a huge part when deciding whether or not to offer representation. There is absolutely no point in working together if I dread talking to you. Remember this when querying- be nice.
"I saw on your website that you don't rep short stories. You may want to make an exception for mine. Here's my collection." Umm...NO! #queries
This should go without saying, but apparently doesn’t. Stick to agents who handle your genre. Otherwise you may as well add ‘collecting rejections’ to your hobbies. Genre specializations exist for a reason and agents will not change them just for you. Sorry.
3.) Don’t forget the most important information:
Me: "What genre is your book?" Writer: "Fiction." Me: "What about your target readership?" Writer: "People." Riiight! #headdesk #queryfail
Writers, you NEED to mention the genre of your manuscript. There is no way around it. Otherwise I’m not going to be able to assess your material properly. And please be sure you actually know your genre. ‘Fiction’ is definitely not specific enough. Know your target readership and be realistic. ‘Every single German/American’ does not sound very convincing. Oh, and about that book that's ‘perfect for all children AND adults’? My excitement is plummeting by the second.
Dear author, I don't actually care that your manuscript is 7,523,185 characters long. #justgivemethedamnwordcount
7,523,185 characters, huh? Including or excluding spaces? No, seriously, agents need to know the length of your finished manuscript. Don’t tell us how many characters, pages or lines it runs to. The word count is all we are interested in.
Authors, if your story is set in the past, it'd be good to know which decade/century we're talking about. Otherwise: #confuseddotcom!
This is a crucial bit of information I need to understand your plot, characters and conflicts. So, as long as you don’t want me to play ‘guess-the-plot’, you better provide me with all necessary information. Same goes for the age of your main character(s) by the way. How am I supposed to know whether your characters speak, act and react age-appropriately if you don't tell me how old they are?
4.) Don’t make excuses:
Umm, to write "there's not much to say about me" in your query letter is not the best way to sell your 90,000-word memoir to me. #querytip
And I should read your manuscript because…? If you have written a memoir, you need to give me a reason why I should spend my time reading about you. Hook me. Don’t sell yourself short.
If you say yourself that your first chapter is too slow and not hooking enough, you might want to get rid of it ASAP #querytip
The reading sample is your chance to showcase your writing style. To either bore or hook me. If you know yourself that that particular chapter is not your best work, you have to work on it until it’s the best it can be. An excuse and sending a mediocre reading sample anyway is not going to help your case.
5.) There’s a fine line between being nice/creative and creepy:
To all you Chapsy54s, Hunnybunnys or MrLoverboys out there: Do not use your chat name in a query. It’s weird! #querytip
Writers, pay attention to how your email name shows up. I know it’s only a small detail but you wouldn’t apply for a job as MrLoverboy, would you? Actually, don’t answer that...
Tell agents you query how pretty/ hot they look in their profile pictures. Compliments always win us over. #BadQueryingTips
There is nothing wrong with a nice word or two, but there really is such a thing as too much flattery. If you comment on my looks, make me indecent compliments or give me an in-depth analysis of my facial expressions based on my profile picture, I might find it inappropriate, or borderline creepy. And I’ll run and hide as fast as I can…
Please, please, please don't write your query letter from your main character's point of view. Especially if your MC is a serial killer or nutcase. #querytip
There it is again; the fine line between creative and creepy. I don’t think I’ve ever come across an agent who likes query letters from a character’s point of view. There may be some, but they are a miniscule minority. It’s best to play it safe and stick to a more conventional query letter.
Next week: How (not) to behave during the waiting game.
Julia Alexandra Weber founded the J. A. Weber Literaturagentur GmbH in January 2012, and is specializing in representing international authors of unique and captivating commercial fiction, namely thrillers, teenage, young adult and women’s fiction of all sub-genres. Prior to having her own agency, Julia obtained Masters of Arts in ‘Media and Communication Studies’, ‘Creative Writing’ and ‘Publishing’ and gained practical experience at Toby Eady Associates and David Higham Associates in London. Follow Julia on Twitter @jawlitagent.