3 Things You Need in Your Query Letter to a Literary Agent

How to Query a Literary Agent | Ask An Editor | Shelly Rawlings

If you’re in the process of getting your book traditionally published, odds are you’ve been looking for an agent to help you get your manuscript out to the world—and if you’ve done any research on the matter, you’ll know that a solid query letter is key to landing a good literary agent.

After reading several sample query letters in my online writing groups, I’ve noticed a few errors that come up regularly—but all are simple problems that you can easily remedy in your query. Make sure you include these three things in your letter, and you’ll be on the right track:

1. You must have perfect grammar, spelling, punctuation, and mechanics.

While they may seem trivial, any number of these errors could cause an agent to lose interest in you and your manuscript. If you can’t write a clean letter, how can they expect you to write a full-length novel?

You can’t always rely on squiggly red and green lines to find these issues for you, so you’ll have to do some editing yourself—or hire a professional editor like myself to take a look. If you’re on your own, try reading your message out loud to catch any syntax mistakes, or even give it to a grammar-savvy friend before sending it in. The more eyes you have proofreading your letter, the better!

2. You must convey the utmost professionalism.

When I worked as an editor for a local newspaper, I found myself rolling my eyes at some of the emails I received from people asking me favors—the worst were those who waited until the last minute to ask for something, declaring that constituted as an “emergency” and demanding that I prioritized their email over anyone else’s. These messages made it clear to me that the sender didn’t care about me or my time.

Even though asking for representation from an agent isn’t quite the same as asking the editor of a newspaper for a favor, the same concept applies: you need to be respectful toward the person on the receiving end. And that means being professional.

Write formally and respectfully so you don’t sound like you’re talking down to the agent or assuming that they have all the time in the world for you and your book. Remember: the publishing world is a small one, and word gets around. Even if you aren’t selected by an agent for representation this time around, thank them for their consideration and show that you are a professional so you don’t hurt your chances down the line—with them or any of their colleagues.

3. You must have an agent-first attitude.

I always recommend that writers start any query—whether it’s a cover letter for a job, or one to an agent or publisher—by talking about the person they’re writing to, not themselves.

If you notice a lot of personal pronouns throughout your letter, that could be a red flag. Instead of telling your potential agent what you think about your book, and what you were trying to do, you should tell them why they (and potentially millions of other people) will be interested in reading your book.

Do some research and see what the agent is looking for—have they recently tweeted out a manuscript wishlist, or do they have a list of genres that they represent on their website? Explain how your manuscript fits into this niche and why it will appeal to readers in that vertical. (If you find that your manuscript doesn’t line up with the agent’s area of interest, skip querying them and move on—sending them a message anyway will likely earn you an eye roll and a quick delete.)

Remember: your query letter is not about you; it’s about your book and what it can do for the agent. That’s what is going to convince them to want to represent you and your work!

Happy querying!

2 thoughts on “3 Things You Need in Your Query Letter to a Literary Agent

  1. Ms. Adams,

    First, I hope this finds you doing well. Second, I have queried several literary agents with no response or “I don’t believe I am right for your project” replies. Below is the query I have sent out to prospected agents. Any critique you can give me, would be much appreciated. Thank you so much for your time.

    QUERY:

    Agents name
    Title of agent
    Name of Agency

    Mr. or Ms or Mrs ” “,

    I am querying you because on your (How I know Agent) it says you have interest and are looking for science fiction and fantasy novels. Having an agent who clearly understands the shaping and molding that goes into the creativity of such novels is something I find to be crucial in our success. I hope you will be interested in taking me on as a new client. I have completed a science fiction novel called The Venomous Crusade (71,499 words) which I would like you to represent. The Venomous Crusade can either be a stand alone novel or the beginning of a series. This novel should fit well with other titles like, Hold Me Closer Necromancer by Lish McBride, The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter, and The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken. I look forward to working with you on this tremendous, albeit scary endeavor. To use one of my favorite literary phrases, “the game is afoot.”

    Are the deadliest medical conditions just an assault from an advanced alien race? Does our only hope, real rest on the shoulders of a young man with no desire to connect with man-kind, let alone try to be their hero? Is he human and the victim of a science experiment? Is he a disciple of God or sent by a different alien race to prevent a universal apocalypse?

    OASIS THAPA has never forgiven himself for destroying an entire city and causing thousands of lives to perish, including his parents. As a matter of fact, to prevent himself from ever doing it again, he has never left the confines of his room for ten years. The only person he interacts with is his guardian, Dr. Washington. Although Oasis is consumed by his guilt and trying to shake the weird dreams of unknown worlds and alien beings, he lives a very quiet, uneventful life.

    However, all that is about to change when Dr. Washington hires a psychiatrist named Dr. Brandon who convinces Oasis to attend college. There he finds friends, love, danger and a pursuit for answers. An exploration that will either trigger him to be the world’s salvation or the cause of its destruction.

    My name is Dyron Turner. I was born and raised in New Orleans, Louisiana. After graduating high school, I enlisted in the United States Army. After being medically discharged, I attended the University of New Orleans where I majored in business administration. After taking a course in acting, I fell in love with the art of entertaining people through written word. While spending years of performing in television shows and movies, I had the opportunity to travel. My travel experiences are incorporated in my writing.

    I have enclosed below the first (# of pages) of the manuscript in accordance with your submission guidelines. Thank you for your time and consideration.

    Best Wishes

    Like

  2. Hello Michelle,
    First of all thank you very much for the incredible post.
    I hope you have some time to look at the query letter I have written (please see below).
    I really appreciate all your help and let me know thoughts. 🙂

    Query:

    I visited your page on Manuscript Wish List, and was thrilled to know that you like thrillers such as Bring up the Bodies. I feel you may like the recent thriller suspense novel, Haunted.

    Van Jerkins is an assassin who craves for wealth and freedom, he schemes to loot the Nefret, but things go seriously wrong when he is possessed and butchers everyone on the ship.

    After three decades, Medical Examiner Dr. Sterling is not ready to accept that the three men in cold storage killed themselves. To his dismay, he is all alone in this venture. But when he nearly dies, the NYPD detectives Tom Nash and Joan Chase and Cranston suspect there is something more sinister involved.

    Dr Sterling eventually identifies the real murder weapon and uncovers a compound that’s over five-hundred years old! The dead lead him to a lost ancient treasure.

    But their investigation leads to a mixed bag of clues. While on one side the NYPD begin to suspect that someone intentionally drugged and threatened the victim’s, and are hot on the trail of a ruthless assassin; on the other side, the Cranston team encounter a rabbit that thinks he is superman, witness a mysterious creature haunting the woods, and are hunted downs by hounds. Most of all, they encounter suspects which who appear to be direct decedents of the devil himself.

    They have a choice, either run after mythological creatures or rush after hard facts, but facts turn out to be a smoke screen and perhaps broadening their horizons, and following mythology may hold the key to this mystery!

    **
    Haunted is 1,80,000 words and ready for your consideration. Please find the first five pages of my book below.

    About me: I am a author and a researcher who lives in Australia. When I am not writing, I enjoy doing research, mentoring other researchers and working with a small group called the Critique club. I self-published ‘Black Moon’ a mystery thriller, ten years ago. I have recently begun preliminary marketing efforts to build my audience on Facebook, Twitter and website, and achieved around two-thousand hits! I recently attended the Hay House Australia writing conference. Currently I am working on a two-part Sci-fi Fantasy book-series and I plan to complete it the end of 2018.

    Thank you so much for your time. I truly appreciate it, and I look forward to hearing from you.

    Yours Sincerely
    Harbeer Ahedi.

    Like

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