How to screw up a Query Letter in 9 simple steps

While we’re on the track of proofreading, I thought I’d get a little listy (everyone loves lists!), and talk about the most common errors I find in Query Letters:

1)  RUN-ONS.

Run-ons are the #1 offender when it comes any single type of error. Fix them by reading your piece aloud, and inserting commas where there needs to be a pause. Give the agent a chance to take a breath.

2)  An error in the first sentence.

The first sentence sets the tone for the whole query. If it has a mistake, this carries more weight than a mistake anywhere else; it instantly lowers the agent’s opinion of you.

3)  Errors throughout the entire Query.

This is the presentation of your book. Do it right.

4)  Extra words.

Words like “a” and “the” are inserted where they don’t belong (usually because of half-finished changes during proofreading). Catch this with line-by-line close reading.

5)  Exclamation points.

Don’t include them. Anywhere. The content of a sentence should express its weight–not an extra,  slightly silly piece of punctuation.

6)  Shameless self-promotion.

Your book is not the great American novel just because you say so. Don’t write anything that can be construed as “talking down” to an agent.

7)  No Writing Sample.

Don’t forget to attach this according to the specifications of the agent. (Note: some agents might not want one, and some may not want it as an attachment. Check the guidelines for individual agents.)

8)  Lack of vital info.

Agents need to know, first and foremost, what type of book this is. Don’t forget to include its genre, word count, and intended audience.

9)   Too long or too short.

It should not be an ickle wee paragraph nor a pages-long monster. It should be the size of a cover letter.

-Frustrated Intern

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