Dear Hopeful Writer,
Today I received your snail mail query, beginning:
I am seeking your representation on my [title redacted] novel. It has 600,000 word count, with the theme: betrayal, revenge, suspense, la femme Nikita, romance, mystery, women fiction, detective and blackmail.
Please consider this well-meant advice.
– Oh dear. You formatted your query (and the chapters included with it) in Lucida Italic. Perhaps you thought this would make you stand out. Well, it does–but not in a good way. Agents expect standard formatting–which means, among other things, a standard font (such as Times New Roman). One glance at your italic opus will cause most agents to toss it aside without even reading.
– Imagine that you’re approaching your dream agent, the one you’d most love to represent you. Why would you not address him or her by name? Starting your query with “Dear agent” strongly suggests that you’re blasting out a form letter, and agents hate form letters even more than they hate italics. Any agents who looked past your nonstandard formatting will likely stop reading at this point, just two words in.
– 600,000 words? No, no, no. That’s the length of four books, not one. For those few, intrepid agents who’ve persisted this far, your query is now flying toward the recycle bin. (Here–have this handy guide to optimum word counts for fiction.)
– As you query, so do you write. Bad grammar, weird sentence construction, “women fiction”: yet more reason for an agent to stop reading. I’m sorry to be blunt, but if you’re not competent at this basic level, you aren’t ready to be querying.
– Last but certainly not least–and please forgive me if this sounds overly obvious–do make sure that the person you’re querying actually is an agent. Approaching a non-agent (me, for instance) for representation is simply not productive. I hate to think of how many stamps you’ve wasted this way (and by the way, most agents are happy to accept email queries). Also, just out of curiosity: did “Writer Beware” really strike you as a plausible name for a literary agency?
I hope these observations will be of assistance in your future querying.
Not An Agent
P.S. Here are some links to help:
- The Safest Way to Search for an Agent: my article on how to bag an agent without falling prey to scammers and amateurs.
- How to Find a (Real!) Literary Agent: a tutorial from Writer Beware co-founder Ann Crispin.
- Writer Beware’s Literary Agents Page: everything you need to know about literary agents, good and bad, with links to many helpful resources.
- The Complete Guide to Query Letters: exactly what it says. A terrific resource from author and editor Jane Friedman.
- Joshua Palmatier’s Query Project provides links to successful queries.
- Query Letter Basics from AgentQuery, which hosts a searchable database of agents.
- QueryTracker: another agent database.